Paris Climate Change Conference

Sonnenaufgang über Paris mit dem Eiffelturm im Zentrum

In Paris, on 12 December 2015, history was made: the international Climate Change Conference, COP21, adopted the Paris Agreement. After many years of intense negotiations, all countries made a commitment to shifting to more climate-friendly global economic practices. This was a historic step since the previous rules of the Kyoto Protocol only obligated a few industrialised countries to reduce emissions.

It was clear from the very start of the conference that the international community took the threat posed by climate change very seriously. Over 150 heads of state and government were present for the opening of the conference in Paris and signalled the international communities’ fierce determination to jointly find a solution to the threat posed by climate change. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks and Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller represented the German government. The delegations negotiated intensively for two weeks and laid the foundation for a new era of international climate action. The Paris Agreement sends a clear signal for a fundamental shift and calls for economic practices that respect the natural boundaries of our planet. In the same spirit, the international community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 as well.

In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, almost all countries of the world have now defined national climate targets. By ratifying the agreement, countries committed under international law to undertaking measures to achieve these targets. Another important aspect of the agreement: financial support and the transfer of expertise and technology will support poorer countries in implementing their climate action measures.

Each country determines its own climate targets; they were not a subject of negotiations. However, the agreement requires governments to determine new targets after a global stock-take every five years, which must be significantly more ambitious than the previous targets. A committee monitoring implementation and rules on transparency will ensure the countries’ compliance with their commitments. The international community’s climate action measures so far will not suffice to adequately mitigate global warming. Raising ambitions in regular intervals serves the purpose of overcoming this problem. Climate targets need to be made more strinent step by step to avoid dangerous impacts of climate change.

The main goal is to limit global warming to well under 2 celsius and, if possible, to under 1.5 celsius. Paris was only the beginning: now, all market players have long-term and reliable guidelines for the necessary transformation.

The implementation of the Paris Agreement is already affecting our lives - both at international and national level.

1. The Paris Climate Agreement

The world has changed considerably since the Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992. In 1990, industrialised countries were responsible for two thirds of global emissions, today they are still responsible for about half and in 2020, two thirds of global emissions will be attributed to developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol, which has regulated the limitation of greenhouse gas emissions so far, is no longer sufficient. The protocol only sets out legally binding mitigation commitments for the EU and a few other industrialised countries, which today represent less than 15 percent of global emissions. 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992. The world has changed fundamentally since then. In 1990, industrialised countries produced around 60 percent of global emissions – today they produce only around 30 percent. In 2030, developing countries will be responsible for about 75 percent of global emissions. The second commitment peri-od of the Kyoto Protocol, which regulated greenhouse gas emissions until the Paris Agreement was adopted, only covered the period up to 2020 and was no longer sufficient. It only required the EU and very few other industrialised countries to reduce their emissions. This covered less than 15 percent of global emissions.

The Paris Agreement is the first to require commitments from all countries: all countries are required under international law to draw up climate targets called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). They also have to adopt measures to implement them. The agreement is not limited to emission reductions, however. The international community also adopted adaptation measures in Paris. The international community will provide developing countries with finance and technology and assist in building up knowledge and expertise and in dealing with damage caused by climate change. It will also assist the responsible contacts in these countries to comply with reporting requirements for climate action and support measures. The Paris Agreement also contains comprehensive provisions on forest conservation and establishes new forms of international cooperation on carbon markets.

In Paris, the parties also agreed on joint targets, which they want to achieve with the help of the agreement. One of these targets is to keep global warming to well below 2 celsius in comparison to pre-industrial levels, ideally less than 1.5 celsius. The Paris Agreement is the first international agreement to include such limits. If we want to achieve this goal, greenhouse gas emissions can no longer exceed the amount that can be removed from the atmosphere by carbon sinks such as forests during the second half of this century. This concept is called greenhouse gas neutrality, and it can only be achieved if the world economy reduces its carbon output swiftly and successfully – in other words, if there is a switch to carbon-free practices. Another goal of the agreement is for countries to improve their ability to adapt to climate change and shape global finance flows to protect the climate and enhance resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The question remains who exactly will take on which obligations? This was one of the key issues in Paris and was the subject of intense negotiation. Ultimately, the rigid differentiation between developed and developing countries was removed, which was much better suited to current, changed economic conditions. The Paris Agreement is based on a principle of nuanced differentiation. This means that different issues are handled differently. The particular circumstances of each individual country are taken into account. Industrialised countries, for example, must continue to provide developing countries with financial and technological support in climate action. But the agreement also calls on other countries to join the efforts if they are in a position to do so.

2. Intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)

Flaggen europäischer Länder und Regionen vor dem Europäischen Parlament in Brüsse

Almost all countries submitted their INDCs under the agreement in the course of 2015. The agreement requires all countries to prepare, publish and implement these INDCs. This requirement applies to industrialised countries and developing countries and emerging economies alike. It was already clear in Paris that the contributions at the time would not be enough to stay below the limit of 2 celsius. For this reason, a new deadline was set for 2020. Countries could update their contributions for the period from 2025 to 2030 and add new measures. In future, countries must update their NDCs every five years. The principle of progression applies, which means that future contributions must be more ambitious than previous ones. Two years before the new submission of national contributions, a review will determine whether the overall contributions will achieve the targets of the agreement. This global stocktake will demonstrate whether all governments are jointly on track in the areas of mitigation, adaptation and support. The first of these reviews took place in 2018 in the context of the Talanoa Dialogue. The focus of the review was on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In 2023, the review will also cover achievements with regard to adaptation and support for other countries. The findings of these reviews should be taken into account when the next contributions are drawn up.

