Will Paris deliver?

13 December 2015 10:14 am

For the first time in history, negotiators in nearly 200 countries in Paris have struck an agreement that seeks to ratchet back the pace of global warming and limit global temperature rise to "well below 2 degrees Celsius" above pre-industrial levels — the point beyond which many scientists believe catastrophic climate change will occur.

The question is whether it goes far enough and whether it will be successful. As the New York Times points out, the agreement sets only a vague goal of having global emissions peak “as soon as possible”. And the fact is negotiators have tacitly agreed it’s not tough enough. It includes a schedule for countries to return to the negotiating table every five years with plans for tougher polices.

Also, there’s a problem with it not being legally binding. The Paris deal is based on a voluntary basis which allows nations to set their own voluntary CO2 targets and policies without any legally binding caps or international oversight. Poorer countries had pushed for a legally binding provision requiring that rich countries appropriate at least $100 billion a year to help them mitigate and adapt to the ravages of climate change. In the deal, that figure appears only in a preamble, not in the legally binding portion.

Experts like Robyn Eckersley, Professor of Political Science, University of Melbourne, Peter Christoff, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne and David Hodgkinson, Associate Professor, University of Western Australia say the deal acknowledges the emissions gap between the currently inadequate national climate pledges and its goal but does not press for the full implementation of even these pledges. Nor does it require them to be strengthened before 2025. Also, there’s no requirement that the parties must review and upgrade their existing pledges before 2030, although they may voluntarily choose to do so at any time.

As Bernie Sanders tweeted: "While the #ParisAgreement is a step forward it goes nowhere near far enough. The planet is in crisis. We need bold action now."

That said, it’s a good start. This is an unprecedented agreement that tells governments and businesses around the world that it’s a new order. The pressure will now be on them to ramp up their policies and targets. And environmentalists around the world say they will step up protests in the new year.

Paris is just the opening chapter of a new book on the planet’s future.