History was made in Paris in December 2015, when 195 countries united to adopt the first-ever global legally binding agreement to tackle climate change, with the European Union playing a pivotal role.
Cheers and applause greeted the landmark accord – the first major multilateral deal of the 21st century – which sets out a global action plan to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
“This agreement is a major win for Europe. But more importantly, it is a major win for the global community,” said EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.
More than four years of preparation and tough international negotiations preceded the climate summit in Paris, host city for the annual conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21). In the run-up to and during the landmark conference, the EU forged alliances with developed and developing countries committed to getting the most ambitious agreement possible. This so-called ‘High Ambition Coalition’ of countries was key to the successful outcome. “It helped to change the game in Paris,” revealed Commissioner Arias Cañete.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker underlined the scale of the achievement. “This robust agreement will steer the world towards a global clean energy transition,” he said. “This deal is also a success for the European Union. We have long been the global leader in climate action, and the Paris Agreement now reflects our ambition worldwide.”
The final deal includes the EU’s key objectives: a long-term goal to guide countries to a low-carbon future, a five-yearly review cycle to strengthen targets over time, and a strong system for tracking progress. The agreement also reconfirms the global commitment to support countries in need of assistance.
The deal agreed in Paris is a bridge between today’s policies and the long-term goal of climate neutrality by the end of the century. The aim is to achieve a balance between man-made emission sources and natural systems − or sinks − that store greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Countries agreed to limit the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while at the same time aiming for a 1.5°C target that would significantly reduce climate change risks and impacts.
The agreement calls for global emissions to peak as soon as possible and then to be rapidly reduced, recognising that this process will take longer for developing countries, which currently account for around 65% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In the run-up to and during the Paris conference, 187 countries, representing more than 95% of global emissions, submitted comprehensive national climate action plans to reduce their emissions. While these do not go far enough to keep the world’s average temperature below 2°C by the end of the century, they make a significant difference in lowering the risk.
The fact that almost all countries in the world have committed to take action to reduce their emissions marks a clear move away from action by few to action by all. Under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which runs until 2020, only 38 countries, representing around 12% of global emissions, have binding targets.
The Paris Agreement will accelerate the transition from fossil to clean fuels. As relevant technologies become available at scale, solutions will become cheaper, enabling climate policies to become more ambitious.
The agreement puts in place a series of commitments to keep the world on track to achieving the long-term goal. Governments agreed to come together every five years to take stock of progress and set more ambitious targets, in line with progress made and the latest scientific findings. They also pledged greater transparency, reporting back to each other and to the public. A robust transparency and accountability system will track progress towards the long-term goal, to ensure that countries are delivering.
The EU and other developed countries will continue to provide financial support to help developing countries reduce their emissions and build resilience to climate change impacts, with other countries contributing voluntarily. Developed countries will continue with their existing collective goal to mobilise USD100 billion per year to support climate action in developing countries until 2025, when a new collective goal will be set.
Countries will also cooperate on measures such as early-warning systems, preparing for emergencies, and risk insurance.
The Paris Agreement marks a new chapter in international climate action. But the promises made in Paris now have to be translated into action. “The hard work has only just begun,” acknowledged Commissioner Arias Cañete. “What has been promised must be delivered. Europe will continue to lead the global low-carbon transition we have agreed.”