International community reaches historic climate deal

National flags sit on columns outside the COP21 summit in Paris

National flags sit on columns outside the COP21 summit in Paris; Photo: Nika Greger

With the Paris Agreement, the international community has made a binding commitment, under international law, to keep global warming well below 2°C. The Agreement also states that in the second half of the century, the world must achieve greenhouse gas neutrality. This ambitious long-term goal is supported by a call for countries to gear their national greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts towards the 1.5°C target. From a German perspective, the agreement is a great success. Federal Environment Minister Dr Barbara Hendricks, who headed the German delegation, called it a historic turning point in efforts to save the planet.

Although the Paris Agreement can indeed be described as historic, the success of international climate policy will ultimately depend on how it is implemented. Here, the BMUB's International Climate Initiative (IKI) makes a significant contribution worldwide. With close to 500 projects around the world, the IKI has since 2008 supported initiatives and processes that epitomise the concept of sustainable climate protection. Many of these measures helped to pave the way for the new climate deal.

To facilitate the fulfilment of these ambitious international climate policy goals in future, the IKI initiated a number of new projects before and during the Paris conference. They include the MRV Trust Fund, which will initially support up to 20 countries in developing appropriate structures for reporting and verification of national mitigation and adaptation strategies. Many developing countries have yet to establish the institutions needed for this purpose, so during the start-up phase, the BMUB is providing some seven million US dollars in support from the IKI. Another highlight was the unveiling of a new climate financing mechanism with which the BMUB aims to stimulate investment in clean energy in Africa via the IKI. A total of 30 million euros in start-up funding will be provided with the aim of leveraging much higher levels of investment – up to 1.3 billion US dollars – by guarding against exchange rate risks. Germany will also provide an additional 50 million euros for the international community's Adaptation Fund. Most of the funding will go to countries worst affected by climate change and will support initiatives such as coastal defences and conversion to new farming methods.

In Paris, world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to halting deforestation and forest degradation as a shared political goal. If the global destruction of forests can be halted and deforested areas restored, this will achieve one third of the emissions reductions needed to keep global warming below 2°C. An ambitious forest partnership between Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom and supported by the IKI was unveiled at the Paris conference and will provide up to 5 billion US dollars in funding to protect and restore forests in developing countries. Germany plans to double its funding for emissions reductions from deforestation and forest degradation and for forest restoration by 2020, the baseline being the average funding provided in 2008-2014.

The Paris Agreement will come into effect in 2020, once it has been ratified by at least 55 countries responsible for at least 55 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Although binding national climate targets do not form part of the Agreement, the signatory states are required to make nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and create appropriate political frameworks and strategies for this purpose. Ahead of COP21, the IKI assisted more than 20 countries to develop their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) and will continue to work with partner countries on developing ambitious nationally appropriate climate contributions.

The global temperature has already risen by 1°C, so keeping warming below 2°C is only possible by rapidly reducing CO2 emissions and phasing out fossil fuels. The long-term goal of a greenhouse gas neutral world after 2050 supports the rapid phase-out of coal and oil. Far more intensive efforts are also needed to create carbon sinks, e.g. through forest restoration.

The Paris Agreement specifies the actions that countries should take before its entry into force in 2020. Analyses show that the current national climate commitments are not enough to keep global warming below 2°C. So in 2018, an initial review will take place and a decision will be taken on how national efforts can be further intensified. After that, review and ambition cycles focusing on the national climate contributions will take place every five years, with each cycle more ambitious than the last. Each country is required to report on its greenhouse gas emissions every five years, in order to ensure that progress matches reality. National contributions may be made in cooperation with other counties, e.g. through trading of certified emissions reductions.

In addition to climate change mitigation, the Paris Agreement focuses on adaptation to climate change, which is recognised as an equally important goal in building countries' capacities to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change. For the first time, the deal includes a separate article on 'Loss and Damage', which is particularly relevant to those countries which are already experiencing unavoidable climate change impacts, such as storms, extreme weather events and sea level rise. Here, however, the focus is on risk mitigation and resilience. The Agreement contains no provisions on industrialised countries' liability. Even so, it is responsive to the needs of poor and vulnerable countries in that it provides for support in the form of technology transfer, capacity building and funding.

Last but not least, financing was one of the key topics on the Paris conference agenda. Under the Agreement, industrialised countries will provide financial support for developing countries' mitigation and adaptation efforts in accordance with their existing commitments under the UNFCCC. The deal also requires the industrialised countries to take a lead role in mobilising more climate finance. The 2009 pledge to mobilise an additional 100 billion US dollars a year for climate action in developing countries will be extended to 2025, with a higher target to be set for the post-2025 period.

The BMUB's IKI will contribute to make its contribution to ensuring that the ambitious goals defined in the historic Paris Agreement are acted upon and become reality.