A sense of optimism

27th November 2015

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  • Adaptation ,
  • Mitigation ,
  • Politics & Economics


Gail Lees

Paul Suff considers the chances of success at the Paris climate talks.

Environment professionals would have entered 2015 looking forward to publication later in the year of the revised ISO 14001 standard. Many had been monitoring its development and hoping the final version would live up to the promise of earlier drafts and help them better integrate environmental management in their organisations. That optimism was largely met when 14001: 2015 was published in September.

Now, as we enter the final month of the year, practitioners will be looking forward in hope once again, this time to the climate summit in Paris (COP21). There is every indication the outcome will not be another Copenhagen.

In 2009, global leaders gathered in the Danish capital at COP15 to agree a plan to tackle climate change. Initial optimism, boosted by the attendance of the US delegation, quickly evaporated as delegates squabbled over procedure, and ended with rich and poor countries blaming each other for the debacle. All that emerged was a vague agreement, the Copenhagen accord, which was brokered in the final hours of the summit by just five nations (Brazil, China, India, South Africa and the US) but did little to meet expectations ahead of the conference.

Ahead of the Paris talks countries have been submitting to the UNFCCC their national climate plans - called intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). Official analysis forecasts that the INDCs would limit temperature rise to around 2.7ºC above pre-industrial levels by 2100. So it is unlikely COP21 will deliver a deal that will keep global warming below the 2ºC threshold at which scientists believe catastrophic change could occur.

According to the latest UNFCCC assessment the plans, as they stand, will not achieve the goal of peaking global emissions, then reducing them rapidly: they are still likely to be up to 22% higher in 2030 compared with 2010. It is worth pointing out the INDCs are voluntary and that COP21 is unlikely to agree legally binding reductions, so some countries may default on their commitments just as some have failed to meet their Kyoto protocol obligations. It is worth also remembering that around a quarter of the pledged reductions depend on richer countries providing finance, but money for mitigation remains a sticking point.

Nonetheless, let's remain optimistic. Two of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the US, have been cooperating on climate action over the past year, and the range of voices ahead of Paris calling for meaningful action is unprecedented. Let's hope global leaders finally deliver a deal that takes us a step closer to tackling climate change effectively.


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