Climate conference reaches agreement

14 December 2015

UPDATED: This story has been updated to include comments made on 15 December by World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising. 

Nations meeting at the United Nations COP21 climate change conference in Paris yesterday adopted a universal agreement on actions to combat climate change to keep the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

COP21 president Laurent Fabius (centre) celebrates the conclusion of the agreement (Image: UNFCCC)

The Paris Agreement is the outcome of the 21st conference of the parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which began on 30 November.

The agreement's main aim is to keep global temperature increases this century well below 2 degrees Celsius, and drive efforts to limit temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which UNFCCC says is a "significantly safer" defence against the worst impacts of climate change.

As well as covering mitigation - efforts to reduce carbon emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal - the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with climate change impacts. It provides for a transparency system to account for actions taken, and puts into place a mechanism for support - including financial support - to help countries to reach their goals.

The agreement builds on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by 188 countries in advance of the conference, in which they set out their envisaged post-2020 climate actions. Under the Paris agreement, countries will submit updated climate plans called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) every five years. Future national plans will be required to be no less ambitious than existing ones, meaning that the INDCs have in effect become a foundation for more ambitious action in future.

COP21 president and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius praised the work of the delegations and country groups in reaching an agreement. "Our collective effort is worth more than the sum of our individual effort. Our responsibility to history is immense," he said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the world had entered a new era of global cooperation on one of the most complex issues ever to confront humanity. "For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action," he said.

The agreement acknowledges "the need to promote universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries, in particular in Africa, through the enhanced deployment of renewable energy", but does not otherwise make any reference to any specific energy technology.

The Paris Agreement has been widely welcomed. The International Energy Agency (IEA) described it as "nothing less than a historic milestone for the global energy sector" that would "speed up the transformation of the energy sector by accelerating investments in cleaner technologies and energy efficiency". The IEA, whose executive director Fatih Birol had earlier in the conference emphasized the role that market signals could play in attracting investment in low-carbon technologies, said it was ready to support the implementation of the Paris Agreement by helping countries track the transition of the energy sector and by promoting innovation and technology transfer.

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said that the Paris Agreement showed that the world was "ready to move towards an innovative era of reductions in heat-trapping emissions that will put us on a path to avoid the worst impacts of climate change". He said that the USA now needed to build on its "clean energy" successes and "drive innovation from renewables to carbon capture to nuclear".

World Nuclear Association director general Agneta Rising welcomed the commitments made by governments and said the nuclear industry was ready to help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. "This agreement should lead to a more positive outlook for nuclear investments, as nuclear is an important part of the response to climate change in countries across the world," she said. "What governments need to do now is convert the global agreement they have reached in Paris into national policies, including a progressive decarbonization of the electricity generation sector," she added.

The Paris Agreement will be deposited at the United Nations in New York and opened for one year for signature from 22 April 2016. It will enter into force after it has been ratified by 55 countries that account for at least 50% of global emissions.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News