[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Anglican bishops have welcomed this weekend’s international agreement at the climate change talks in Paris. Negotiators from around 200 countries have reached agreement on a far-reaching package of measures, which has been dubbed “the end of the fossil fuel era.”
But the talks in Paris aren’t the end of the story. The agreement will be open to signature by member states of the United Nations in New York from 22 April 2016 and only comes into force once it has been ratified by 55 countries, representing at least 55% of emissions.
The French foreign ministry, which acted as secretariat for the talks, said that the day the agreement was reached – Saturday 12 December 2015 – will be remembered as “a great day for the planet.”
In a statement following the conclusion of the talks, they said: “It has been widely recognised, with unanimous agreement from scientists, that the earth’s atmosphere is growing warmer due to greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity. The aim of the Paris Conference . . . was to come up with a response to this problem, which is threatening to wipe out the human presence in certain parts of the world.”
One of the sticking points in the negotiations had been the figure at which countries should seek to prevent further global warming. Some countries wanted a 2°C limit while others argued that anything above 1.5°C would see vulnerable island nations devoured by rising sea levels.
“This agreement marks a change in direction, towards a new world,” the French foreign ministry said. “It confirms the target of keeping the rise in temperature below 2°C. Scientists believe that a greater increase in temperature would be very dangerous.
“The agreement even establishes, for the first time, that we should be aiming for 1.5°C, to protect island states, which are the most threatened by the rise in sea levels.”
Before the talks began, 186 countries had published actions plans detailing how they would act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But an evaluation by UN scientists predicted that even with that “unprecedented mobilization”, the measures proposed wouldn’t be sufficient: “at this rate global warming would still be between 2.7°C and 3°C, i.e. above the threshold set by scientists,” the French foreign ministry said.
“The Paris agreement therefore asks all countries to review these contributions every five years from 2020; they will not be able to lower their targets and are encouraged, on the contrary, to raise them.
“In addition, emissions should peak as soon as possible and the countries will aim to achieve carbon neutrality in the second half of the century. This is a real turning point. We are going to gradually stop using the most polluting fossil fuels in order to reach this goal.
The agreement also covered a funding mechanism to allow developed and developing countries to contribute towards the costs incurred by poorer countries in shifting to more environmentally friendly energy use.
“The agreement acknowledges that $100 billion [USD] in loans and donations will need to be raised each year from 2020 to finance projects that enable countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change (rise in sea level, droughts, etc.) or reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the French statement said. “The agreement specifies that this amount should increase. Some developing countries will also be able to become donors, on a voluntary basis, to help the poorest countries. This is a first. The agreement schedules an initial meeting in 2025, where further quantified commitments will be made regarding assistance to the poorest countries.
“One of the main principles of climate negotiations is that countries have common but differentiated responsibilities when it comes to climate change, depending on their wealth in particular. The agreement establishes an obligation for industrialized countries to fund climate finance for poor countries, while developing countries are invited to contribute on a voluntary basis.
“As regards transparency, a stronger system for tracking commitments, which allows developing countries a certain amount of flexibility, has also been set up in order to keep track of everyone’s efforts.”
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Thabo Makgoba, a climate ambassador for the Act Alliance was present in Paris at the start of the talks as part of a 100-strong ecumenical delegation organised by the Act Alliance, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Council of Churches. He described the agreement as “a milestone in the human story to tackle climate change” and said that it “gives us hope for a climate friendly, resilient and more equitable future. . .
“We are all part of Creation, and while we are thankful for this, we also need to acknowledge our responsibility to take care of the earth. This responsibility was given to us by God, and thus we, as faith groups around the world need to lead the way.”
The Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, was also in Paris. He said: “It is good to have an ambitious agreement about the aspiration. What matters now is that governments actually deliver a low carbon future – the transparency of accountability and process of review will be what ensures that happens.
“This looks like real progress – there is now a much more positive spirit about what now needs to happen than after Copenhagen six years ago, but we are still at an early stage on the journey.
“It was a privilege to meet President Hollande on behalf of the 1.8 million people from faith communities who had signed petitions calling for climate justice. Supporting our politicians and diplomats to make difficult decisions has been an important part of the COP21 process, and we will continue to pray for them.”