By Sarah-Jane O'Connor 13/12/2015


Overnight the Paris agreement was settled upon, with a goal to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

It has taken two weeks of intense negotiations, but the decision has been made not just to aim for a target of 2°C, but to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

Countries will be required to report on “national inventories of emissions by source” and also to report on their mitigation efforts.

Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick said the agreement was the “most positive thing to come out of the COP negotiations to date”.

“The call for transparency, continual ratcheting up of emissions targets, and the provisions for climate finance, are very positive outcomes.”

Renwick said the agreement included a statement that developed countries shall undertake “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”.

“Take note, New Zealand – no hot-air credits, actual emissions reductions are required,” he said.

Though the emphasis on aiming for a 1.5°C limit has been touted as the most positive move in Paris, Renwick cautioned that it might come too late “as we are well on the way to 1.5°C with present greenhouse gas levels”.

“Staying below 2°C warming is a big ask, but this document provides a framework for action. Now we just need the action.”

Victoria University’s Professor Martin Manning, from the Climate Change Research Institute, said governments had made a much higher level of commitment to achieving the 2°C target, despite not having detailed plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to meet that goal.

“A clear signal has also been given to the fossil fuel industry that, unless they can make carbon capture and sequestration work very quickly, fossil fuels will be phased out in the next few decades.”

The agreement would push changing in financial investment strategies and the private sector would start making a more rapid shift to renewable energy, he said.

“There are still some major issues in the too hard basket, such as achieving equity for those that will be more severely affected by changes that are already unavoidable. Climate change has not stopped, and we still need better ways of adapting to it, but that should now become more manageable.”

Massey University Centre for Energy Research director Professor Ralph Sims said New Zealand would need to be “more nimble and innovative to reduce our emissions across all sectors and keep up with the leading countries”.

“There will be many years of further negotiations needed to support the principles of this Agreement,” Sims said.

“But COP21 will be remembered for the event where global society came to fully understand the many opportunities and co-benefits that climate change mitigation and adaptation methods provide.”

For expert commentary on the Paris agreement, see sciencemediacentre.co.nz.

Featured image: Flickr CC, Miroslav Petrasko.