Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Climate Deal Signed in Paris

By NZSMC

After two weeks of negotiating, the representatives of more than 190 nations have settled on a agreed plan to tackle climate change.

The agreement sets the goal of limiting the world's rise in average temperature to "well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius".

Countries will be required to report on "national inventories of emissions by source" and also to report on their mitigation efforts.

Professor James Renwick, Climate Scientist, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University, comments:
"The Paris Agreement is a great achievement, the most positive thing to come out of the COP negotiations to date. The call for transparency, continual ratcheting up of emissions targets, and the provisions for climate finance, are very positive outcomes.

"Great to see (in article 4) that developed countries shall undertake “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”. Take note, New Zealand – no hot-air credits, actual emissions reductions are required. But, targets remain voluntary and the required actions remain daunting.

"The review of a 1.5°C warming limit may come too late as we are well on the way to 1.5°C with present greenhouse gas levels. Staying below 2°C warming is a big ask, but this document provides a framework for action. Now we just need the action."

Professor Ralph Sims, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University, comments:
"The Paris Agreement is certainly a major step forward given all the national constraints and differences.
It is in many ways a compromise and I doubt will have any immediate impacts on NZ government policies.

"Minister Paula Bennett will take some time to come to grips with her new portfolio and the Royal Society’s Climate Change Mitigation panel that I chair will be producing outputs that should help with the realisation that there is much New Zealand can do to reduce our GHG emissions – and not rely on buying carbon credits from offshore as is the current intention.

"The only mention of carbon pricing in the Agreement is below – with nothing about carbon trading far as I am aware: 'Also recognizes the important role of providing incentives for emission reduction activities, including tools such as domestic policies and carbon pricing'.

"The really positive outcome of the COP21 was in fact outside the Plenary rooms.

"The momentum of businesses, cities, NGOs, financiers, bankers, indeed across all civil society, in their intent to move towards a rapid transformation to a low-carbon economy was far more impressive than the formal negotiations.

"There will be many years of further negotiations needed to support the principles of this Agreement. But COP21 will be remembered for the event where global society came to fully understand the many opportunities and co-benefits that climate change mitigation and adaptation methods provide.

"This indeed was a key message of the IPCC Mitigation 5th Assessment Report. After working on renewable energy systems for over 40 years at Massey University, it is pleasing to see that it will now have a major contribution to make worldwide alongside energy efficiency and innovative technology development. Technologies will not solve it alone – and behavioural change and social issues are key – but the transformation has begun.

"Overall the COP reminded me of a two week-long Telethon with announcements, celebrities, new funding announcements - “Thank you very much for your kind donation!”

"NZ will have to become more nimble and innovative to reduce our emissions across all sectors and keep up with the leading countries I think."

Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:
“It is remarkable that a text of this ambition has been agreed by all Parties, given the much less ambitious options still on the table just three days ago. However, the gap between the agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C and the current combined level of countries’ emissions pledges – which are not nearly enough to achieve this goal - means there is considerable work to do over the coming years.”

Prof Daniela Schmidt, Bristol University, said:
“Limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change will have a large impact on the reaction of the world's ecosytems. The challenge will be in everybody's commitments to be visionary to achieve this goal.”

Prof Richard Allan, Reading University, said:
"The human race has a climate crisis, Paris has delivered a plan, next begins the hard bit: action."

Dr Ilan Kelman, University College London, said:
"The Paris outcome is momentous, but let's not get too carried away. The initial draft's limitations are not overcome, especially that key parts remain voluntary. Major hurdles still exist in countries taking forward this agreement - given that governments change and that strongly opposed interests have not disappeared. Then, we have implementation on the ground which will take years. Today is not the end, but the beginning of a journey which has already taken too long to start."

Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of global change science, University College London, said:
“The new Paris Agreement is historic, important, world-changing and inadequate all at the same time. It is astonishing that all the countries of the world have agreed a pathway together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the proof that this will happen will depend on policy changes.

"To meet a target of well below 2 degrees C above per-industrial levels will require leaving the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Will the deployment of renewable technologies be quick enough and cheap enough to keep fossil fuels in the ground? Personally I hope so. The proof will be whether globally investors shun fossil fuels and we soon see coal companies going out of business while investments in renewable technologies skyrocket.”

Prof David Reay, Professor of Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:
“This is a game-changer. The long nights of negotiations have paid dividends. Legally binding, a robust way to increase emissions reductions, and strong reporting requirements - really impressive. This agreement is the first concrete step on our collective way towards avoiding dangerous climate change. Paris already has the world's sympathy, today it also has the world's gratitude.”