Real Leaders

10 Experts React to the COP21Paris Agreement


As the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) comes to a close, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) has released the following insights from its international law and global economy and politics experts regarding the outcomes, including the final Paris Agreement released on Saturday, December 12:

1. “The Paris accord represents a huge step forward in the move toward a low carbon economy. It also provides a new legitimacy for the United Nations in this area. More than 196 countries approved a deal which has some sharp teeth. It calls for efforts to limit the average increase in temperature to less than 2C (and even the unrealizable 1.5). It calls for the planet to be carbon neutral in the latter part of this century. It provides for resetting national targets every 5 years so that we might actually get to those temperature goals. And it calls for regular stocktakings of where we are. This is just a first step. Now the real challenge begins. These kinds of reductions in Greenhouse gas emissions will not come without pain or cost, especially in an energy intensive economy which has frittered away its earlier chances to do something. When Minister McKenna and her band of happy warriors return to Ottawa after a job well done, they will face a Herculean challenge to prepare a Canadian strategy capable of meeting these targets.” – David Runnalls, CIGI Distinguished Fellow 

2. “The road from Paris COP21 begins an epic journey. The new Paris Agreement, like the Sustainable Development Goals and the Addis Ababa Action Plan also concluded this pivotal year, embraces principles of solidarity, equity and sustainability and reframes intractably complex issues like climate change and poverty as matters of common concern for all human kind to resolve together in a spirit of sharing and cooperation.  This work is just beginning at the international and domestic levels.  In Canada we need to develop a comprehensive climate change strategy that leverages the powers, resources and capabilities of federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels of government, and engages with civil society and indigenous peoples to determine how we will transform ourselves from a nation embedded in the fossil fuel economy to one founded on principles of global solidarity, equity and sustainability and enabled by knowledge and clean innovation.  An epic journey begins with a first step.” – Oonagh Fitzgerald, Director of CIGI’s International Law Research Program

3. “The Paris Agreement is a historic milestone. For the first time, all the world’s governments have pledged concrete steps to arrest climate change, and to ramp up their efforts in the future, through cooperation. Governments, companies, and families had already begun to transition to a low-carbon world economy.  This agreement means this transition is now irreversible and probably will accelerate. Investors, take notice.” – John Odell, CIGI Senior Fellow

4. “The new climate change treaty negotiated at Paris rules out business as usual growth in the demand for oil and other fossil fuels. The emission reductions that will be required to hold average global temperatures to under a 2 degree Celsius rise mandate both significant  and imminent declines in world oil consumption, challenging the sustainability of high cost sources of supply such as Canada’s oil sands.”   – Jeff Rubin, CIGI Senior Fellow

5. “This Agreement will not save the planet.  Although the Agreement contains lofty goals such as keeping the global temperature rise to less than 2 degree C, it fails to require individual countries or even groups of countries to reduce emissions by specific amounts or by any particular deadline.  Also, despite the words used by many world leaders and commentators, this is not a binding “legal agreement” by which Canada, or any other specific country, must reduce its emissions, and in any event the Agreement specifically forbids “enforcement” action that would punish a particular country for violations. In short, the Paris Agreement contains no specific legal requirements and no means to ensure that carbon emission will decrease and that humanity won’t be roasted, toasted, drowned or exiled.  Additionally, there are no lofty or indeed any specific goals in the Agreement to restrict new coal mines, new coal fired power plants or petrochemical projects and also no requirements to phase out existing carbon-based fuels, such as coal, oil or other fossil fuels by a specific date.” – David Estrin, CIGI Senior Research Fellow

6. “The agreement is a major milestone with regard to addressing climate change. What becomes clear is that we have to pay the costs for carbon emissions that we have externalized for the last century. Finance is one of the main issues for climate change mitigation and adaptation. A part of the payments will be to reduce carbon emission in developed countries and another part to help developing countries to follow a path of low carbon economic development. Finally, stranded assets caused by a carbon bubble become reality. Investors should be aware that we have to keep a large amount of fossil fuel resources in the ground to achieve the goals of the COP21 agreement. This will create a major shift of investments away from fossil fuels into renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure.” – Olaf Weber, CIGI Senior Fellow

7. “For clean technology innovators, a fully implemented Paris Agreement would set the conditions needed to remove the three most important barriers to climate solutions being deployed – Finance, Procurement and Regulation.  Finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions will redirect capital away from carbon-intensive sectors toward those that accelerate decarbonization. Asset managers also deploy capital toward climate mitigation project finance. Public procurement will accelerate as governments set examples with carbon-neutral operations and with greater attention to global commerce of environmental goods. Supported by public procurement in developed countries and by development support via $100 billion in annual climate finance, global trade in manufactured environmental goods will double to $2 trillion within 5 years, on a baseline of $970 billion in 2013. Finally, in keeping with obligations of all Parties to undertake and communicate ambitious efforts, countries will update GHG regulations to support intended National Determined Contributions.”  – Céline Bak, CIGI Senior Fellow 

8. “Legend has it King Canute ordered the tide to not come in. Canute syndrome – chronic belief based on aspirations rather than evidence or practicality – afflicts climate negotiators, governments and most of the media. The Paris aspirations to limit temperature increase and to mobilize funding are unattainable. Climate sensitivity to increased emissions is uncertain. We insure against many risks, but are blind to the probability that likely future concentrations of CO2 will lead to much higher increases than the 50% or 66% scenarios project. Never mind Marco Rubio’s “The government can’t change the weather….We can pass a bunch of laws that will destroy our economy, but it isn’t going to change the weather.” A serious effort would start with ensuring that global population does not increase by nearly two billion who will require food and energy services. The prospect is that we will all be as wet as Canute.” – Barry Carin, CIGI Senior Fellow

9. “Debates over fair differentiation of obligations, one of the most controversial topics placing developed against developing countries since the inception of climate negotiations, continued to the last minutes. The result, a nuanced and dynamic differentiation, is groundbreaking in international law. Developed countries wanted to ensure large developing emitters like China and India would do their share in reducing emissions. Developing countries wanted guarantees that developed countries would face their historic responsibility for accumulated emissions, and succeeded in including clear references to their greater development needs and the required leadership of developed countries in climate action and finance. The concept of progressive obligations enabled this compromise. Developed countries will immediately pursue absolute economy-wide reduction targets. Developing countries will reduce emissions intensity, peak their emissions as soon as possible, and move towards absolute economy-wide emissions reductions over time. More disputes on differentiation are expected during implementation, yet overcoming this intractable negotiation obstacle was one of the greatest achievements in Paris.” – Patrícia Galvão Ferreira, CIGI Post-Doctoral Fellow

10. “The momentum of the Paris Agreement should be picked up by WTO officials and trade ministers who will gather in Nairobi this week for the WTO Ministerial Conference and can do a lot to ensure the 1.5°C can be reached. The WTO’s 20th birthday is here with not much to celebrate – no significant agreements have been signed since 1995 and the future of the Doha Round is uncertain. This can be changed. If WTO member states want to capitalize on the Paris outcome, then this week in Nairobi they should make efforts towards progress on the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) which is currently on the negotiating table. The target of the EGA is the reduction or elimination of tariffs on several products that help clean the environment and contribute to renewable energy production. The agreement can create a robust green goods trading regime within the WTO, which would signal to world markets and investors that it is in their best interest to progressively switch to renewable energy sources and green goods’ trade. The world trading system can become the enabling force for the institution of green policies and market incentives, as long as its members negotiating in Nairobi this week, like their fellow ministers in Paris, think ‘green’.” – Maria Panezi, CIGI Post-Doctoral Fellow

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