It is not easy to determine a global level of ambition and measure the contributions of individual countries against it. In Paris, the countries therefore agreed to provide information about their national circumstances. An international body will then review this information. Reporting and review will follow joint guidelines for industrialised and developing countries that were finalised at COP24 in Katowice in 2018. The Paris Agreement’s new system for transparency will replace the two-tiered system that contained very limited obligations for developing countries to submit information. In future, these special rules will only temporarily apply to countries that receive assistance for capacity building. The goal is to be able to compare mitigation measures and financing, thereby creating trust but also a lever in cases of non-compliance.

The Paris Agreement set up an independent committee to monitor and support compliance, similar to credit rating agencies in finance. Even though the committee will probably not be authorised to impose strict sanctions, the committee’s activities will have great influence on a country’s reputation at international level. Reputation is a valuable asset, since governments want to be considered trustworthy partners within the international community. The particulars of the committee’s powers and mechanisms will be negotiated in the near future.

3. Financing and technology

gestapelte Euromünzen unterschiedlicher Wertung auf Euroscheinen

The Paris Climate Change Conference also adopted important decisions on the topic of fi-nance. The increase in global warming can only be limited to considerably below 2 celsius or even 1.5 celsius if global financial flows are redirected. Both public and private investments must support the implementation of the agreed climate targets. This is one of the key objectives of the Paris Agreement: making financial flows consistent with the transformation towards a climate-friendly world that is resilient to the negative impacts of climate change. Public climate finance is vital in this context. The Paris Agreement still obligates industrialised countries to support developing countries in the implementation of their climate measures. Other countries, too, are encouraged to contribute on a voluntary basis. Many emerging economies are making funds available in the framework of South-South cooperation in order to support climate measures in poorer developing countries. In addition to public climate finance, regulatory measures and economic incentives are an important tool for mobilising more funds for climate action. The Paris Agreement refers to this as a global effort, in which all countries should play a part, with industrialised countries taking a leading role. These additional funds are aimed at supporting both mitigation and adaptation measures.

Climate finance needs to be anchored in the new agreement in such a way as to dynamically raise the level of ambition for mitigation and adaptation and create the framework conditions for a global transformation. To achieve this, all countries need to work together. To successfully redirect global investment flows from "brown" to "green" investments, appropriate national and international policies need to be created and all countries must actively contribute to this process. Paris must therefore deliver ambitious agreements on climate finance.

The decisions taken in Paris update and extend the commitment of the industrialised countries from 2009. They committed to mobilising 100 billion US dollars annually for climate finance by 2020. They extended this commitment to 2025. After 2025, a new, higher target for mobilisation of financial resources will be set. Furthermore, industrialised countries are obligated to report, and other countries are also encouraged to report on funds mobilised or made available for climate finance.

The governments strengthened the rules concerning the development and transfer of technology in Paris. This applies to both climate action and adaptation. In future, the needs of developing countries must be examined more closely. Cooperation should start in the early phases of the technology cycle and be transparent.

Developing countries with weak administrative structures will receive special support so that they can handle the increased requirements, for example in the area of reporting, and can successfully plan and carry out mitigation and adaptation measures.

4. Adaptation and coping with climate-related loss and damage

Ausgetrockneter Boden

Dürre - ausgetrockneter Boden

The contracting parties want to intensify individual and joint efforts to shield development from the impacts of climate change. The most vulnerable developing countries and island states in particular require support. Worldwide adaptation efforts need analysis and their effectiveness should be reviewed. The international community will scale up cooperation in various areas such as weather monitoring.

A special article of the Paris agreement is dedicated to addressing loss and damage caused by climate change. This meets a demand of the especially vulnerable countries. Countries are expected to expand their cooperation in comprehensive risk management. The idea is to develop solutions for climate-related displacement under the agreement. Furthermore, an infor-mation platform for climate risk insurance will be set up that aims to insure people with low income against climate-related crop failures. However, the new arrangement does not offer developing countries the possibility to claim compensation or hold anyone liable for the impacts of climate change. Existing international law remains unaffected.

5. Lima-Paris Action Agenda

Kathedrale von Lima auf dem Plaza Mayor (Plaza de Armas) in Lima (Peru)

Successful climate action requires comprehensive transformation, which is a task for society as a whole. This process requires the support of actors beyond governments. The Lima-Paris Action Agenda was established for this purpose. The agenda covers a broad range of measures and targets set by individual companies engaged in climate action. It also encompasses many initiatives and actors that are already pursuing successful solutions in climate action. This efflorescence of new, ambitious ideas complements the nationally determined contributions and makes them more concrete.

During the climate change conference in Paris, action days dedicated to particular initiatives were held, for example, for buildings, transport and agriculture. Renewable energies, energy efficiency and forest conservation were also on the agenda. Regions, cities, businesses and other non-governmental actors showcased their contributions to climate action. Germany, too, was actively involved in these action days. The German government supports several initia-tives such as the international agricultural initiative 4 pour1000, the transport initiative MobilizeYourCity and the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction for energy efficiency in buildings. The United Nations website provides an overview of the many initiatives.

The networks that have sprung up as part of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda must be strengthened further in future. For this reason, events with high-level participation will be organised at future climate conferences. These events will serve the purpose of discussing successful strategies and the further development of initiatives.