A Brief Analysis of COP21

By Bella Jones

On November 30th, a total of 195 countries convened for the Paris Climate talks (COP21) to reduce carbon emissions. Its focus was on whether the agreement should be legally binding, how to help developing countries construct low-carbon technology, and how to address long-term climate goals. The success of the deal will depend on wealthy nations, who should provide adequate funding for developing countries to grow sustainable economies and mitigate effects of climate change.

On December 12th, an agreement was reached. Some highlights of the agreement include plans to:

  1. Achieve a long-term goal of limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels
  2. Enforce new climate commitments through a transparent framework
  3. Reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and promote forest conservation and sustainable management.   
  4. Mobilize public funds using a variety of strategies to address the climate needs of developing countries
  5. Avert and minimize the adverse effects of climate change on vulnerable populations using public funds

The resulting agreement did not include a measure to implement a carbon tax, a strategy to curb carbon emissions that has already shown much success in 40 countries. President Obama describes it as a more direct policy approach, as  “the most elegant way to drive innovation and reduce emissions.” A likely reason a carbon tax was not implemented is because many governments, especially those in developing nations, determined that carbon taxation would have a crippling effect for economies seeking to industrialize. India, for example, highlighted the need to operationalise the principle of equity and fair distribution of the remaining carbon space. The developing nation never supported domestic carbon emissions cuts but called on developed countries to take greater responsibility in cutting emissions. For instance,  United States, which emitted 12% more of total greenhouse gas emissions than India from 1990-2011, would be called upon to reduce its emissions. India, on the other hand, will seek to invest in green energy while expanding its use of coal in the next 5 years. It plans to do this while reducing the intensity of its carbon dioxide emissions by 33 percent to 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, yet not actually reducing the volume of production. The exclusion of a universal carbon tax reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.

The results of the Paris Agreement showed a change in the architecture of the international fight against climate change. Instead of assigning targets and regulations, nations proposed their own plans, or “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). Nations will be required to update the plans every five years beginning in 2023. The Paris Agreement mobilizes political pressure through transparency and accountability. To ensure compliance, NDCs and its progress will be periodically reviewed in a facilitative dialogue. This model utilizes international pressure, because currently no robust supranational governing body exists that can extend international jurisdiction over national governments to impact global climate change. This year’s Paris Agreement applies a lateral approach, incorporating collective force and pressure to ensure the agreements enaction.

The Paris Agreement’s two-prong approach that mobilize international pressure through transparency and accountability seems promising, but whether or not nations will stick to their respective pledges and effectively appropriate funds will depend on how well they will follow through in the following months and at the next summit.

Overall it is too soon to judge the effectiveness of Paris Agreement, though many aspects of its stipulations are promising for international progress on climate change. The results will unfold in the coming months and the body will reconvene for COP 22 Morocco at the 2016 UN climate summit.



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