Paris talks turn up heat on a changing climate

Climate change treatiesClimate change

The Paris climate conference has finished: 195 countries, 30,000 people, more than two weeks of talks, three stints of negotiating through the night, and well over four years of preparation. Here’s Tearfund’s perspective on the results...

We prayed and campaigned for Paris to be a major milestone on the road to a fair and sustainable world where everyone has enough. Was it?

Yes it was! We’re giving thanks for a historic climate agreement. It wasn't everything we hoped for, but it is finally a good step towards a fairer and more sustainable world.

So what’s been agreed?

For the first time in history, the world has a global climate deal where every nation has signed up to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They’ve pledged to limit global warming to ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius’ and to ‘pursue efforts’ to keep it below 1.5 degrees (that’s how much hotter the world will get than it was before the industrial revolution).

Was that outcome expected?

This effective shift of the real target from 2 degrees to 1.5 degrees didn’t look likely before the summit and is very good news.

The commitment to limit global temperature rises will help poor communities already struggling to grow crops.

It’s job done then?

Sadly not. Before Paris virtually all countries sent in plans for what they could do, covering over 94 per cent of global emissions. If each government does everything they said — a big if — the plans will get us to around 2.7 degrees warmer. This is a good start and a lot better than the four degrees or so we’d be on course for without the plans, so they’re worth having but not enough yet.

What about clean energy?

The Paris agreement didn’t signal a clear commitment to shift to 100 per cent clean energy by 2050 as Tearfund would have liked. Nevertheless, for the first time ever the governments of the world accepted that the safe level of emissions is zero, and that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end — to be replaced with 100 per cent clean energy.

So how will we know if we’re on target?

There’ll be reviews. They know the current plans aren’t enough, so the UN has agreed to review and strengthen them again every five years, with the first opportunity in 2018. We’ll need to push each time to make sure the new plans they re-submit are tougher and get us to below 1.5 degrees, but it is great the reviews are there to give us key moments to do this.

Keeping the pressure on - climate campaigners taking part in a march in Cardiff prior to the Paris talks. Photo: Huw Tyler/Tearfund

Where’s the money coming from to help poorer countries adapt?

Rich countries, such as the UK and Germany, have promised many times to provide US$100 billion a year by 2020 between them, to help poor countries adapt to climate change and transition to clean energy. This promise has now been extended up to 2025, from which point the international community will set a new goal for finance with US$100 billion as a minimum ‘floor’. However, rich countries are still a very long way from doing it in reality. We’ll need to keep the pressure up to ensure they deliver up to 2025 and continue to do their share beyond.

So what’s next?

It’s been exciting to see the growing movement these talks have fostered — people from all walks of life, including the church, have raised their voices for climate action in Paris. We will continue to hold governments to account, to help people across the world who are experiencing the devastating daily impact of climate change. A movement of ordinary people has helped bring this agreement about, and a movement of ordinary people must ensure that progress is made. Inspired by Jesus’ call to love our neighbours wherever they are in the world, we need to live simply, pray, and put pressure on our governments, after Paris just as we did before. And we will!

Visit our Just Policy blog for more detail on the agreement.