The Paris Agreement is Adopted

The Paris Agreement was formally adopted at 7:26 pm Paris time, on Saturday, December 12, by the Conference of the Parties. The Agreement was many years in the making. The Agreement now sets in motion a global process of accelerated climate action, for full implementation of the 1992 Convention’s mandate to “avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

There are many breakthroughs in the new text, including the setting of standards for nationally determined climate action strategies. Article 4 of the Agreement, Paragraph 13, for instance, calls for Parties to

promote environmental integrity, transparency, accuracy, completeness, comparability and consistency, and ensure the avoidance of double counting…

All of these are related to principles for effective, efficient carbon pricing, and echo both the Pathway to Paris Core Principles and the FASTER Principles put forward by the World Bank and the OECD after consultation with the IMF and with CPLC partners. While there is no mention of carbon pricing in this section, the Agreement clearly sets standards for designing effective carbon pricing strategies.

How Action is Embedded in the Text

To understand the strength of this Agreement, it is necessary to sift through the text not as a single story from beginning to end, but as the complex global policy puzzle it describes. The overall landscape of legal framing and capacity-building, on any given issue, is spread out across the full text of the Paris Agreement and corresponding COP Decisions.

To follow a theme, carbon pricing is cited in Paragraph 137 of the legal Decision of the COP to adopt the Paris Agreement. It falls under the heading of “Non-Party Stakeholders”, because market corrective pricing policies can efficiently incentivize and support innovation, behavior change, and other emissions reduction strategies taken by investors and entities outside of government.

When properly designed, this can include individual consumers, ideally at minimal to or even negative cost (value added) to those not in a position to make decisions about investment switching. It is added to a phrase specifying “domestic policies”, because parties that worry about intrusion into their economic sovereignty can now be assured they have the right to design their own policies and determine how revenues will be used.

Article 6 outlines “voluntary cooperation in the implementation of … nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition”, specifying “cooperative approaches that involve the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes”. According to David Hone, of Shell, “This opens up the door to both large financial flows to developing countries and carbon pricing in many economies.”

That’s because this language relates to the plans some nations have to trade emissions reductions, capacity-building, finance for clean development, and other mitigation strategies. Taken together with Article 4, Paragraph 13, the Paris Agreement enables carbon pricing in various forms, but requires “environmental integrity, transparency, accuracy”, and no “double counting”.

This means we have strict standards for instituting market signals that correspond to demonstrable avoidance of emissions, moving us closer to avoiding “dangerous anthropogenic interference”. If these distinct provisions are combined as intended, 195 nations will be rapidly moving toward a low-carbon economy.

Crucial Breakthroughs

One of the most talked about and significant breakthroughs, however, is the support for a 1.5ºC upper limit for global average temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. The Agreement sets the standard of staying “well below” 2ºC, and sets a course for 1.5ºC. Paragraph 21 of the legal Decision of the COP, to adopt the Paris Agreement calls for:

the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways;

The inclusion of the principle of “intergenerational equity” means the Paris Agreement now anchors future ethical decision-making, regarding both timelines for action and the value of up-front investment in climate action. What it means is: the universal Agreement on implementation of the 1992 Convention requires that governments not discount harm to future generations as “more cost effective” than costs of present-day investment in climate action.

The Paris Agreement calls for review and upgrade of national climate action plans (NDCs) every five years. This is the elusive “ratchet mechanism“, which was seen as so crucial to establishing a new framework for full, global implementation of the 1992 Convention. By reviewing and upgrading NDCs every five years, the Agreement sets in motion new incentives for escalating ambition, a kind of “race to the top” where nations gain diplomatically and economically for leading with a bolder vision and more effective implementation.

French President Francois Hollande told the assembled delegates:

You’ve done it, reached an ambitious agreement, a binding agreement, a universal agreement. Never will I be able to express more gratitude to a conference. You can be proud to stand before your children and grandchildren.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said:

We have entered a new era of global cooperation on one of the most complex issues ever to confront humanity. For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action. This is a resounding success for multilateralism.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said:

One planet, one chance to get it right and we did it in Paris. We have made history together. It is an agreement of conviction. It is an agreement of solidarity with the most vulnerable. It is an agreement of long-term vision, for we have to turn this agreement into an engine of safe growth.

What It Means to Our Team

Throughout the two weeks of the COP21, our Citizens’ Voice team was on the ground, reporting from the Conference, interviewing delegates, observers, and activists, and telling the story of this landmark global policy breakthrough. You can see their nearly 200 videos online at:

A little less than a year ago, we set our goals for Paris outcomes that would allow us to say the COP21 had been a success:

  • A global goal equal to the challenge of avoiding dangerous interference with the climate system: full decarbonization by 2050
  • Carbon pricing to make that target reachable
  • A network for citizen participation in global policy

On Monday, November 30, we joined a global coalition of leaders and strategic partners to launch the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition—a new policy-design framework where governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses, including some of the world’s largest oil companies and institutional investors, work together as peers. The mission is to build effective, efficient, equitable carbon pricing into all national climate strategies by 2020.

On Wednesday, December 2, we launched the Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network, officially. We will now spend the next 11 months, in the run-up to COP22, filling out the Advisory Coalition, the Secretariat and the Global Team of local networks and leaders, to ensure citizens’ voices are part of the policy-making process inside global negotiations.

So, the 1.5ºC standard is the new, stronger global goal we were looking for. While the text does not mandate full decarbonization by 2050, the task of meeting the 1.5ºC standard for maximum temperature rise essentially does. There is no way to meet the 1.5ºC standard, without fully transitioning away from climate forcing fuels.

Governments, investors, major businesses, and intergovernmental agencies, now have a clear sense of the direction of travel. The world is moving more rapidly than ever toward the decoupling of economic development from climate forcing fuels. The future is more and more being defined as one in which all people have a right to affordable, reliable 100% clean energy. And carbon delta analysis—examination of the added cost from being dependent on climate-harming activities for gain—is gathering momentum.

If the 196 Parties to the Convention fully implement this new step forward in the Framework for global climate action, we will see trillions of dollars in new investment move into climate-smart technologies. The work of disaggregating all of the financial investment activity that moves into climate action will also now gather momentum, and expand what is possible in terms of overall climate finance.

This is not the end of the road, but the on-ramp to a new, higher-speed pathway to climate-energy balance. It will now take the work of governments, NGOs, businesses, and citizens, to pull together the smartest ideas, empower leaders at all levels to make more ambitious contributions to the global climate response, and build a future economy rooted in mutual thriving, where climate damage becomes first marginal, and then disappears from our way of living in the world.

Where do we go from here?

We now have the task of translating national policy ambition into economy-wide cooperative action to reduce climate forcing emissions and transition to climate-smart practices. Part of our work, through our always active Workstreams, and in collaboration with individual and institutional partners, will be to track progress on meeting the ACCESS standard for climate action.

That work—along with insights into the local genius of stakeholders, communities, local officials, and private enterprise—will allow for a process of ongoing review that can provide intelligent feedback to decision-makers at all levels. We can now embark on the biggest information-sharing experiment in world history, to empower each other, and speed climate solutions to market around the world.

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