Historic Climate Agreement Reached in Paris

SACE executive director Stephen Smith and staffer Jennifer Rennicks contributed to this post.

Saturday marked the end of the 21st annual session of the United Nations climate change conference and negotiations, which culminated in the unanimous adoption of the Paris Agreement by 196 countries. Signatories to the Agreement agreed to “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

This graph shows various pathways and how much warming they will lead to. Business as usual without significant cuts in carbon pollution, would lead us to 4.5 degrees of warming, while the INDCs agreed to in Paris would take us to 3.5 degrees. Courtesy of Climate Interactive.

SACE welcomes the fact that there was broad voluntary agreement among 196 countries to reduce carbon pollution, the intentions they set out to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and the commitment to transparency, which will be important for maintaining progress towards reduction goals.

However, the devil is in the details. It is important to note that the reductions in the agreement are not legally binding and its success depends on many factors. It took decades of movement building, supported by an ever-growing body of scientific research, to get this far. Given the favorable economics of clean energy and the largest body of climate activists ever mobilized, we are well-poised to take the climate movement further faster than we ever have before. But it will still take work from all of us to see the promise of Paris delivered as we demand responsibility and accountability from our decision makers.

Over the past year leading up to this historic agreement, 187 and counting countries have submitted voluntary climate change goals, called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), which the parties to the Paris Agreement agreed to. These goals, if met, would limit global warming to 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit), which is of course only part of what is needed to reach the 2 degree pledge. Therefore, the Paris Agreement calls for a reconvening every 5 years, starting in 2020, at which time each country will have the opportunity to increase the ambition of its goals. Furthermore, countries are required to reconvene every five years, starting in 2023, to report on their progress, using a standardized accounting system.

It is our sincere hope that the Paris Agreement sends clear signals to the market to support the ongoing change in the way the world produces and consumes energy. The cost of solar and wind have fallen dramatically over the last decade and their widespread deployment is inevitable. Meanwhile, meeting the 2 degree pledge will only be possible if 80 percent of the remaining fossil fuel reserves are kept in the ground, and if the 1.5 degree limit of change is to be sought then that percentage will need to increase. The Paris Agreement states that Parties to the agreement “aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,” and seems to indicate a more serious global commitment than ever before to transitioning to a post-carbon economy, run by clean, renewable energy. However, obstructionist politicians and policies that continue to subsidize the true cost of inaction on climate change jeopardize the success achieved in Paris.

The Paris Agreement makes our work at SACE, and that of our supporters and allies, even more important. Together, we will need to demand responsibility and accountability for meeting and increasing our contributions in carbon pollution reductions to protect against the worst impacts of climate change. SACE has always and will continue to push the markets to adopt cleaner energy sources and work to hold leaders accountable. The sentiment of ‘trust but verify’ holds true for our continued collective work on climate policy and progress.

If you’d like to read more blog posts in the lead up to the Paris climate talks, check out SACE’s Prelude to Paris blog series here. To view the SACE-produced video series called Parlez-Vous Climate: Conversations from Paris & Beyond filmed and published throughout the region over the last two weeks of the climate talks, click here.

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