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In December 2015 representatives of 196 countries met to attempt to reach an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of limiting a global temperature increase to below 2oC. This Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris is successful would be the first time that, from 2020, both developed and developing countries would commit to tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

Countries published Intended Nationally Determined Contributions for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, or INDCs, ahead of the Paris conference. This is a bottom up approach, with the aim that aggregated contributions will add up to a 2oC limit on global temperature increases. However, the UNFCCC analysis of these showed that the pledges as made if implemented, would reduce expected warming of 4-5oC to around 2.7oC. In response there were calls from various negotiating groups, including the EU and the UK, for any agreement at Paris to include provisions for five yearly reviews of pledges.

Developed countries also called for clear rules and transparency on emission reporting to ensure targets are met.

Climate Finance

Issues that were of particular concern to developing countries included how developed countries plan to meet their pledge of $100 billion climate finance (from public and private sources) a year by 2020. There was also the issue of compensation for ‘loss and damage’ to the poorest countries, such as small island states, that have contributed little to climate change and where there is no option for adaptation.

Other Developments

Away from the negotiations China and the US, the two greatest emitters, issued a joint commitment to reducing emissions in November 2015. There were also increasing calls from across the board for a meaningful agreement to be reached, including from religious leaders. There was also increased global investment in renewables and away from coal.

And for the first time the International Energy Agency provisional figures for 2014 showed there was global economic growth of 3% without any associated growth in emissions from energy use.

Paris Agreement

Agreement was reached in Paris on 12 December 2015 on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol that will apply to all countries, and come into force by 2020. There was widespread relief that this had been achieved, whilst also recognisng that it is a first step towards limiting anthropogenic climate change to safe levels.

An unexpected outcome of the conference was t the ambition of the emissions goal of keeping temperatures “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”. The agreement also set an aim for emissions to peak “as soon as possible” and for emissions from human activity and absorption by carbon sinks to balance sometime in the second half of the century. Agreement was also reached on five-yearly reviews of NDCs, extending the $100bn per year climate finance to 2025; details of a reporting system for all countries and a mention of the concept of loss and damage.

Further details of the ongoing ratification process aimed at bringing the Agreement into force by the end of 2016 can be found in the Library Paper on Ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement


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  • The report from Climate Assembly UK, The Path to Net Zero, will be debated in the House of Commons on 26 September 2020. Climate Assembly UK was jointly commissioned by six Parliamentary Select Committees in 2019 to answer the question of how the UK should meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.