It’s a move that could significantly reduce damage from climate change.
Two decades of wrangling came to an end on Saturday when 195 nations made a partially legally-binding commitment to limit the level of global warming to 1.5 degrees (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) – down from the 2-degrees-Celsius threshold reached in Copenhagen six years ago.
Last month, new research found the world has now already warmed by 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times, meaning time is of the essence.
Several other measures were also agreed in an effort to achieve the ambitious new global-warming target.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who chaired the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, called the accord “ambitious and balanced,” and said it marked an “historic turning point” in efforts to avoid disastrous consequences of an overheated planet.
President Barack Obama hailed the Paris deal as “the best chance we have to save the one planet we have.”
And Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement released late Saturday that the climate agreement marked “the first time that the entire world community has obligated itself to act — in the battle against global climate change.”
The chancellor added that while there was still a lot of work ahead, the deal is a “sign of hope that we will manage to secure the living conditions of billions of people for the future.”
But many business leaders in her own country were less optimistic about the treaty, as they say it fails to require concrete action.
“Now, coal’s exit in Germany and in other countries must be on the agenda more than ever,” said Regine Günther with German branch of the World Wildlife Foundation.
“Unfortunately, the agreement remains far behind what is needed in important respects for fair and binding mitigation efforts.”
“The goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees is very ambitious – and basically unfeasible without negative emissions,” climate economist Ottmar Edenhofer told Handelsblatt. Negative emissions, which withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere, can be achieved through reforestation and biomass systems, he noted.
Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997 and went into force in 2005, various parts of the new agreement include no binding targets for the reduction of CO2 for individual states. It relies instead on voluntary measures, which Eric Schweitzer, president of the German Chamber of Commerce, DIHK, considers a mistake.
“It remains to be seen whether they are implemented by all major emitters,” he told Handelsblatt. “There are hardly any countries that come close to us” in transisting to renewable energy sources, he added.
Yet, he noted that many signatories aim to increase energy and climate-related investments, “could result in new business opportunities for German companies.”
Also skeptical about the French climate agreement’s effectiveness was the Federation of German Industries.
“Unfortunately, the agreement remains far behind what is needed for fair and binding mitigation efforts,” said Holger Lösch, a member of the federation’s executive board. The agreement, he noted, means that Germany and Europe will need to continue protecting their industries from unequal global competition. The main task of the coming years will now be for all countries to put their submitted proposals into action.
“The world moves on climate change at two speeds,” said Utz Tillmann, president of the German Chemical Industry Association. While the European Union has made progress through strict rules to pursue the its ambitious goals, many others in the world do only “what is economically feasible,” he said.
Divisions between industrialized countries and emerging and developing countries remain. Under the new agreement, developed countries are set to foot the bill for poorer countries in the fight against climate change. Emerging markets can chip in but are not required to. That was a bitter pill to swallow for many of the wealthier countries, including Germany.
To limit global warming well below two degrees, signatories of the Paris agreement have committed themselves to a series of measures, a key one being to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to bring net emissions of CO2 down to zero in the second half of the century. Essentially, that means only emitting as much carbon dioxide into the air as can be absorbed naturally by forests and oceans.
According to experts, this means that burning coal, oil and gas must completely end between 2050 and 2070, since their byproduct CO2 stays the longest in the atmosphere. That would also ban the construction of new coal power plants, which have a lifespan of 30 or 40 years.
The only option for new CO2 production would be underground storage. But this method, called carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is controversial. So far, it has only been used on a small scale. Opposition to the method is huge in Germany, so that a legal provision for it seems unlikely.
Before the Paris conference, nearly 190 countries had submitted individual climate protection plans, which fell short of what is needed to limit climate change at a manageable level. They agreed to have have their plans checked every five years starting in 2018.
The signatories agreed to disclose all carbon dioxide emissions data and to document all climate change mitigation efforts and effects.
Developed countries consented to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and finance measures. They plan to make $100 billion available annually through a Green Climate Fund beginning in 2020. The sum will be further increased beginning in 2025.
In addition to the wealthy developed countries, emerging economies like China and oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia, were encouraged to “voluntarily” contribute to the fund. The Green Climate Fund had been the subject of debate at previous climate summits and the decision to create it was made in Copenhagen in 2009.
The agreement is binding under international law. However, penalties are not provided for in the event that a country does not comply with its obligations. Regular checks and the public discussion are meant to provide adequate pressure.
The deal also includes a loss and damage mechanism for addressing the financial losses that volnerable countries face from climate impacts such as extreme weather.
Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction and environmental policy. John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Globlal Edition. To contact the author: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org