The Paris Climate Change Agreement – What might it mean for the Water Industry?

Our Environmental Co-ordinator Edward Hartwell gives his perspective on the recent Climate Agreement in Paris

On Saturday the 12th of December 2015, 195 nations adopted the Paris Agreement. In theory, once signed by more than 55 countries, accounting for 55% of global emissions, this will be a legally ratifying document aimed at ensuring that the global temperature will not increase beyond 2˚C.

This first part of a two part article looks at what was achieved by the Paris Agreement, looking at the requirements on a global scale. We will then go on in Part 2 to look more specifically at what the implications are for the water industry.

In Paris it proved once more that unfortunately getting every country to agree to reduce their emissions is very difficult, as was found during COP20 in Copenhagen in 2010. This resulted in a further agreement being drawn up in Lima in 2014 which consisted of a bottom up approach, whereby each country was required to submit their intended post 2020 steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their adaptation strategies. The outcome was that 158 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) were submitted between March and October 2015 covering 185 countries, 97% of the global population and 94% of the global emissions in 2010.

On then to the Paris Agreement, which contains 4 key measures or aims which are designed to commit all countries to cut their carbon emissions;

  • To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century
  • To keep global temperature increase “well below” 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C
  • To review progress every five years
  • To commit $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future

Of these measures only the submission of an emissions target and a regular review the goals and process are truly legally binding, meaning there is plenty of lea way for future governments to back out of the targets set under the INDCs. In addition to this many of the less developed countries have included caveats in their INDCs which require the climate finance from more developed countries to achieve the targets.

As each country is allowed to produce their own INDCs based on what they think they can achieve a group of research organisations undertook independent scientific analysis of the proposed INDCs of 32 countries covering approximately 80% of global emissions. There findings are presented as the Climate Action Tracker (CAT). Based on this they have grouped countries into four categories;

Inadequate – If all governments put forward inadequate positions warming likely to exceed 3–4°C.

Medium – Not consistent with limiting warming below 2°C as it would require many other countries to make a comparably greater effort and much deeper reductions.

Sufficient – Fully consistent with below 2°C limit.

Role Model – More than consistent with below 2°C limit.

Each country is assessed and rated on their INDC with a focus on;

  • Impact of pledges, targets and INDCs on national emissions over the time period to 2030, and where possible beyond
  • Effect of current policies on emissions
  • Fair share and comparability of effort

Currently the CAT has not identified one “Role Model” country and only five countries which are classed as “Sufficient”. Their research has estimated that based on the current INDCs within the group of 32 countries which they are tracking the global average annual temperature increase above pre-industrial levels by 2100 will be +2.7˚C with an uncertainty range of +2.2˚C to +3.4˚C. While this compares favourably with the projections based on current policies (+3.6˚C with an uncertainty range of +2.7˚C to +4.9˚C) it is significantly higher than the Paris Agreement is aiming for.

Having said all this, the agreement is a major step forward and brings all nations into a common cause based on their historic, current and future responsibilities. There is also a general feeling now that we have moved beyond the deniers and sceptics, the science is irrefutable and regardless of what any one individual believes is the cause of climate change, why shouldn’t we make efforts to make more efficient, cleaner and in the long run, cheaper technologies?

So should we be celebrating the outcome of COP21? Part 2 of this blog looks at the implications of the Paris Agreement for the UK Water Industry and what we might expect if we can stabilise the global average annual temperatures below 2˚C


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