Commentary: The Paris Agreement is a historic climate deal

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre) speaks with provincial premiers during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Credit: Province of British ColumbiaCanada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre) speaks with provincial premiers during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Credit: Province of British Columbia

Why should you care? The outcome of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference is of great interest to anybody in the energy, industrial and environmental sectors, as the international community has finally reached an agreement showing global intention on behalf of world leaders to fight climate change. As of Dec. 12, 2015, greater efforts to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are expected, and a greener economy is on the radar.

What are the parties committing to achieve?

The parties to the Paris Agreement are committing to fight climate change. More precisely, they are committing to:

• Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

• Foster adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change, climate resilience and low GHG development, without threatening food production.

• Switch towards a greener economy.

What are the parties committing to do?

The parties have committed to reduce GHG emissions and enhance conservation of sinks and reservoirs of GHG.

Ahead of COP21, 186 countries submitted plans to reduce GHG emissions before 2025 or 2030. The Paris Agreement requires each party to communicate its nationally determined contribution by 2020, and every five years thereafter. Every updated target will thus indicate each party’s progression towards lowering GHG emissions.

The Paris Agreement leaves it up to the parties to determine how they will tackle the fight against climate change at the national level. This implies that each party may elect to implement economic instruments at the national level to ensure its nationally determined contribution. One can certainly expect cap-and-trade and carbon tax mechanisms to attract more attention from our political leaders.

The Paris Agreement recognizes the role forests play in the fight against climate change. A distinct article of the Paris Agreement focuses on actions to conserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs of GHG, therefore sending a strong signal to support reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Leadership and payment by developed countries

Developed countries express their intention to provide US$100 billion annually to developing countries by 2020. The Paris Agreement doesn’t quantify this commitment, but nevertheless states that developed countries shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries with both mitigation and adaptation to continue their existing obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. A similar commitment is made regarding capacity building. The Paris Agreement states that developed countries should enhance support for capacity-building actions in developing countries.

When does the Paris Agreement come into force?

The Paris Agreement will come into force once at least 55 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — accounting for at least 55% of the global greenhouse gas emissions — have ratified the Paris Agreement.

What to expect in Canada

The newly elected federal government participated in the 2015 Paris Climate Conference with strong support from the provinces. One can expect that this collaborative approach paved the way for further elaboration of Canada’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement. While nobody can predict what form Canada’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement will take, the Paris Agreement provides the necessary leeway for a collaborative approach between the federal government and the provinces. Provinces like Quebec, Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Manitoba — which have either already put a price on carbon, or have recently expressed strong intentions to do so in a near future — have something to bring to the table to support Canada in fulfilling its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

— Emilie Bundock is an associate lawyer based in Fasken Martineau’s Montreal office, where she practices environmental, energy, aboriginal, mining and climate change law, as well as lobbying law.

Pierre-Olivier Charlebois is a partner with Fasken Martineau in Montreal. He practices in the areas of environmental, mining, energy and climate change law.

André Turmel is a partner and strategic advisor with Fasken Martineau, who specializes in energy and climate change law at the firm’s Montreal office.


1 Comment on "Commentary: The Paris Agreement is a historic climate deal"

  1. george holbrook | December 18, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Reply

    Climate Change

    Governments are perpetrating colossal swindles on tax payers by wasting billions subsidizing wind and solar generation which are inefficient and unreliable power sources, and by supporting the EPA, FERC, CARB and other regulatory overreaches. The subsidies are based on the faulty allegation by alarmists that anthropomorphic carbon dioxide causes significant global warming. That has at least two major problems. There is no evidence to support it, only computer models that have all proven inaccurate. And anthropomorphic carbon dioxide, the only carbon dioxide we can control, coming from cars, trucks, planes, ships, power plants and other industrial activity, accounts for less than five percent of all carbon dioxide emitted from the planet. Human and animal respiration and oceanic emissions account for the rest. Even a huge reduction in manmade emissions would have little impact. Instead let’s divert these subsidies into accelerating the development of the advanced nuclear technologies that promise automatic safety, no carbon dioxide, and very substantial savings in approval time and costs. Meanwhile the alarmists cite the millions of green jobs that will be created as if we need to pay more workers for what we already have from fossil fuels?

    George Holbrook
    Santa Barbara

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