Global Action on Historic Climate Change Agreement Expected in Paris

Signals Beginning of the End of Fossil Fuel Era

Published Dec 12, 2015

PARIS (December 12, 2015)—Today a comprehensive climate agreement, aimed at accelerating efforts to address threats posed by global climate change, has been forwarded for adoption at the United Nations climate talks in Paris. Over 190 countries participated in the negotiations—commonly referred to as COP21—to reach this historic deal creating the architecture for post-2020 climate actions. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), if adopted, the agreement would put in place a solid framework that nations could continue to build upon over time.

“Today, countries must come together to respond to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced,” said Alden Meyer, strategy and policy manager at UCS. “While there will be more work to do, if adopted, the Paris Agreement would give the world hope that we can come to grips with the mounting climate change crisis and leave our children and grandchildren with a habitable planet.

“The agreement’s temperature goal, net zero emissions objective, and processes to steadily increase the ambition of national emissions reduction commitments combine to send a clear message to the fossil fuel industry: after decades of deception and denial, your efforts to block action on climate change are no longer working. Growing public concern about climate impacts, and the availability of cost-effective efficiency and renewable energy solutions are giving leaders the political will to stand up to fossil fuel polluters and put us on a path to create the global clean energy economy needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

“Of course, there’s much hard work ahead to turn the opportunity the Paris Agreement offers us into reality. Even if we succeed in holding the increase in global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, the impacts of climate change will continue to increase over the next several decades. Vulnerable communities require scaled-up assistance to cope with these impacts, and while some progress was made on this front in Paris, more remains to be done.”  

The Paris Agreement calls on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to produce a technical paper on the global emissions pathways associated with a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature limit and sets up a facilitative dialogue in 2018 for countries to review progress towards the Agreement’s long-term goal. This would give all countries the opportunity to revisit and revise upwards their ambition on post-2020 emissions reduction commitments, before they are formally inscribed in the Agreement.

“The Paris Agreement’s goal of reaching global warming emissions neutrality in the second half of this century and keeping the global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius is an important signal to businesses that the world is on a path toward deep emission reductions and a carbon-free economy where wind, solar and other clean technologies will be the energy sources of choice,” said Rachel Cleetus, lead economist and climate policy manager in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. “However, more will need to be done to scale up financial assistance from wealthier countries to help developing nations join them on this pathway as well as to cope with mounting climate impacts. That’s why the Paris agreement must be the floor, not the ceiling for global climate action.”

Emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land-use activities currently account for about one-fourth of total global warming emissions, and the language in the agreement that encourages countries to take stronger action in the land use sector is a step in the right direction. However, additional measures, such as ramping up financial and technology support for developing nations, will be needed in future years to effectively limit emissions and safeguard forests that help absorb them. 

“The scientific reality is that we not only need to drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions, but also take emissions out of the atmosphere using tools like reforestation and sequestration in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change,” said Jason Funk, senior climate scientist for the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. “Here, we needed a game-changer that would promote the value of standing forests worldwide. This agreement makes it clear that reductions in deforestation will be recognized as a key contribution in slowing the pace of climate change.”

With climate talks in Paris coming to a close, conversations in the U.S. will now shift to how the country can not only meet, but also exceed the global promises it makes.

“What we’re doing here is putting a down payment on the clean energy future we want to see,” said Ken Kimmell, president at UCS. “The agreement calls for all countries to raise their level of ambition over time, and the U.S. is well poised for this challenge with an innovative private sector and visionary leadership from state and local governments. The major barrier we face is that we don’t have a Congress that’s ready to lead. We must work to change that over the next few years, so that we can secure the federal policies we need, including putting a price on carbon, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and doubling our research and development investment in clean energy.” 

During the climate talks in Paris, more than 70 top U.S. clean energy and climate experts sent a letter to all of the U.S. presidential candidates in both parties, urging them to pledge to create a U.S. economy free from carbon pollution by mid-century.