Content Coms asks: Is COP21 a moment in history?


Many consider that at COP21, the world’s finest deal on climate change has been struck. Does it do enough?

‘“I hear no objection in the room, I declare the Paris climate agreement adopted.” It was with these words, on Saturday, December 12, 2015, that Laurent Fabius closed the fierce negotiations that had been underway for two weeks in Le Bourget.’

So reads the declaration on COP21’s official pages. Of course, the reality is far more complex. In some quarters the agreement has been denounced as a fraud, while other commentators consider it the finest  diplomatic accord in Earth’s history. As ever, the truth lies somewhere between these polarities.

The COP21 agreement

COP21’s entire text is available here. The Paris Agreement, for the first time, brings all nations into a common cause based on their historic, current and future responsibilities.

The universal agreement’s main aim is to hold global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius. It will also drive efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Doing so is crucial, because scientists widely consider the 1.5 degree limit a safer defence line against the worst impacts of a changing climate.

The BBC describes the agreement’s key points as follows:

  • 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
  • $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future

The good and the bad

The BBC explains some aspects of the agreement will be legally binding for countries, such as submitting an emissions reduction target and the regular review of that goal.

‘However, the targets set by nations will not be binding under the deal struck in Paris,’ it writes. Detractors argue this could make the agreement toothless. The problem is, countries do not like to have binding emissions targets imposed upon them by others.

Therefore, COP21’s text uses Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These, in simple terms, form the basis whereby countries outline their climate mitigation plans, which together seek to limit global warming.

Right now, the INDC’s aren’t strong enough to successfully limit climate change. So strong political will, and further international diplomacy will be needed, with every five year review, to improve them. This, with luck, will keep every country on track, and the world as a whole will hit the overarching Paris temperature limits.

If important countries, like the US, China and India show strong leadership, then the Paris targets should be reached, as other countries will come into line, urged by ongoing, collective political and moral imperatives.

Key comments

“The Paris Agreement allows each delegation and group of countries to go back home with their heads held high. Our collective effort is worth more than the sum of our individual effort. Our responsibility to history is immense,” Laurent Fabius, President of the COP 21 UN Climate change conference and French Foreign Minister.

“We have 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. This is a resounding success for multilateralism,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“The deal alone won’t dig us out of the hole that we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep,” Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.

The business angle

The agreement in Paris should create a flourishing environment for sustainable business, as countries hasten the switch to low carbon economies. Some impressive figures are already available.

Climate actions and pledges have been captured at COP21, covering:

  • Over 7,000 cities, including the most vulnerable to climate change, from over 100 countries with a combined population with one and a quarter billion people and around 32% of global GDP
  • Sub-national states and regions comprising one fifth of total global land area and combined GDP of $12.5 trillion
  • Over 5,000 companies from more than 90 countries that together represent the majority of global market capitalisation and over $38 trillion in revenue
  • Nearly 500 investors with total assets under management of over $25 trillion

In conclusion

The Paris text does not set out legal targets for individual countries. But in most other areas, it sets an impressive path towards mitigating climate change.

It is worth remembering, law alone does not signal compliance with law. At EU level, environmental targets are often missed by Member States, to the detriment of the targets themselves, and the countries who would benefit from meeting them.

Following Paris, punitive measures may one day be consigned to the lockers of history. It may be that a more futuristic perspective is achieved, whereby countries act because it is right, not because law makes it so.

“At Content Coms, we are proud to be part of the global business community transitioning the switch to low carbon,” said Joanna Watchman, Founder, Content Communications.

“By applying our sector specific knowledge, we are helping communicate the benefits of sustainable business. It is incumbent upon all of us to build a more suitable world for future generations to grow up in.”