The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) began on 30 November 2015 and brought together representatives from 195 countries.
This high-stakes global summit aimed to achieve a binding, universal agreement to effectively tackle the effects of climate change and accelerate the transition towards low-carbon societies.
The conference ended on 12 December 2015 with the adoption of a historic global pact to combat climate change, known as "The Paris Agreement". This was the culmination of four years of intense efforts and negotiations that ensued after the Durban conference in late 2011. The deal was adopted by all delegates from the 195 attending countries. The universal, binding agreement is set to take effect in 2020 and will follow on from the Kyoto Protocol.
What does the agreement really mean?
The Paris Agreement comprises the pact itself, which is legally binding, and the decision to adopt the agreement, including details on how it should be brought into effect.
It contains everything needed to work together in building a global strategy to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change, along with a roadmap to fine-tune the strategy before 2020. In this respect, the adoption of the agreement marks not the end but the beginning of a long process.
To honour what is considered to be the first ambitious, universal, binding agreement on climate change, and open the door to a more sustainable, stable, low-carbon future, all regional actors around the world must help to implement the deal.
COP21 was attended by representatives from 195 countries.
Attending countries committed to keep global warming "well below 2°C".
Key strengths of the Paris Agreement
Clear, long-term goals
One of the main strengths of the agreement is the way in which it sets clear, long-term goals: countries signing the agreement have committed to keep global warming "well below 20°C" and continue their efforts to hold the increase in the global average temperature to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the threshold experts say is needed to significantly reduce the risks and effects of climate change.
The agreement also sets a CO2 target of 40 metric gigatons for global emissions as part of the countries' intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). National commitments—including INDCs nationally determined contributions—will be reviewed every five years.
Funding for developing countries
The agreement includes provisions for developed countries to provide funding to help developing countries take steps to offset and adapt to the effects of global warming. Emerging countries are also encouraged to contribute. The call to action is clear and unequivocal: as of 2020, developed countries will need to raise US$100 billion a year (part of which will come through the Green Climate Fund) to help developing countries take steps to address global warming. A new target will be set in 2025.
The agreement also promotes the drive to encourage cooperation in new technology.
A willingness to promote transparency
Transparency is a centrepiece of the agreement. The aim is to eventually align current reporting schemes between developed and developing countries to establish a joint programme with realistic goals that nonetheless provides scope for differentiation.
There was no shortage of debate on the issue of carbon pricing during COP21, but the outcome was both very positive and somewhat unexpected: the Paris Agreement targets carbon pricing through a series of cooperative measures including carbon markets and carbon credit schemes. The agreement underlines the importance of providing real incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and makes carbon pricing a cornerstone of its approach.
Adopt, sign and ratify
Adopt, sign and ratify all mean different things!
- Adopt: COP21 participants adopted the Paris Agreement to indicate that they agreed to the text.
- Sign: Parties that sign the agreement indicate their commitment to refrain from any actions that run contrary to its terms.
- Ratify: Parties must then ratify the Paris Agreement after signing it, pledging to implement the agreement once it comes into effect.
The Paris Agreement was signed on 22 April 2016 at the United Nations headquarters in New York by 175 countries, which account for more than 93% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The deal set a new record for the number of countries signing an international agreement. In signing the agreement, France (which hosted COP21 and is a European powerhouse in the drive to tackle climate change) joined the United States and China (the world's biggest polluters, together responsible for 38% of GHG emissions) in pledging to ratify the deal before the end of 2016.
The act of signing the agreement after adoption is just the second step. The Paris Agreement will only come into effect once 55 countries responsible for at least 55% of greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the deal.
France has already kept its promise. On Wednesday 15 June 2016, French President François Hollande signed an order of promulgation to ratify the Paris Agreement.
- A number of countries have already ratified the agreement