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Paris agreement marks “turning point” in history

Governments around the world have for the first time in history committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change, signalling an end to the fossil fuel era. Heads of businesses and organisations give their reactions to this landmark deal.

After 20 years of fraught meetings, including the past two weeks spent in an exhibition hall on the outskirts of Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on to a historic deal on Saturday evening that outlined firm goals to limit temperature rise and to scrutinise government targets to get there.

Addressing delegates in the final closing session of the United Nations climate change conference, UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon congratulated negotiators for achieving what was a daunting task.

“History will remember this day the Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people,” he said.

In noting that the world has now entered the “low carbon age”, French President Francois Hollande said of the new agreement: “This is a powerful movement and this goes beond governments. This will revolutionise the world, but this agreement is only the beginning.”

(Read the Eco-Business live blog of events as they unfolded on the final day of COP21.)

Some key elements in the Paris Agreement included a target to limit global warming below 2 deg C, with further efforts to limit it below 1.5 deg C, a financing mechanism that will raise at least US$100 billion a year to help developing countries tackle climate change, and review and monitoring process that will track the transparency of pledges and raise its ambition in five-yearly cycles.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan echoed Hollande’s view. Speaking at the final plenary, he described the agreement as not “perfect”, but a “good and necessary agreement” which “sets us on a collective journey for climate safety”.

Acknowledging that differentiation was a key hurdle during the negotiations in the run up to the final agreement, he noted that the challenge had always been how to create a fair system “that recognises the inequalities of the past, the diversity of the present, and the uncertainties of the future”.

Differentiation is a term used to describe the different level of responsibilities for countries, taking into account their history and unique national circumstances.

The current agreement, he said, “strikes the right balance between the developed countries and the developing Parties, the right balance between mitigation and adaptation, the right balance between means of implementation and ambition.”

Balakrishnan told Eco-Business in an interview shortly after the plenary ended that the agreement also sends a much-needed signal to the global business community.

Many businesses want “to do the right thing,” he said, “but they were hoping for a clear signal at a multilateral level”.

“So it’s very important for us to join the dots between businesses, and the environment. This agreement helps to join those dots,” he said.

United Nations Environment Programme executive director Achim Steiner noted that now the negotiations have concluded, the work continues.

“We must focus on implementing the solutions that drive an inclusive green economy, including renewable energy, green finance initiatives, and sustainability in transport, construction and other sectors.”

Here are some further reactions from the global business community and organisations on the Paris agreement.

Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group: “This is undoubtedly a momentous result and a watershed moment for mankind: it will enable us to unleash the trillions of investment that will spearhead a low carbon economy. Business, state and regional leaders have had a transformational role in the run up to Paris. They were committed to a deal being done because they are convinced that the low-carbon future is the only option for them. This agreement will allow them to go further and faster in their own ambitious plans and policies, and ensure that the transition to the new, smart economy is a swift one.”

Kumi Naidoo, executive director, Greenpeace International: “It sometimes seems that the countries of the United Nations can unite on nothing, but nearly two hundred countries have come together and agreed a deal. Today the human race has joined in a common cause, but it’s what happens after this conference that really matters. The Paris Agreement is only one step on long a road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress. This deal alone won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”

Paul Simpson, CEO, CDP: “This monumental agreement by the world’s governments in Paris marks a critical ‎turning point for the global economy. The deal is an unequivocal signal to investors to shift trillions of dollars of capital to low-carbon solutions and to companies, in their turn, to invest in developing and scaling up clean technologies. Those that do will surely be the winners in the now inevitable transition to a low-carbon economy. At CDP, we will unreservedly support governments in implementing the agreement, keeping track of progress through transparency and helping companies to set targets in line with the science for a well-below 2 degree world.”

Sir Richard Branson, B Team Co-founder and Founder, Virgin Group: “Today, the course of history has shifted. Paris will be remembered for generations as a watershed moment when the people of the world came together and set us on a pathway to net-zero emissions, economic justice and shared prosperity. We have an opportunity to build a new economy, and business is poised to help make it happen. The “Paris effect” will ensure the economy of the future is driven by clean energy.”

Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General: “The Paris Agreement at COP21 marks a decisive turning point in our response to climate change. I strongly applaud this historic commitment and the robustness of a deal that includes an ambitious target for limiting the global temperature rise, a five-year review cycle, clear rules on transparency, a global goal for resilience and reducing vulnerability and a framework for supporting developing countries.”

Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever:“The consequences of this agreement go far beyond the actions of governments. They will be felt in banks, stock exchanges, board rooms and research centres as the world absorbs the fact that we are embarking on an unprecedented project to decarbonise the global economy. This realisation will unlock trillions of dollars and the immense creativity and innovation of the private sector who will rise to the challenge in a way that will avert the worst effects of climate change.”

Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder, President & Editor-in-Chief, Huffington Post: “This is truly a turning point in human history. We now have the chance to advance the wellbeing of people everywhere, while creating millions of new jobs and ending our reliance on fossil fuels. This will help us build a safer, more peaceful world for all. This is exactly what business needs in order to thrive in the long run.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC: “The Paris deal gets us part of the way and ups the ante for climate action with a 1.5 degree Celsius goal. The race to stabilise the climate is now on in earnest. The industrial transformation required is bigger and more rapid than at any time in our history: it must be a just transition and it will take all of us.”

David Crane, B Team Leader: “The strong outcome in Paris sends a clear signal to the energy industry that clean energy is the future of their business. With the new global framework providing the guideposts, the time is now for energy consumers every where to demand clean energy in every aspect of their lives.”

Peter Agnefjäll, President and CEO, IKEA Group: “The Paris Agreement marks the start of a new journey in the fight against climate change. Over the last two weeks we have seen countries working together and businesses and civil society raising their voices for positive change. We are pleased to see that a solid commitment has been made. We will continue to invest in renewable energy and to transform our business with the confidence that governments are also committed to building a low-carbon economy. Only together can we build a better future.“

Peter Bakker, CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development: “2015 is a historic year and the news coming out of Paris is a major step forward by all governments of the world to safeguard the future of all life on our planet. I am so pleased that science and the many commitments from business, cities and citizens were heard. COP21 has resulted in the agreement of a tangible and ambitious global trajectory to reduce emissions during the century, making the transition to a low-carbon economy inevitable.

“This agreement is a resounding call to action to all businesses around the world to collaboratively scale up the implementation of solutions to reduce the emissions and lead the acceleration of the transition to a low carbon world. This will change everything.”

Climate activists have mixed reactions to Paris agreement

While world leaders have unreservedly hailed this weekend’s historic climate pact, environmentalists have often been more cautious. For many climate experts and activists, the agreement simply does not go far enough.

The climate accord signed in Paris on Saturday has met with a varied reception from environmental organizations and climate experts.

Martin Kaiser, the Greenpeace Head of International Climate Politics, said in a statement on the organization’s US website on Sunday that the agreement failed to deal with “difficult issues like financial aid for vulnerable countries and the phasing out of coal, oil and gas.”

Kaiser says the pact avoided tricky issues involved with climate change

Kaiser says the pact avoided tricky issues involved with climate change

He also warned that the treaty could “become an empty shell,” saying that to prevent this, large emitters of greenhouse gases such as the United States, China and the European Union “must present their short and long-term commitments for the mitigation of greenhouse gases at the end of March.”

In further comments on the website of Greenpeace’s German branch, Kaiser said that the text was “strewn with the fingerprints of industrial lobbyists who are destroying our planet and its atmosphere.” But he said that the declared goals of limiting the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above that at the start of the Industrial Revolution and to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases to zero in the second half of the century would deter investors from putting their money into coal-fired plants or oil projects.

He also called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to abandon the use of coal “to show that the hope from Paris is justified.”

Conflicting expert views

The two winners of the 2015 German Environmental Prize of the Deutsche Bundesumweltstiftung (German Environmental Foundation, DBU), climate experts Prof. Mojib Latif and Prof. Johan Rockström, have conflicting views on the Paris agreement.

In comments on the DBU’s website, Latif said the negotiators in Paris had “only agreed on the lowest common denominator.”

Latif is a noted marine researcher

Latif is a noted marine researcher

Latif, who among other things is chairman of the German Climate Consortium (DKK), said that some statements in the agreement left too much leeway and were not concrete enough, and that the commitments undertaken by the various countries would not be enough to reduce global warming to much under two degrees Celsius compared with pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Latif did, however, say that it was a success that “the international community had even recognized the dramatic nature of climate change.”

