By Paul Davies and Alice Gunn

The Paris Agreement, adopted by 195 countries following the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP 21), is the first multilateral agreement on climate change that covers almost all of the world’s emissions. The Paris Agreement will be open for signature from 22 April 2016 and will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 parties, representing at least 55 percent of global emissions, have ratified it – the EU, China and the USA have announced plans to sign the agreement.

Key elements of the Paris Agreement include:

  • A long term goal to limit global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspirational goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Crossing the 2°C threshold would result in catastrophic changes to the earth’s natural resources.
  • Nationally Determined Contributions from each party, to set out ambitious national climate action plans, which are to be reviewed every five years in a “global stocktake” to consider progress against the goals of the Paris Agreement. To achieve such contributions, parties have an obligation to pursue domestic mitigation measures.
  • A new market-based mechanism allowing parties to use international carbon trading to meet reduction targets.
  • Enhanced transparency and accountability, including parties’ biennial submission of greenhouse gas inventories, a technical expert review, a facilitative, multilateral consideration of progress and mechanism to facilitate implementation of and promote compliance.

EU Reflects on Implications of the Paris Agreement

The European Commission published “The Road from Paris” – its assessment of the implications of the Paris Agreement on the EU member states. In particular, it is clear the EU will face challenges in the following areas:

  • Periodic reviews. In addition to participating in the review process, the EU needs to develop its understanding of the implications of its 1.5°C goal. The 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was inconclusive on this aspect and consequently, the IPCC has been requested to prepare a special report in 2018. The EU will provide input to the scientific work being carried out internationally and will participate in the first facilitative dialogue in 2018. The Commission will also need to produce an in-depth analysis of economic and social transformation ahead of preparing the EU’s mid-century and long-term decarbonisation strategy by 2020.
  • 2030 climate and energy legislation. Following the Paris Agreement, it is anticipated that the EU will prioritise the 2030 climate and energy policy framework agreed upon by the European Council in October 2014 and fast-track related legislation. The framework set an economy-wide domestic target of at least 40 percent greenhouse gas emission reduction for 2030. Over the next 12 months, the Commission will present the key remaining legislative proposals required to implement the 2030 climate and energy policy framework, including:
    • proposals for an effort-sharing decision for sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and on land use, land use change and forestry;
    • legislation to set up a “reliable and transparent” climate and energy governance mechanism for the post-2020 period; and
    • policy proposals to adapt the EU’s regulatory framework in order to put energy efficiency first and to foster the EU’s role as a world leader in the field of renewable energy
  • Energy transition. The EU needs to facilitate the transition to a low carbon economy by enacting policies and instruments reflected under the Energy Union Strategy, one of the ten priorities of the Juncker Commission.
  • Investment. EU funds will mobilise the markets and investment will be supported by the Investment Plan for Europe, which focuses on actions to remove barriers to investment in the EU, as well as possible funding from the European Fund for Strategic Investments to promote emissions reduction and investment in energy efficiency. The Commission also recently launched the European Investment Project Portal, which will provide a comprehensive overview of projects for potential investors. Furthermore, the EU plans to join the “Mission Innovation” initiative, which was launched at COP 21 by 20 countries, including the UK.
  • Global diplomacy and global action. The EU will need to drive forward its international climate diplomacy to maintain political momentum and support other countries in the implementation of the Paris Agreement and national climate plans. The EU’s commitment to climate action will have implications for external policy making in, for example, development aid and cooperation, neighbourhood and enlargement policies, international scientific and technological co-operation, trade, economic diplomacy and security. The EU remains committed to scaling up the mobilisation of international climate finance. In the context of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, the EU has undertaken to ensure that 20 percent of its overall budget is directed to climate-relevant projects and policies.

A Low Carbon Future

The EU now needs to maintain the momentum from COP 21. Following ratification of the Paris Agreement, it will complete the 2030 energy and climate change regulatory framework, and use policies, frameworks and instruments to secure the EU’s transition to a low carbon economy.  After last week’s announcement from the US and China, the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, confirming that both countries will sign the Paris Agreement, the world is now waiting for the other nations to step forward and commit to tackling emissions in what is shaping up to be a key month for climate change post-COP 21.