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December 13th, 2015:

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