Climate promise from Paris

Conservationists have welcomed the international adoption of the Paris agreement on climate change, but some have expressed reservations.

The 2015 Paris Climate Conference – also known as COP 21 – is the major follow-up to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and aimed "to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate". The conference pulled in almost 50,000 participants, around half of which were official delegates from NGOs, governments  and other concerned bodies.

The long and complex negotiations involved 196 countries, which eventually agreed to limit the average rise in global temperature to "well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels". This will mean that some small low-lying nations – particularly in the Pacific Ocean – will still be under threat from rising sea levels. These nations campaigned for an upper limit of 1.5°C, which has become the aim of the agreement but is not as bind as the higher temperature. A spokesman for the Marshall Islands said: "Anything over 2 degrees is a death warrant for us. It means the sea level will rise above ... our level of the islands. It means the islands go under." 

Some activists harshly criticised the results of the COP21 talks in Paris, saying the agreement was just "worthless words" and "a fraud". However, many conservationists were publicly cautiously optimistic.

Patricia Zurita, CEO at BirdLife International, stated: “Despite all difficulties, now the international community has a global agreement that applies to all countries and aims at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and helping people and ecosystems to adapt. We've demonstrated we are willing to come together to defend our planet, our future and that of our children. Much remains to be done, in particular when it comes to protecting the poorest and most vulnerable ... What we have before us is not perfect but does represent an historic step forward.”

Melanie Heath, Director of Science, Policy and Information at BirdLife International, said: “The overall goal agreed upon – that increases in temperature must be kept well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C – is clearly good. It is also good that carbon neutrality is a set goal [for] the second half of the century. Unfortunately these two important targets are weak when it comes to implementation: there is no set date for a peak in emissions, nor for the achievement of carbon neutrality. These targets are binding at global level but there is nothing binding for countries involved. Although there is an important 'no-backsliding clause' that obliges all countries to do progressively better, the planned stock-take and reviews will be key to scale up ambition and commitments.”

John Lanchbery, Principal Climate Change Adviser at RSPB, stated: “Article 5 the Agreement stresses the need for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation and sustainable management of forests (REDD+). This should help to ensure that more money is available to conserve forests, especially tropical forests. This is very positive, because that’s where wildlife is.” 

The Agreement sends an important signal to governments back home and businesses alike that the world must act now and rapidly shift to a low-carbon climate-resilient development.

For more on BirdLife's report on Climate Change, click here
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