Great expectations met? — COP 21 Paris (The Agreement and Aftermath)

Great expectations met? — COP 21 Paris (The Agreement and Aftermath)

logo-COPOn 12 December 2015, after two weeks and one day of fraught negotiations, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) adopted the ‘Paris Agreement’. This post examines the key outcomes of the Agreement reached, the domestic aftermath, and considers whether this ‘historic climate change deal’ can deliver on its expectations.



From the moment that Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister and President of the COP21 Summit, hammered the gavel down to signal the adoption of the Paris Agreement, it was immediately and widely lauded as a ‘historic deal’. However, there have also been criticisms of the Agreement, and rueful acknowledgments that it could have gone further in securing a global low carbon future. So what has been agreed and what is legally binding and what is not?

The Paris Agreement: key outcomes

The key objectives are laid out in Article of 2 of the Agreement. They are to:

  • Hold increases in temperature to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels;
  • Increase the ability of countries to adapt to the effects of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development; and
  • Make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development.
‘Well below 2°C’

Commentators have hailed the mere inclusion of a 1.5°C limit in the final text as a diplomatic triumph. However, as the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change admitted in her oral evidence to the ECC Committee, this 1.5°C target is ‘aspirational’ at the moment.

The stark truth is even taking into account what was promised in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the voluntary climate plans made by countries of what actions they intend to take to reduce their emissions, the world is on the path to a 2.7°C temperature increase. With this in mind, even more radical measures will need to be taken to prevent the 2°C upper threshold being breached.

Nationally Determined Contributions

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), updated voluntary climate plans, play a crucial role in achieving this target temperature limit. Unfortunately, there are no legally binding specific emissions targets. Instead, Article 4(2) mandates that Parties ‘shall pursue domestic mitigation measures with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.’ This was clearly a necessary compromise to placate major emitting countries and ensure their support for the Agreement.

Nevertheless, the review mechanism gives a cause for cheer. Article 4(9) commits Parties to communicate their NDC every five years, which are to be recorded in a public registry held by the Secretariat, and are expected to show an increasing level of ambition to reduce emissions. Furthermore, all Parties are to ‘strive to formulate and communicate long term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies’.

Climate finance

This was one of the most contentious areas of discussion leading up to and during COP21. Article 9 of the Agreement places the onus on developed countries to provide financial resources to assist developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and to also ‘mobilise’ climate finance from a wide variety of sources.

Although the Agreement itself did not specify a monetary amount, the concomitant Decision sets out that before 2025 ‘the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall set a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year’, which will take into account the needs and priorities of developing countries. There is evidently huge scope for the global private sector to play a role in achieving this.

Other notable outcomes

Under Article 14, there will also be a periodic ‘global stocktake’ of the Agreement’s implementation with the first one due to take place in 2023. These are to take place subsequently every five years.

Countries are also obliged to regularly provide a ‘national inventory report of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases’ and the necessary information to track progress in implementing and achieving its NDC.

Domestic developments: caveats in recent energy policy announcements

With the elation at having gotten consensus between 196 Parties on climate change, one could be forgiven for believing this momentum from Paris would translate into domestic support for clean and renewable energy.

The UK government’s latest policy changes over solar PV, announced the day after the Secretary of State’s evidence session on COP21 outcomes, have been strongly criticised by the ECC Committee as ‘regrettable that the Government if further cutting support for renewable energy’ and lacking ‘clarity, constituency and continuity’. This is particularly so after the importance of energy policy, technology development and capacity building to the Climate Change Committee’s Fifth Carbon Budget and the Paris Agreement, with investor confidence in these energy infrastructures and projects very sorely shaken.


So can COP21 deliver? The spirit of international co-operation is certainly willing but much depends on what is offered and accomplished by national governments to truly make an impact. The UK government’s position on renewable energy serves as a cautionary tale of a government not putting its money where its mouth is. It will be important in the coming months and years to hold on to the impetus against climate change driven by COP21 and the Paris Agreement, before we can really measure its success.


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