‘Ambitious agreement’

Rockström, the director of the Stockhom Resilience Centre, was more upbeat in his assessment of the Paris pact.

“It is all really ambitious and matches the science,” he said, commending the pact for giving clear guidelines on maximum levels of climate-damaging emissions such as carbon dioxide.

Rockström is an internationally recognized expert on global sustainability

Rockström is an internationally recognized expert on global sustainability

Like Latif, however, he criticized that fact that the world leaders had not established more concrete goals for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 to 100 percent by 2050.

“That is the biggest gap,” Rockström said. “Otherwise it would have been an almost perfect agreement.”

‘Activism gives hope’

The chairman of BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), Hubert Weiger, was also ambivalent in his evaluation of what had been achieved in Paris.

“The Paris agreement does not liberate the world from its dependence on coal, oil and gas. It provides no sufficient answers to the climate crisis,” he said on the BUND website.

“However, after Paris, the world now has an instrument that strengthens climate protection,” he said, saying that the 1.5-degree limit agreed upon was a positive move.

‘Huge discrepancy’

But Weiger noted a huge “discrepancy between the temperature goal set in Paris and the actual climate policies of the countries.”

Weiger places his hope in climate activists

Weiger places his hope in climate activists

“The agreement itself is no guarantee that global warming will be limited, but it does provide motivation to increase the tempo of climate protection,” he said, predicting that the commitment of climate activists would continue to increase.

“What gives hope is the commitment of hundreds of thousands of people across the world who are working toward a faster implementation of renewable energy sources and an end to the fossil-fuel era,” Weiger said.

How the climate change deal was done

A deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been agreed at the climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of negotiations.

The pact is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions.

The agreement is partly legally binding and partly voluntary.

Daniel Boettcher reports.

Between Dangerous and Deadly: Civil Society Response to COP21

Between Dangerous and Deadly: COP21 Strives for Climate Justice But Misses The Mark

Richest countries plan the greatest escape for polluters while burdens shift to poo

Paris, France – After much anticipation for a new global climate agreement, COP21 is being widely hailed as a success, with 195 countries from diverse positions signing the Paris Agreement. But the day after the dust settles, many civil society organizations are evaluating the stark contrasts between what is possible in the political process and what is scientifically necessary to avoid climate chaos.

Many walked away pleased that the Paris Agreement called for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within the purpose of the agreement. However, the reference is aspirational, and the agreement lacks mechanisms to achieve it. Based on the current pledges for change and the state of pollution rates, by the time countries formally take stock in 2023, we will have already polluted to such a degree that we will have locked in the climate chaos we came here to prevent.

“The biggest misconception around 1.5 is that mentioning it means that they will actually meet that goal. This agreement did not actually design a pathway for how to achieve 1.5. We came to Paris needing a way to achieve tangible results, instead we came out with more empty promises and false solutions” said Martin Vilela from the Bolivian Platform on Climate Change

This lack of specificity in dealing with pollution has been described as “between dangerous and deadly” by leading climate scientists. Similarly, South Africa also noted that the Paris Agreement came at the expense of immediate action, and called for energies to now be channelled into pre-2020 efforts.

While many heralded France’s achievements of facilitating a fair process to reach the Agreement, this was marred in the last moments as France buckled to US pressure and changed the language of the nearly finalized text to say that developed countries should rather than shall take on reducing pollution across all sectors of the economy, indicating a lower level of legal obligation.

Many developing countries’ support for the Agreement was contingent on “shall” rather than “should”, but a process was not provided to respond to this major change made in the last moments of adopting the agreement and characterized a “technical correction”. In many ways, the agreement’s new rules are substantially weaker for wealthy countries than the current ones.

Another major concern came, again under US insistence, in the language on “loss and damage,” where an “exclusion clause” was inserted in order to prevent the poor and particularly vulnerable countries (the same ones calling for the 1.5C goal) from claiming any future liability or compensation claims being made under the agreement against the big historic polluters.

The great paradox is the Paris outcome paid lip service 1.5C without the means to achieve it, while, at the same time, excluding the rights of the poorest countries to compensation for warming above these levels.

