Friday 11 December 2015

A 1.5C degree goal means nothing without a plan on how to achieve it.

by Rob Elsworth, CAFOD

The climate talks in Paris, COP21, are nearing the end of the second week and the French Presidency is working to maintain momentum and ensure a structured process. The latest on the ‘Paris Outcome’, as it’s currently being called, came out on the 9th Dec at 15:00. Encouragingly a temperature limit of 1.5C is being put on the table, but it doesn’t mean anything until we get a clear plan on how the world would achieve it.

One of the big questions here in Paris has been around levels of ambition. Ahead of the talks countries set out in intended nationally determined commitments – or INDCs – what they are willing and able to do on reducing emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Analysis of these pledges have shown that collectively they put us on a trajectory toward 2.7+ degrees of warming. There are increasing calls to ensure COP21 delivers an agreement that has sufficient flexibility to allow for ambition to be increased over time. If the deal agreed a long term decarbonisation goal, ensuring a full phase-out of fossil fuel emissions and phasing in 100% renewable energy by 2050, there would remain an opportunity to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees and limit the most dangers impact of a changing climate.

1.5 degrees to protect the most vulnerable

Increasingly the focus of the discussions at COP21 has turned to the temperature target of the agreement. At the start of the negotiations 43 countries, including the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), issued a declaration calling for a long term decarbonisation goal and a move towards 100% renewable energy by 2050. This would be line with 1.5 temperature increase – the limit needed to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. CIDSE and CI came to the COP supporting this ask. We see in our work it’s the poorest and most vulnerable people and communities that are being hit hardest by a changing climate. Over 100 countries now support a 1.5 degree warming target for the Paris agreement. “One point five to survive!” is the slogan of the vulnerable countries’ campaign here in Paris. This is an important show of solidarity with the most vulnerable in a process that is dominated by a few major economies. Multilateral forums such as the UNFCCC are one of the few places where smaller and marginalised countries are able to influence the world around them, in contract with closed circles like G7 or the World Economic Forum, where they are excluded from decisions that have a profound knock on effect for them.

End goal and review cycles

The science says we need to reduce emissions radically to stay within the 1.5 degree target. To do this effectively COP21 must agree on a long term decarbonisation goal. This is needed to give a signal to the world, including investors and policy-makers at all levels, that the future must be low carbon. This clear direction on decarbonisation would provide long-term policy and investor certainty. To complement the long term goal and make it achievable there is the need for flexibility. An ambition mechanism will ensure that commitments made in the INDCs can be revisited and increased over time, taking into account changing circumstances – social, political and economic. We believe ambition should be reviewed at least every five years and this process should start before the Paris agreement comes into effect in 2020. This is to prevent locking in low ambition for extended periods of time before a first review in the mid-2020s. Developed countries must take the lead in this process, constantly increasing their mitigation targets and providing additional finance for the most vulnerable counties. A differentiation formulation should be put forward to provide assurance and clarity on how developing countries should best make progress on their contribution.

Sending a signal to the world

By deciding the end point for the fossil fuel era COP21 can demonstrate to the world that there is a collective direction of travel and common vision. Clarity of the goal is paramount. It must resonate with the public, investors, policy makers and leaders. It must set humanity on a common path. Challenges remain and countries paths will differ. This emphasises the need for the Paris agreement to be flexible and able to respond to a changing world, the latest science, and the needs of the most vulnerable. A long term goal would as a minimum maintain a direction of travel.

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