Good COP, Bad COP: Where did the historic Paris agreement land?

John Mauro on the Paris climate change agreement

Last Updated : 23 Dec 2015
Good COP Bad COP
Artist's impressions of how well-known geographic features may look in the future as a result of climate change.

The international media has been abuzz with news from Paris and the conference known as “COP21.” More than 190 countries, including New Zealand, have reached a historic agreement to take collective action on climate change and to transition to cleaner, low-carbon economies.

Some say the Paris agreement is “the world’s greatest diplomatic success.” Some say it doesn’t go far enough. Since I’ve read the text (and was in Paris), here’s my take on where things landed.

The agreement is a step forward 

As I wrote from Paris, there were tough issues to work out, like how poorer countries pay for climate adaptation and how much warming we’ll allow.

The good? The agreement calls for a 2-degree ‘safe zone’ limit on warming with a more ambitious intent to keep it below 1.5 degrees, as climate change threatens the very existence of some of our Pacific neighbours.

It requires stringent monitoring and a global stocktake to assess how countries are doing against their commitments. And it includes the ‘ratcheting up’ of all commitments over time, with a review every five years.

Finally, there’s a new capacity-building initiative and a renewed goal to generate USD$100 billion a year in climate financing.

It’s a time of optimism but it’s tempered with a fierce reality: we now need to get on with it.

The bad? The 1.5-degree intent may be far more aspirational than realistic, especially since current commitments probably mean a 3-degree increase in average temperature.

While there’s mention of peaking emissions as soon as possible, oil producing countries struck down language for 'reaching emissions neutrality in the second half of the century'. And while there’s acknowledgement of 'averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage' related to climate impacts, richer countries were hesitant to include a mechanism for liability or compensation.

Finally, the trade-off for including all countries in an agreement means the lack of a numerical emissions target.

As a flexible, somewhat voluntary instrument, the agreement doesn’t solve the climate crisis. But it puts us on solid ground as the first cooperative planetary commitment to doing so.

The agreement is a chance for New Zealand to step it up

The NZ emissions target is an 11 per cent reduction of 1990 levels by 2040, slightly more ambitious target than the previous target.

It builds on existing work, like the government’s Business Growth Agenda, which calls for energy efficiency improvements, increased use of renewable energy, and emissions reductions. But as we discover the co-benefits of reducing emissions – and developing and deploying the technologies to do so – I expect our national ambitions and actions will rise.

The agreement highlights the importance of local action

Auckland, like central government, has a commitment to transition to a low-carbon, energy-resilient economy.

That’s why it was so important for Auckland to be represented at the summit in Paris. And that’s why we’re taking significant steps forward to achieve the Auckland Plan goal of reducing emissions by 40 per cent by 2040.

The Low Carbon Auckland action plan sets out the pathway for how to get there, and we’re working with businesses, community groups and central government to accelerate progress. As the New Zealand Herald noted in a recent editorial, “climate goals must now flow into daily life.”

Making that happen in Auckland now becomes an opportunity to properly prepare for climate impacts and to get ahead on reaping the benefits of the transition.

What will be exciting to be part of is how this work in Auckland connects with national efforts, which in turn sync up with the new international agreement.

It’s a time of optimism but it’s tempered with a fierce reality: we now need to get on with it.

John Mauro is Auckland Council's Chief Sustainability Officer.



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