“December 12, 2015, will go down in the history of the planet. In Paris, we saw a few revolutions, but this is the most peaceful of all: a revolution for the climate,” French President Francois Hollande stated last night, after the Paris agreement on climate change was adopted by nearly 200 countries.
After two weeks of intense negotiations and compromises, parties with vastly different agendas and various levels of vulnerability to the changing climate reached a consensus and adopted the Paris agreement. The agreement — which includes financing commitments from developed countries as well as emissions targets that take into account individual countries’ differing economic circumstances — delivered most of what Egypt and the other Arab countries were asking for.
In this legally binding deal, all countries are obligated to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions significantly, with different timeframes and ambitions, depending on the level of development they currently have. The agreement reached a general temperature change target of “well below 2C,” but more ambitious countries are encouraged to lower their emissions in accordance with the 1.5C mark.
The text sets out procedures to review countries’ greenhouse gas emissions reports every five years, with the aim to ratchet them up each time to ensure they can achieve the target.
According to leading climate scientists, developed countries would need to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030 in order to keep the world’s temperature within 1.5C of pre-industrial levels. The bulk of developing economies would need to follow by 2050.
Scientists at the International Panel on Climate Change, the leading authority on climate science, have aggregated 187 individual countries’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and found out that individual pledges take us toward a rise in global temperatures of between 2.7C and 3.7C — far beyond the 2C mark.
Speaking in his role as head of the Africa group, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi voiced his support for a 1.5 degree limit at the beginning of the conference, but didn’t make other public statements on the issue.
Meanwhile, the Arab League and the Arab group, which Egypt is also a part of, have been lobbying to keep the temperature target to 2C, and not 1.5C. They claim such drastic emission cuts would have a direct negative impact on Arab economies, food security and poverty reduction.
Jamal Jabbalah, the director of the Arab League declared that “developing economies simply won’t be able to keep up,” stressing that industrialized countries, who are historically responsible for most CO2 emissions, had 200 years to expand and adjust their economies. “The timeframe allocated to developing countries to deal with 1.5C is not enough to help them diversify and use economic tools to achieve proper development.”
The critical aspects of this new global climate deal for Egypt, and for the majority of developing countries, lie in legally binding developed countries to provide climate finance flows to help developing countries adapt to a more sustainable future, deliver capacity building and technology transfer.
“We are not demanding finance as assistance,” said Lidy Nacpil from the Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development. “We are demanding finance because we all know that mitigation action in the South is crucial to keep the world from reaching 1.5C.”
At the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, developed countries promised to mobilize US$100 billion a year into a Green Climate Fund to help poorer countries transition towards a low carbon future. This year, the agreement to deliver $100 billion a year to developing countries starting in 2020 is legally biding. However, some crucial elements, like pledges to curb emission by individual countries, are on a voluntary basis.
Throughout the two weeks of negotiations, the Arab group was a target of criticism, particularly Saudi Arabia, which coordinates the group and speaks on its behalf. Saudi Arabia won multiple “fossil of the day” awards for asking for climate finance to transition to a cleaner economy and for categorically refusing to include the term decarbonization in the final text, among other things.
Chee Yoke Ling, the director of the Third World Network explained during a press briefing that “Saudi Arabia has been accused, with the Arab Group, of not wanting 1.5C, but what happened is that the 1.5C has been used as a test during those negotiations to classify you among the good or the bad guys. But 1.5C is a number that is meaningless without equity, fair share, climate justice and common but differentiated responsibilities.”
Although Nacpil added, “In fairness, we have seen the Arab group support some of the important positions of developing countries on finance, and on the question of differentiation.”
Egypt’s Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmy took the floor Saturday night after the adoption of the agreement on behalf of the African group Egypt chairs. “We agree that this is a historical agreement with far reaching consequences for our countries. This agreement brings us to a new era of global climate governance, for the sake of climate justice and our people,” he said.
Jordanian climate activist Safa’ Jayoussi, who heads the climate campaign for IndyAct and is CAN Arab World’s coordinator, explains that the work is not over, and that now is the time to increase ambitions towards a zero emission pathway and to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by mid-century. “Some 195 countries have signed this biding agreement, including the Arab Group that finally stepped up and showed it had heard civil society from the MENA region,” she said.
For the Moroccan delegation, which will host the next COP a year from now, the agreement overall is a good deal that managed to find the right compromises on very thorny issues. Mohamed Ben Yehia, Morocco’s lead negotiator, believes that the Paris agreement “didn’t let anyone down,” but is ambiguous in some regards. “The 1.5 target is mentioned in the text as an aspiration,” and is hence not legally binding, he said. Regarding climate finance, he added that Morocco would have preferred to see clear figures, targets and a roadmap, which the agreement does not provide.
“Paris is only the beginning,” said Jayoussi. She believes that the COP22 in Marrakech will be a great opportunity for Arab countries to showcase their renewable energy projects, strengthen the agreement and build on the popular will of Arab people “to work towards something they can be proud of.”