A critical component of the Agreement was always that finance for developing countries would be ramped up. In concluding the talks, President Hollande spoke proudly about the $100 billion “floor” in finance, but observers have pointed out that the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric.

“The 100 billion per year by 2020 is now extended to 2025 and a new goal is to be set after that. So developed countries have obtained another five years to deliver what they agreed to do. It is regrettable that this has happened as it delays action in developing countries who are in need” said Meena Raman, Legal Advisor, Third World Network

Although tired after a long road to Paris, and with many concerns over the outcome, civil society groups nevertheless determined to press on and use the Agreement and the pledges made to it as tools to push for stronger national actions. They are already looking to a “facilitative dialogue”, agreed for 2019, to increase ambition and look to initiatives like the African Renewable Energy Initiative to deliver real results on the ground.

“As both a Kenyan and a climate policy expert, I have never been more proud. The significance of of the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative is not to be understated: it is an exceptional moment in Africa’s history and a game-changer for the continent. And our leadership has inspired other countries to show their support.” Mohamed Adow, Senior Climate Change Advisor, Christian Aid explained.

“While disappointed by the outcome of the climate talks, we see that there were many success’. The climate justice movements mobilized despite the state of emergency and we showed the world that we are an unstoppable force that will continue to do the real work of developing tangible solutions to our world’s problems, and not wait for politicians to do what is necessary” said Lidy Nacpil, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development

Has history been made at COP21?

I’m not a fan of hyperbole, but it would be churlish to say the adoption of the Paris Agreement was anything other than a globally, historic moment.

This carefully worded document that balances the right of countries to develop with the need to protect the planet is a truly world changing instrument.

It sets out, for the first time, a global approach to a problem of humanity’s own making: the recent rapid warming of the Earth that science says is mainly down to the use of fossil fuels.

The deal sets out a firm goal of keeping temperature rises well below 2C, and will strive for 1.5C.

This is no easy task as researchers say that this year 2015, the world has gone through 1C above pre-industrial levels.

It also sets out a means of getting there. It’s a little convoluted in terms of language, but that’s what you get when you try and get 196 parties to agree to a plan of action.

Critical sentence

The agreement text means that emissions of greenhouse gases will have to peak globally and reduce rapidly thereafter, in accordance with the best possible science.

This phrase is crucial according to observers, meaning that the Paris deal will be guided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the IPCC say that carbon emissions will have to go to zero by the end of this century.

There is a stonking piece of UN jargon that has been crafted to get around the tricky business of differentiation, the long standing division of the world into developed and developing countries only.

It’s called CBDRRCILNDC, which translates as Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities, In the Light of Different National Circumstances.

Essentially it means a gradual shift away from the absolute firewall set up in 1992 when the UN Convention was adopted. Over time more countries will take on more cuts.

Another sign of this breakdown of differentiation is the adoption of a single system of measuring, reporting and verifying that countries will do what they say under the terms of the agreement.

But it is not all one way. The deal re-iterates the “flexibility” that the developing nations will only come into this system when they are ready to do so.

There is also a separate article on loss and damage. While it doesn’t put the rich countries on the hook for compensation or liability, the fact that it is there in the body of the agreement is a big win for the poorer nations.

The finance sections also reflect this give and take. The poorer nations won’t have to contribute any cash; the richer ones will have to give more money in the new deal and with greater predictability.

A key part of keeping ambitions high is a reviewing mechanism – and the one agreed is built on the idea of no backsliding on promises. There will be a review of what countries are now proposing by 2019. Countries will have to endure a “global stocktake” in 2023 and two years later make new carbon cutting commitments.

While the deal is toothless when it comes to penalties for missing any targets, the UN is counting on peer pressure to keep countries moving forward. It’s worked so far, with 187 countries lodging national climate plans before the end of this meeting. No one wanted to turn up empty handed.

The key thing about this deal may ultimately not be the rules and mechanisms and targets it sets – it’s about signals and signs.

“We are sending a critical message to the global marketplace,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry at the conclusion of the meeting.

Among the celebrations though were reminders that the hard work on climate change was now only beginning.

South African Minister Edna Molewa channelled the spirit of Nelson Mandela, not for the first time:

“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb….I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Global climate deal: In summary

A global climate agreement has been finalised in Paris. What has been agreed?


