Dec 15, 2015

More Than 190 Countries Agree on Climate Change Pact

Client Alert from Todd E. Palmer of Michael Best
On December 12, 2015, more than 190 countries reached consensus on The Paris Agreement (the "Agreement" or "Pact"), a climate change pact that will serve as the framework for reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This consensus was reached at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris. The Agreement will be formally signed at a ceremony to be held at the United Nations in April 2016 and will take effect in 2020. Participating countries have until April 2017 to take whatever steps each jurisdiction must to ratify the accord.

The Agreement "aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty." Its objective is to hold the average global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The Agreement also sets a more ambitious target of limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Advocates for climate change regulation have expressed disappointment over the magnitude of the GHG reduction targets in the Pact. However, many acknowledged that the Agreement is merely a starting point and forms the framework from which to advocate for more aggressive reductions in the future.

Each signatory country agrees to prepare and maintain successive nationally determined GHG reduction contributions that it intends to achieve under the Pact. These countries must also pursue domestic mitigation measures to achieve these contributions. Successive iterations of these commitments are anticipated every five years and must reflect the "highest possible ambition." Developed countries, such as the United States, also commit to undertake "economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets." Importantly, the Agreement does not make any nation's GHG reduction targets a binding, international commitment. This was done, in large measure, at the insistence of the United States negotiation team which took great pains to avoid making commitments that might require Congressional approval.
The Agreement expresses the need for equity and to eradicate poverty. To this end, the signatory developed nations agree to provide financial support to developing countries to help them implement the Agreement and build generation capacity. This effort must be guided by country driven processes that are "cross-cutting and gender-responsive." To fund this effort, the Agreement "strongly urges" developed nations to scale up their level of financial support to jointly provide $100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation, adaptation and capacity-building support. Here again, this is not a binding commitment and therefore is unlikely to be subject to Congressional approval....