The UN climate talks in Paris have ended with an agreement between 195 countries to tackle global warming. The climate deal is at once both historic, important – and inadequate. From whether it is enough to avoid dangerous climate change to unexpected wins for vulnerable nations, here are five things to help understand what was just agreed at COP21.
1. This is a momentous, world-changing event
The most striking thing about the agreement is that there is one. For all countries, from superpowers to wealthy city-states, fossil fuel-dependent kingdoms to vulnerable low-lying island nations, to all agree to globally coordinate action on climate change is astonishing.
And it is not just warm words. Any robust agreement has to have four elements. First, it needs a common goal, which has now been defined. The agreement states that the parties will hold temperatures to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.
Second, it requires matching scientifically credible reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement is woollier here, but it does state that emissions should peak “as soon as possible” and then be rapidly reduced. The next step is to:
Achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity …
Third, as current pledges to reduce emissions imply a warming of nearly 3°C above pre-industrial levels, there needs to be a mechanism to move from where countries are today, to zero emissions. There are five-year reviews, and “the efforts of all parties will represent a progression over time”, which means at each step countries should increase their levels of emission cuts from today’s agreements.