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COP21: Which deal did we get?

By Joachim Marc Christensen, Project Coordinator of the Global Opportunity Network

Saturday evening December 12th 2015 became a historic night as the world saw its first global climate deal for a coordinated response against climate change. But as confetti was swept off the conference floor and government officials returned to their respective countries, the deal was weighed by the rest of the world. Some found it substantial, others too light. The question remains: Which deal did we actually get? It all depends on our expectations.

At 7:27 pm CET, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hit his hammer against the conference table and declared the Paris-agreement officially adopted. After more than 12 days of tough negotiations, hugs and smiles filled the stage and Head of UNFCCC Christiana Figueres received roaring ovations for her role as the COP21 pacesetter. 196 countries had agreed to stand behind the 32-page long document drafted to avoid the consequences of a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius.

The Paris-deal can be summarized into five main agreements:

  • The deal will come into effect in 2020 with an overall goal of keeping the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius (ideally below 1.5 degrees) by the end of the century.
  • All countries must individually develop climate plans based on their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) every five years. The goals in these plans can only be tightened, not eased.
  • Rich countries must mobilize $100 billion for green investments a year from 2020 to 2025 – an amount that will be reevaluated in 2025. Furthermore, rich countries must financially support poor countries and take the lead in reducing greenhouse gasses.
  • All countries must report to the UN every two years about the results of their climate plans.
  • The deal must be reevaluated every five years to assess whether it lives up to its goals. The first of these meetings will be held in 2023.

A diamond in the rough

The five points above might seem fair, but some politicians, activists and experts have already heavily criticized the deal for its lack of specific goals, numbers, dates, and consequences in the case of violation. Words such as urges and requests are abundant in the document and represent language that provides accountability loopholes. The deal is purely voluntary, only tying nations to set non-binding targets without forcing them to keep these targets. Further, global carbon pricing did not become a part of the deal, even though many agree that a carbon-pricing scheme is essential to fighting climate change effectively.

Yet, the deal is certainly worth celebrating in spite of its imperfections. When almost 200 nations need to agree, the risk of failure is enormous. People would have been in their right minds had they expected nothing from the COP. Critics tend to forget that the alternative to the Paris-agreement would have been no deal, and if we consider that only a collective effort is enough to keep temperatures from rising, no deal would have been completely unacceptable. Global Opportunity Network’s advisory board member and climate scientist Katherine Richardson mentioned in Danish newspaper Politiken after the adoption of the new agreement that the deal should be regarded as a “platform for the future”. We agree. Our new deal is a platform, and it resembles, finally, a change in global climate discourse and a possible beginning of the collective green mindset for the future we have been waiting for.

The world starts from tomorrow

“The world starts from tomorrow” were UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s words following the deal, which emphasizes that the hard work lies ahead. The next five years will prove whether rich countries have the willpower and strength to adopt green growth strategies and whether the developing giants China and India can marry their desired economic growth with green technology. It depends on their mindsets. At Global Opportunity Network, we focus on opportunities and we perceive the deal as a climate action instruction manual that can guide us for many years. There are plenty of reasons to stay optimistic and start seizing the green opportunities that fill the horizon.

You can read the whole Paris-deal here and live-stream the launch of the new Global Opportunity Report on this website, on January 26.

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