The deal unites all the world’s nations in a single agreement on tackling climate change for the first time in history.

Coming to a consensus among nearly 200 countries on the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions is regarded by many observers as an achievement in itself and is being hailed as “historic”.

The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 set emission cutting targets for a handful of developed countries, but the US pulled out and others failed to comply.

However, scientists point out that the Paris accord must be stepped up if it is to have any chance of curbing dangerous climate change.

Pledges thus far could see global temperatures rise by as much as 2.7C, but the agreement lays out a roadmap for speeding up progress.

What are the key elements?

  • To keep global temperatures “well below” 2.0C (3.6F) and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • To review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
  • For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing “climate finance” to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

What’s in and what has been left out?

The goal of preventing what scientists regard as dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change – judged to be reached at around 2C of warming above pre-industrial times – is central to the agreement.

The world is already nearly halfway there at almost 1C and many countries argued for a tougher target of 1.5C – including leaders of low-lying countries that face unsustainable sea levels rises in a warming world.

The desire for a more ambitious goal has been kept in the agreement – with the promise to “endeavour to limit” global temperatures even more, to 1.5C.

Dr Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, says the objective is “remarkable”.

“It is a victory for the most vulnerable countries, the small islands, the least developed countries and all those with the most to lose, who came to Paris and said they didn’t want sympathy, they wanted action.”

Meanwhile, for the first time, the accord lays out a longer-term plan for reaching a peak in greenhouse emissions “as soon as possible” and achieving a balance between output of man-made greenhouse gases and absorption – by forests or the oceans – “by the second half of this century”.

“If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero within a few decades. It is in line with the scientific evidence we presented,” says John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Some have described the deal as “woolly” because some of the targets were scaled down during the negotiations.

“The Paris Agreement is only one step on a long road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress,” says Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo.

“This deal alone won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”

What about money?

Money has been a sticking point throughout the negotiations.

Developing countries say they need financial and technological help to leapfrog fossil fuels and move straight to renewables.

Currently they have been promised US $100bn (£67bn) a year by 2020 – not as much as many countries would like.

The agreement requires rich nations to maintain a $100bn a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and to use that figure as a “floor” for further support agreed by 2025.

The deal says wealthy countries should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change and encourages other countries to join in on a voluntary basis.

Dr Ilan Kelman of UCL, London, says the lack of time scales are “worrying”.

“The starting point of $100bn per year is helpful, but remains under 8% of worldwide declared military spending each year.”

What happens next?

Only elements of the Paris pact will be legally binding.

The national pledges by countries to cut emissions are voluntary, and arguments over when to revisit the pledges – with the aim of taking tougher action – have been a stumbling block in the talks.

The pact promises to make an assessment of progress in 2018, with further reviews every five years.

As analysts point out, Paris is only the beginning of a shift towards a low-carbon world, and there is much more to do.

“Paris is just the starting gun for the race towards a low-carbon future,” says WWF-UK Chief Executive David Nussbaum.

Prof John Shepherd of the National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, says the agreement includes some welcome aspirations but few people realise how difficult it will be to achieve the goals.

“Since the only mechanism remains voluntary national caps on emissions, without even any guidance on how stringent those caps would need to be, it is hard to be optimistic that these goals are likely to be achieved.”


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COP21 climate change summit reaches deal in Paris

A deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been agreed at the climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of intense negotiations.

The pact is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions.

The agreement is partly legally binding and partly voluntary.

Earlier, key blocs, including the G77 group of developing countries, and nations such as China and India said they supported the proposals.

President of the UN climate conference of parties (COP) and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: “I now invite the COP to adopt the decision entitled Paris Agreement outlined in the document.

“Looking out to the room I see that the reaction is positive, I see no objections. The Paris agreement is adopted.”

COP21: In summary

As he struck the gavel to signal the adoption of the deal, delegates rose to their feet cheering and applauding.

Media captionThe announcement was greeted by cheers and excitement in the hall

US President Barack Obama has hailed the agreement as an “ambitious” and “historic”, but also warned against complacency.

“Together, we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one,” he said.

And although admitting that the deal was not “perfect”, he said it was “the best chance to save the one planet we have”.

Nearly 200 countries took part in the negotiations to strike the first climate deal to commit all countries to cut emissions, which would come into being in 2020.

