French Foreign Minister and President of the COP21 Laurent Fabius (3rd R), United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (4th R), French President Francois Hollande (2nd R) and Christiana Figueres (5th R), executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) celebrate the adoption of the agreement during the final conference at the COP21, in Le Bourget, Paris, Dec.12, 2015. [Photo: Xinhua]
After negotiations lasting twelve days, the UN climate change conference came to a conclusion in Paris. On December 12, nearly 200 countries adopted a new global climate deal which addresses their related actions after 2020.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, a successful accord was needed to boost morale in France. World leaders also came to Paris with the expectation of reaching a deal. The leaders of China and the United States -- the two largest carbon emitting countries in the world -- released joint statements on climate change twice this year and last year. Just before the conclusion of the conference, U.S. President Barack Obama called on his counterparts in emerging countries such as China, Brazil and India, in the hope of narrowing down differences and reaching a consensus.
The result of the conference has also been satisfactory. Some have described the deal as the last chance to save mankind. It may sound like hyperbole, but it does accurately capture the world's expectation on tackling climate issues. In the age of the "global village," people realize that their common living space is not wide enough and that saving the planet means saving their own living space.
But the world has developed unevenly and binding standards as well as roadmaps are needed when it comes to energy conservation and emissions reduction. The principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" was laid out in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. Later, the U.S. and Canada turned their back on the Protocol, leading to a stalemate in global climate negotiations. And as carbon emissions from the emerging markets have increased, developed countries would like to see more responsibilities shared by developing countries. Meanwhile, developing countries have asked their developed peers to offer more money in assistance to help them adopt cleaner energy.
With twists and turns, the post-2020 roadmap for global energy-conservation and emissions reduction has become rather chaotic. Thanks to the efforts of China, the U.S., France and other developing countries in advance of the global meeting, a legally binding deal was eventually reached in Paris.
Despite that, countries still fought each other in pursuit of their individual interests. Some groups representing their own interests were reportedly formed during the Paris meeting, which tried to voice their own demands and appeals. For instance, Singapore, South Pacific countries and some island countries in the Indian Ocean called for the temperature increase to be controlled within 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is more difficult to reach than the 2 degrees target. They insisted on this because rising sea levels are a life-or-death matter for them. Developing countries urged developed countries to take more responsibilities and deliver on their promises of providing developing countries with US$100 billion by 2020 and continuous assistance after 2020. However, developed countries hope developing countries, such as China, can share equitable responsibilities as they do. China and India, however, keep emphasizing the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."
The process of the conference is complicated, but the eventual result turned out satisfactorily. The key drivers were China, the U.S., Europe, Japan and India, for whom energy conservation and emissions reduction are not abstract humanitarian obligations, but in line with their own concrete interests. For example, in China, energy conservation and emissions reduction have become crucial to stopping unsustainable development and combating the prevailing pollution problems. In the U.S., President Obama, different from his predecessor George W. Bush, cares more for clean energy and an eco-friendly economy. The consensus reached among major carbon emitters was key to the deal reached in Paris.
According to the deal, the international community aims to hold the global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and is striving to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries will address climate change through their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) after 2020. Developed countries will lead emissions reduction efforts and increase their support for developing countries in terms of capital, technology and capacity-building. More importantly, countries are also required to meet every five years, starting in 2020, to report their efforts in addressing climate change.
The deal is exhilarating, and Paris has accomplished the mission to save the earth. But the future road of global emissions reduction is far from smooth: the deal requires the ratification of individual countries' legislatures. This will be a long process and there is a possibility that some countries may opt out later. Despite that, the deal is a shared result of the negotiations of the international community and represents a consensus of the participating countries. As French President Fran?ois Hollande said, the deal was a "major leap for mankind."
The writer is a researcher of the Charhar Institute.
This article was translated by Zhang Lulu based on the original unabridged version published in Chinese.
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