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Cop21-Paris: The 'turning point in the world's fight against unmanaged climate change'?

by Gaby Umbach (Research Project Director: Globalisation DatabaseGlobal Governance Programme


17 December 2015 

The Paris Agreement marks a truly special moment in global climate governance history. For the first time, UNFCCC parties have agreed unanimously on a legally binding instrument for all states! ‘Unprecedented’ was hence the most used word in the plenary debate after the adoption of the accord; and ‘unprecedented’ it is indeed, because it derives from and results in broad ownership across the different groups of actors.

Is the Paris Agreement a perfect climate deal? No, it is not! It is no formal international treaty, but a ‘legally binding instrument’. It lacks a mandatory emissions reduction scheme, quantitative legally binding mitigation targets and compliance enforcement mechanisms. The 1.5°C ceiling to a rise in temperatures above pre-industrial levels does not per se prevent unmanageable future challenges. The accord misses deadlines for pre-2020 reduction targets and a precise date for an emissions peak. It is silent about the fate of fossil fuel production. Carbon taxation to force down emissions more quickly is missing. It leaves long-term finances unregulated; no formal loss and damage compensation fund or a stand-alone target for adaptation finances were adopted; liability for loss and damage is excluded; the vulnerability of many African and Latin American countries is not sufficiently recognised.

Yet, is the Paris accord still a ‘good’ climate deal? Yes, it is! COP21 was a success for multilaterism in global climate governance. Its outcome is legally-binding for all states, stronger than previous agreements, more rules-based, flexible and dynamic. Obligations on parties to set national emissions reduction targets and the 5-year monitoring cycle for these goals are legally binding. The latter leaves room for progressive ratcheting up of targets. The 1.5°C limit to a maximum temperature rise is most likely to impact on the further tightening of national targets. Multilateral finances have been scaled up. A task force on displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change will be set up. Loss and damage received stronger visibility in an own section. The accord initiates a global transition from fossil fuels towards renewable energies and marks a turning point towards a low-carbon economy. A paradigmatic shift in global climate governance is marked by the reference to human rights, the right to development, gender equality, ‘climate justice’ and inter-generational equity. This amalgamates the two main future-oriented global governance discourses: combatting climate change and developing sustainably. The accord reflects an end to the previous ‘Us vs. Them’ approach in bi- and multilateral climate change related cooperation. Dividing lines between the developed and developing world became blurred allowing for issue linkages and new coalitions across previously divided camps.

It is therefore in this sense, that the Paris Agreement needs to be assessed as a ‘good’ deal. In the best of all ‘good’ cases, its implementation will be the ‘turning point in the world’s fight against unmanaged climate change’ as Lord Nicholas Stern put it Saturday night. In the very best of all ‘good’ cases, it will also spill-over into other global governance domains, enabling the global community to react more effectively and efficiently to common threats.


Read also the extended version of "COP21 Paris: The ‘turning point in the world’s fight against unmanaged climate change’?" published on Eutopia Magazine


Page last updated on 17 August 2017