The chairman of the group representing some of the world’s poorest countries called the deal historic, adding: “We are living in unprecedented times, which call for unprecedented measures.

“It is the best outcome we could have hoped for, not just for the Least Developed Countries, but for all citizens of the world.”

Key points

The measures in the agreement included:

• To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century

• To keep global temperature increase “well below” 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C

• To review progress every five years

• $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Hollande join in the celebrations

Analysis: The BBC’s Matt McGrath in Paris

The speeches and the cliches at the adoption of the Paris Agreement flowed like good champagne – success after all has many fathers! The main emotion is relief. The influence of the COP president, Laurent Fabius, cannot be overstated. His long diplomatic career gave him a credibility seldom matched in this arena. He used his power well.

The deal that has been agreed, under Mr Fabius, is without parallel in terms of climate change or of the environment. It sets out a clear long term temperature limit for the planet and a clear way of getting there. There is money for poor countries to adapt, there is a strong review mechanism to increase ambition over time. This is key if the deal is to achieve the aim of keeping warming well below 2C.

More than anything though the deal signifies a new way for the world to achieve progress – without it costing the Earth. A long term perspective on the way we do sustainability is at the heart of this deal. If it delivers that, it truly will be world changing.

Ahead of the deal being struck, delegates were in a buoyant mood as they gathered in the hall waiting for the plenary session to resume.

Mr Fabius was applauded as he entered the hall ahead of the announcement.

Earlier, French President Francois Hollande called the proposals unprecedented, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on negotiators to “finish the job”.

However, the celebratory mood has not been shared among all observers.

‘Almost nothing binding’

Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, said: “It’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations.”

Some aspects of the agreement will be legally binding, such as submitting an emissions reduction target and the regular review of that goal.

However, the targets set by nations will not be binding under the deal struck in Paris.

Observers say the attempt to impose emissions targets on countries was one of the main reasons why the Copenhagen talks in 2009 failed.

At the time, nations including China, India and South Africa were unwilling to sign up to a condition that they felt could hamper economic growth and development.

The latest negotiations managed to avoid such an impasse by developing a system of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

In these, which form the basis of the Paris agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels, nations outline their plans on cutting their post-2020 emissions.

An assessment published during the two-week talks suggested that the emission reductions currently outlined in the INDCs submitted by countries would only limit global temperature rise by 2.7C.

Nick Mabey, chief executive of climate diplomacy organisation E3G, said the agreement was an ambitious one that would require serious political commitment to deliver.

“Paris means governments will go further and faster to tackle climate change than ever before,” he said.

“The transition to a low carbon economy is now unstoppable, ensuring the end of the fossil fuel age.”

Business pledges at COP21: Progress or COP out?

Businesses at COP 21 have promised to reduce their emissions, invest in renewables, and support climate policy. But are these commitments true progress or greenwash? Eco-Business gets the view from civil society observers.

While government negotiators are hard at work finalising a global climate change treaty in Paris this week, the private sector has also been busy unveiling a series of commitments that officials are hailing as “unprecedented”.

Civic society groups, however, are divided on whether the pledges reflect a sincere effort by companies to tackle climate change, or if they are merely greenwash.

Initiatives launched by businesses in the two weeks since the conference started include:

  • The Business Leadership Criteria on Carbon Pricing programme, where 65 companies with a total market value of US$1.9 trillion agreed to set an internal carbon price, report it publicly, and called for a carbon market.
  • The Science-Based Targets initiative, through which 114 companies including IKEA, Coca-Cola, and Kellogg will set emissions reduction targets in line with scientific recommendations for limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
  • The Responsible Corporate Engagement in Climate Policy programme, where 114 companies will track their activities that influence climate policy, ensure these are consistent, and be transparent about their policy position on climate change.
  • A move by two of the world’s biggest institutional investors – German firm Allianz and Dutch pension fund ABP – to join the Portfolio Decarbonisation Coalition, a group of investors which has promised to rid their portfolios of high carbon investments.

These initiatives were presented at the UN Global Compact’s Caring for Climate (C4C) Business Forum on Tuesday, held on the sidelines of the climate conference, which is commonly known as COP21.

