COP21 Conference in Paris: Consensus on New Rules of the Game

A key outcome of COP21 conference is not the text of the agreement itself, but the fixed consensus on the new rules of the game.

On December 12, after two weeks of discussions the COP21 conference in Paris adopted a new global climate control agreement. It will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which was the basis of the international climate control regulation for nearly two decades. Despite the fact that the Kyoto Protocol was the first and therefore particularly valuable attempt to limit emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gas, in general many consider it as a failure. First of all, the emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol were carried out by the developed countries, but main emissions increase was observed in developing countries, first of all in China. A new universal agreement was long overdue, but too many differences between states did not allow to adopt it. In Paris, it's finally happened.

At first glance, the adopted document hardly looks very ambitious. Despite the fact that it includes the goal to prevent the temperature increase by more than 2 ° C, and if possible – even by 1,5 ° C, compared to pre-industrial era, there are not so many objective reasons to believe that these goals are feasible. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, based on the "top-down" principle (first the goal set up, then the burden of its implementation is divided among the countries), the Paris Agreement provides the "bottom up" approach (the countries themselves determine the amount of efforts that they exert). To date each country has offered their own plans to reduce emissions. Calculations show that their implementation will limit the temperature rise of about 3 ° C, and although it was agreed to review plans every five years, the goal of 2 ° C is hardly feasible, and by 1.5 ° C - really utopian.

The focus of the international regulation was shifted from the emission reductions to financial assistance to the developing countries. The latter will amount $ 100 billion by 2020, but the exact parameters of its assignment (for example, the ratio between the state money and help from the private funds) were not placed on record. The Paris Agreement does not determine the details of the "loss and damage" mechanism, which presumes compensations to the poor countries for the unadaptable damage caused by the effects of climate change (for instance, flooding areas due to sea level rise or natural disasters).

In general, the agreement is written with quite a common language and contains not so many specifics. This is a conscious decision - any fixed obligations required necessary ratification of the agreement by the US Congress with little prospect because of the Republican majority opposition in the Senate.

As a result, there is a paradoxical situation: an agreement is not also quite abstract, but objectively is unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to an acceptable level. Key decisions on the adaptation mechanisms and help to poor countries have been taken a few years ago, but their financial aspects were not identified in Paris. Despite this, the adoption of the agreement is regarded as a great success, not only by politicians because of their professional duty, but even by environmental organizations, usually critical to any results of climate negotiations.

However, positive assessments have their own logic. We have to admit that the Paris Agreement has a maximum of what was possible to reach in an environment control agreement, taking into account the differences of interests between many countries. The main thing is that the function of the Paris Agreement is not the same that was in the Kyoto Protocol. The latter once was a cornerstone of human efforts to reduce emissions, and the Paris Agreement today - only one element of a multi-layer system of institutions, and not the key one. Thus, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are taken at the national level, which is reflected in particular in the "bottom up" approach.

A key outcome of COP21 conference is not the text of the agreement itself, but the fixed consensus on the new rules of the game. There were no demarches and scandals In Paris, no accusations of use of climate issues for political purposes. Paris conference paved the way to persistent and constructive work based on mutual respect and common goal. Such a consensus, especially in the current tense political situation is well worth much. It is stronger than any legal obligations, and ensures that greenhouse gas emissions are a factor to be reckoned with by all the participants. And now, international companies one after another come out with "green" initiatives, big investment funds withdraw from the coal projects, and even the Catholic Church changes position related to the birth control, recognizing it as essential means in combating climate change. In the coming years there could be more and more examples of it.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.