Policy solutions

The 2015 Paris Agreement

In December 2015, at COP21 in Paris, 195 countries agreed to make a legally binding commitment to limit the rise in global temperature.

The Paris Agreement is the most significant international treaty on dealing with climate change (it follows earlier international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol). It was – and is – a hugely important step forward in tackling this vitally important issue, but what does it actually mean? Who it will affect and how it will be implemented in practice?

Let’s take a closer look at the details.

What it means

The Paris Agreement pledges to keep the rise in global average temperature to below 2°C (and if possible 1.5°C). Scientists have agreed that this figure is the ‘safe’ climate limit, above which the impacts of climate change are likely to be catastrophic and beyond what we can adapt to – and irreversible. Learn more about the causes of climate change here.

Who took part

Basically, the whole world. One hundred and ninety five countries negotiated the global climate agreement at COP21, which was the 21st meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

How it will work

Each country submitted its own commitment (called an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution [INDC]), which detailed the actions it would take to reduce its emissions. This bottom-up approach helped to catalyse buy-in from everyone – creating a greater chance that climate action would be successfully implemented.

Now, each government can decide its own climate contribution plan, whether through action in renewable energy, energy efficiency, transport, market mechanisms, or land use and forests.

This is important as previous treaties were very much negotiated ‘top down’ with many countries not included in the emissions reduction goals (including some noticeable exceptions such as China). This time, every participating country has pledged to reduce emissions.

Emissions gap

Despite the Agreement’s goal of limiting the global increase in temperature to below 2°C, current country commitments are not enough to meet this figure. If we want to make a success of this plan, the world must reduce an additional 12-14 GtCO2e by 2030 on top of current commitments.

This is what we call the ‘emissions gap’. And it means that we need a complete re-wiring of the economy, long-term global cooperation, and significant action from the private sector.

To put the emissions gap into perspective, 12-14 GtCO2e is equivalent to removing all the emissions from the United States, the European Union, India and Japan, combined. So we must play our own part as individuals and businesses to go beyond what countries have so far pledged.

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The significance of the Paris Agreement for forests

The Paris Agreement stated that forests are now recognised as a critical ‘carbon sink’ that governments must support, especially through results-based payments (such as carbon assets).

Stopping deforestation and forest degradation, along with promoting sustainable land use, can deliver an estimated one-third of the required near-term emissions reductions.

Many of the country commitments submitted at Paris included making sustainable land use one of the key mechanisms for reducing emissions. In fact:

  • 119 countries included sustainable land use for climate mitigation
  • 78 of these are developing countries
  • 126, or 94%, of the 134 INDCs from developing countries cited land use as a priority in climate adaptation plans

We were really pleased that the inclusion of forests and results-based payments in the Paris Agreement put an official stamp of approval on global forest carbon projects. Although the forest carbon field has been developing over the past two decades, this Agreement was finally the clear, official mandate that was needed to accelerate real awareness, investment and support for forests.

Potential of forests

Deforestation and forest degradation, and the subsequent release of CO2, currently accounts for approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Successfully tackling deforestation and degradation is the largest and most-cost effective immediate opportunity to reduce global emissions.

Protecting and enhancing natural ecosystems can store 5.2-7 GtCO2e per year, up to around 50% of that 12-14 Gt emissions gap, by 2030. In the short term (pre-2020), the land-use sector could store 2.4-8.5 GtCO2e. So this an essential and major part of the solution to the emissions gap.

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At Ecosphere+

We work to help scale private sector and consumer investment in our natural land sinks, as we know this is critical for meeting our climate goals and keeping climate change to a safe limit.