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The climate agreement - here are the arguments you need for the Christmas dinner debate

The world's first global climate change has been accepted. It is a historic event and it is hopefully a major topic for conversation at Christmas dinner this year. Mistra Indigo researchers, and experts on international climate policy and energy, Lars Zetterberg and Markus Wråke were in Paris. Here they share statements on the Paris agreement you can expect to hear.

The climate agreement is a crucial agreement for humanity.

YES. The fact that almost all the countries in the world are behind the agreement is a victory for international cooperation and shows that the UN process actually can deliver. The Paris agreement states that all countries are to contribute, that the work against climate change will happen in a coordinated manner. It contains critical language on how it will be monitored and ambition raised over time. One important result is that several difficult issues between rich and poor countries were solved.

NO. The euphoria from Paris stands in sharp contrast to the fact that the world still has not managed to agree on quantitative emissions targets, how these should be allocated and when reductions will happen. The world has only really decided to do something about climate and that everyone should contribute. Now it is time to act- it is now that the big transition begins. The agreement will not prove better than what countries, companies and citizens actually do to reduce emissions. It is only ten years from now that we will know if the Paris Agreement marks a true turning point.

The agreement has no meaningful and binding emission targets for countries.

YES. The agreement lacks concrete ceiling on emissions, and has only a vague description that emissions should be "in balance" by the second half of the century. Commitments are not legally binding, and there will be no sanctions if countries do not deliver what they promised.

NO. What actually made Paris succeed was precisely the structure of voluntary commitments. Those commitments can still go a long way. There are currently great technological advances being done, in for example solar cells, wind power and electric vehicles, and there is already an extensive climate work being done within countries, municipalities and companies. Experience shows that it is often cheaper to reduce emissions than anticipated. The five-year revision cycle, in combination with the rapid development of technology, will create a positive momentum - bringing forth a continuous increase in ambition.

The reference to a 1.5 degrees goal is a victory for the climate.

YES. Most countries have so far only talked about the 2-degree target, and it has been clear that a 2 degree rise in temperature would be a major concern for the planet. It is now clear, with 1.5 degrees as our new ambition, that climate science is taken seriously and that the ambition is to raise our efforts against climate change.

NO. A goal of 1.5 degrees is borderline utopian. Currently the temperature increase is close to 1 degree, and to keep the long-term change to 1.5 degrees would require immense efforts. The risk is that the 1.5-degree target becomes a distraction that creates discord and new disagreements.

Finally the outdated sharp division between rich and poor countries from the Kyoto Protocol is removed.

YES. China has changed dramatically in their attitude towards the climate issue; which strongly contributed to the agreement in Paris. The sharp division between rich and poor countries that were evident in the Kyoto Protocol has become increasingly irrelevant. China is now the world's largest emitter of emissions and India is growing fast. The Paris Agreement still leaves special conditions for the poorest countries, but they are expressed in a better manner.

NO. The responsibility for climate change still rests heavily on the rich countries. Based on the total historical emissions, or per capita, China still has significantly lower emissions than the OECD countries, and India is very far below. This could be clearer in the Paris Agreement texts, in particular in those texts that are related to finance and technology transfer.

The Paris Agreement has less focus on a carbon price than the Kyoto agreement had.

YES. The agreement contains no explicit text regarding carbon prices or emission trading, which may seem strange given how much support such an approach has in many countries.

NO. The agreement allows for transfer of "International Reduction Units" which basically opens up for emissions trading and project-based crediting mechanisms; similar to today's Clean Development Mechanism. This may prove to be important. Access to emissions trading has the potential to reduce costs and thus make it easier for countries to adopt ambitious targets.

International shipping and aviation are not included, which are critical parts.

YES. International shipping and aviation account for over 5 percent of our global carbon dioxide emissions, a share which is expected to grow in the future. It is a major failure that those emissions are once again left outside of an international agreement. This means that we will continue to be dependent on the actions of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). So far they have proved quite inadequate.

NO. It is true that IMO and ICAO so far have done very little. But there are now small signs of change. ICAO has said that it will launch an emissions trading system, and IMO has started to act more constructively than before.


For questions please contact:

Lars Zetterberg, lars.zetterberg@ivl.se, phone +46 10 788 65 57

Markus Wråke, markus.wrake@ivl.se, phone +46 10 788 65 21

Updated: 2015-12-15
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