Skip to main content

conference of the parties - cop 21

The Outcome of the 21st Session of the CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES (COP21)

The outcomes of the UN climate change conference known as COP 21 held last December in Paris were discussed at a DPI/NGO briefing in December 2015. The overall sense was that the Paris Agreement was a “monumental achievement for the people and the planet” (Secretary General Ban Ki Moon). 

The speakers included senior representatives from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the NGO community and practitioners from the UN system.
The session analyzed the outcomes of the landmark agreement and what is required of the NGO community to insure ratification by 55 nations by Earth Day, April 22, 2016. This briefing has been reported in detail so only a few highlights are included here.

We are now past April 22, Earth Day, 2016 – Though over 170 countries signed the agreement by Earth Day, only 15 have ratified it; more are urgently needed. This is an important second step as 55 nations must ratify the agreement for it to go into effect. At this time, 2020 is estimated as the effective start date.

This conference made considerable progress which had appeared unattainable before. Several factors helped:
 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon played an active role; he came to Paris three times during the two-week session.
 188 nations came to Paris with national climate plans called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs. These publicly outline what post-2020 actions they will take to put the world on a path to a low-carbon, climate resilient future.
 150 world leaders came to COP21 (most ever in history for a single meeting on one subject), and so there was tremendous political momentum.
 Cities are leading the way – 1000 mayors attended COP21 and declared the need to stop building coal/oil fired power plants.
 There were pledges for resources and actions - $200 billion will be required by 2020 when the agreement goes into effect. While no carbon tax is included in the agreement, many nations have already adopted carbon taxes.
 There was a development/climate change perspective as a way to fight poverty. This is important as it emphasizes the relationship between the SDGs and climate change.

Because of COP21, there is a chance of achieving the goal of a global temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees in this century with the hope of reducing that to no more than a 1.5 degree increase. (A note of caution here – scientists analyzing the INDCs predict that if implemented they will only hold the temperature rise to about 2.5 degrees.)

Only one speaker, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) was critical of the agreement. WEDO and others came to Paris determined that human rights, gender equality and the well-being of indigenous peoples would be in the main agreement. This did not happen; for example, much of what the Pacific nations and other poor nations need has been omitted. WEDO believes we should all keep pressing for the 1.5 degree goal.
Meeting of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development

Friday, December 18, 2015
The CSD met the day after the briefing and several experts addressed much of what had happened in COP21. A principal speaker was Professor Jan Dash, a recognized expert on climate change who believes climate is a survival issue; there are impacts already and it will get worse if we do nothing.

 There is an ethics issue; the poor make the least impact on climate but are hurt the most.
 This is an intergenerational challenge and it is more humane and cheaper to do more now.
 SDG 13 is specific but all of the SDGs are tied to climate change.
 If we burn all the earth’s carbon we will not survive. He argues for risk management and a change to renewable energy.

What did we get in Paris?
 His opinion is that we got a solid agreement which is better than expected and builds on all the COPs since 1992.
 There were good compromises by all parties.
 It is important to understand the legal structure of the agreement. Some parts are binding and some are not; it is not a treaty. A big question is whether the $100 B annual contribution is enforceable.

In addition to Dr. Dash, we heard from Ms Kantrow, the permanent representative to the UN of International Chamber of Commerce. She stated that ICC is the official voice of business in the UN and business “gets it”. They know they must be involved in the SDGs. Goal 16, focusing on anti-corruption, is key.

Other speakers addressed the relationship between the non-enforceable SDGs and the (somewhat) enforceable Climate Agreement.