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State of climate emergency in Paris as COP21 begins

Posted by Tracy Carty Climate Change Policy Advisor

2nd Dec 2015

Climate change costs

Tracy Carty, Climate Change Policy Advisor, outlines what's at stake at the Paris climate change conference which kicked off with world leaders attending on Monday. Decisions made in the next ten days will have stark consequences for the world, and especially the 3.5 billion poorest people.

Over 2000 public mobilisations took place over the weekend to mark the eve of the UN climate summit in Paris. From São Paulo to Sydney, and from London to Manila, record breaking crowds took part in the largest climate mobilisation in history: 800,000 people in 175 countries. In Paris, where the climate march was called off following the terrorist attacks, thousands of empty shoes lined Place de la Republique to represent marchers, and thousands formed a human chain along the route where the march was meant to take place.

London Climate March, 29 November, 2015. Credit: Rob Pinney / Avaaz'Let's get to work!'

The Summit opened with a gathering of over 150 world leaders. When they last got together to agree a global climate deal (in Copenhagen six years ago) it ended in multilateral meltdown. In a break from tradition, leaders were invited to attend the first day of the summit not the end, to embolden negotiators to strike a deal, and avoid any pandemonium in the final hours. 

President Hollande kicked off the leaders speeches, telling those assembled that the hope of all humanity rests on their shoulders. David Cameron asked 'what would we tell our grandchildren if we fail to agree on a deal?'. President Obama warned 'there is such a thing as being too late... that hour is almost upon us.... Let's get to work!'. Whilst President Xi Jinping said COP21 'is not a finish line but a new starting point'.

A deal for the poorest and most vulnerable

There is much to do to ensure these stirring speeches translate into a fair deal that meets the needs of the world's 3.5 billion poorest people. They are the least able to cope with increased risk of floods, droughts, hunger and disease, and are also least responsible for the emissions that have caused climate change.

Two critical questions will determine the extent to which the Paris deal helps those on the frontlines of climate impacts. The first is whether the deal is strong enough to keep the goal of 1.5°C, or even 2°C, within reach. The second is whether there is enough finance in the deal for poorer countries.

Is it a 'below 2ºC' deal? 

Unlike Copenhagen, countries tabled their emissions reduction pledges before Paris in the form of  INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). While that's welcome, it's clear these targets will not keep temperatures below 2°C, much less 1.5°C. National pledges add up to barely half of the emissions reduction needed to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change. Even if all countries meet their INDC commitments, the world is likely to warm by a devastating 3°C or more.

The credibility of the Paris outcome thus rests on the strength of any mechanism to increase ambition from 2020, when INDCs and the new agreement take effect. Delay will put the world on a trajectory requiring extraordinarily difficult emissions reduction in a decade's time. The world simply cannot wait that long to fix a 3°C deal. 

Delay will put the world on a trajectory requiring extraordinarily difficult emissions reduction in a decade's time. The world simply cannot wait that long to fix a 3°C deal.

Is there enough finance?

The provision of financial support from developed to developing countries (to help them adapt to a changing climate and develop in a low carbon way) is an obligation enshrined in the UN Climate Convention. Progress has been slow, with financial support falling far short of what's needed (and of existing commitments), especially for adaptation. Oxfam estimates that public climate finance provided by developed countries was around $20bn on average in 2013-14. Of that, adaptation's share was only around $3-5bn, woefully less than 50 percent, which Oxfam says must be a minimum.

New modelling published by Oxfam indicates the stakes could get even higher. Inadequate emissions cuts on the table for Paris are likely to raise the adaptation finance needs of developing countries by almost $300bn per year by 2050 compared to 2°C (almost $800 billion in total), and could cost them an additional $600bn annually in economic losses ($1.7 trillion in total) .

Finance is an agenda item that can still move in Paris, and must move quickly and significantly over the next two weeks. For the most vulnerable, the biggest potential game-changer will be the 'offer' contributing countries make on adaptation finance. Oxfam is calling for developed countries to commit to a target of at least $35bn for adaptation by 2020, within the existing commitment to mobilise $100bn per year in climate finance by 2020. As well as a new separate adaptation goal in the post-2020 agreement that ensures at least 50% of public finance flows to adaptation. 

Paris: A platform for further climate action

The Paris COP won't save the world. But it will be an outcome that is expected to last for the next 15 years at the very least. As a consequence, we cannot afford to lock in low ambition, and we cannot settle for a deal at any price. Rich countries must keep their financial promises to the poor, and all governments must agree a deal that keeps the goals of 1.5°C and 2°C within reach. If they do, Paris may be the moment that the long arc of fighting climate change finally starts to bend towards justice. But if they don't, Paris will leave the world's poorest countries facing crippling climate impacts in the decades ahead, with less certainty of financial support to help them cope than they have today.

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Photo: London Climate March, 29 November, 2015. Credit: Rob Pinney / Avaaz

Blog post written by Tracy Carty

Climate Change Policy Advisor

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Tracy Carty