The forum is part of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), an initiative by France, Peru, and the UN to showcase commitments by businesses, cities, and civil society to reduce their emissions.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the commitments by companies, noting: “The collective momentum among the private sector for climate action is growing daily, and more companies and investors are leading on climate action than at any time in history.”

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change also called these pledges “unprecedented”.

Some civic society leaders, however, are sceptical about the sincerity of businesses behind their pledges.

What’s behind the scenes?
Jesse Bragg, media director at US-based Corporate Accountability International, questioned the motives of some energy and utility firms, and banks which have investments in these carbon-intensive outfits.

He told Eco-Business: “It’s fair to be sceptical of any corporation making climate commitments, particularly if their business model is predicated on the extraction of fossil fuels or requires cheap energy to survive”.

Despite their commitments, these organisations may have a vested interest in weaker climate policy, he added.

A recent report by CAI for example shows that notorious climate laggards like ExxonMobil – which was recently allegedly exposed for lying about climate change for decades – and Shell, which this year embarked on a controversial project to explore oil prospects in the Arctic, but later abandoned it – have also signed up to the LPAA platform.

Their participation amounts to little more than greenwash, said CAI in its report.

Bragg added that companies may also be trying to mask their energy-intensive activities by sponsoring the climate conference itself. French bank BNP Paribas, for example, is a COP21 sponsor, but it is also heavily invested in coal.

While the company has pledged not to finance controversial coal mines such as a project by Indian conglomerate Adani in Australia and made other announcements to improve its coal financing practices, it continues to hold coal assets, said Bragg. “Their sponsorship is therefore little more than “a half-hearted attempt at public relations,” he said.

Jonathan Jacoby, policy manager, private sector department, Oxfam America, acknowledged that some companies with a presence at COP are indeed lagging on climate change, but noted that the private sector today is “a tale of two business communities”.

There are regressive firms which try to weaken climate targets, but they are now outnumbered by firms which have good intentions, he noted.

And if the Paris talks deliver a strong commitment on decarbonising the global economy, “fossil fuel companies will have to be less complacent about diversifying their business” to include more sustainable energy sources, noted Jacoby.

Obfuscating climate policy

Bragg also noted that some companies unveiling climate commitments at COP 21 – such as French energy firm Engie – are members of trade associations like the Confederation of Europe Business trade association, which has long opposed efforts by the European Union to set strong renewable energy adoption and emission reduction targets.

“It’s a lot easier to believe that a corporation is operating in the best interest of the people if it is not behind the scenes undermining the very policies it advocates for,” said Bragg.

Companies which are sincere about climate action should distance themselves from these regressive trade associations until the latter shows support for strong targets on reducing emissions, he suggested.

But while some companies have been unconstructive in global climate policy, “what we have seen at COP 21 is unprecedented in terms of the business community’s commitment to align with climate science”, said Jacoby.

He cited Kellogg’s pledge to reduce its own emissions by 65 per cent and its supply chain’s carbon emissions by 2050 as an example of a company which formerly had been been “conservative” on sustainable sourcing evolve into a leader on climate action today.

A good climate agreement will also “enable the very difficult and uncomfortable conversations that are long overdue in traditional trade associations that these companies are members of,” he said.

It will send the message that “there is no legitimate political case for opposing climate action now”, he noted.

Michael Brune, executive director of US conservation group Sierra Club, noted that the company commitments represent an “undeniable momentum” in tackling climate change, and that they are also encouraging Ministers in the negotiations to push for higher emissions reductions targets.

There is reason for “cautious optimism” that the Paris agreement will reflect a strong and ambitious commitment to tackling climate change because businesses, cities, and regional governments have already shown their political and financial support to doing so, he added.

Companies, keep your word

While the commitments are a step in the right direction, it remains to be seen whether businesses will deliver on their promises, said Jacoby.

“Policies are the first step by which you can hold companies accountable,” he said. “They must demonstrate that they have truly fulfilled their emissions with evidence from third-party auditors.”

But reporting by companies alone is not enough, said CAI’s Bragg. A standardised way of tracking how companies deliver emissions reductions and other goals is essential, and “the best way to do that is through government regulation,” he said.

“You can’t rely alone on corporations to act out of the goodness of their heart, because they are ultimately beholden to shareholders,” he said. “You need governments to introduce strong, abiding regulation and have oversight of the commitments”.