7 Australian experts react to the agreement reached at the Paris climate change summit

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An historic agreement was reached at the Paris climate change summit after the final text was published this morning.

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference took place over two weeks in Paris and saw 195 nations agreeing to the first-ever international accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of the century.

The agreement seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius between now and 2100, as well as promising a progress review every five years with an additional pledge of $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing nations by 2020.

UN climate conference president and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius unveiled the agreement at the final plenary session on Saturday which is partly legally binding and partly voluntary.

Australia’s deputy leader and foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, who led the negotiations for Australia, hailed the agreement as a “momentous occasion”.

“It gives us comfort that we know what the major economies are doing, our major trading partners are doing, our trading competitors are doing. It certainly means there is flexibility for us to do more, and the spirit of the agreement is to encourage countries to be ambitious, to aim higher and to take into account their circumstances.”

Bishop also said that policy reviews would take place in 2017 to re-evaluate Australia’s collaborative efforts with other global emitters including the US and China.

Here’s how Australian experts are responding to the landmark deal.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland

Photo: gci.uq.edu.au

“It is very significant that we have finally settled on a scientifically robust target that has a good chance of limiting the damage from climate change. Ultimately, aiming to reduce overall warming to well-below 2°C, and 1.5°C in the long-term, is important not only reduces the size of the warming, but it also commits to stabilising the conditions under which our all-important biosphere and communities need to function. The current targets will ensure coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef will have a future.

Putting the euphoria associated with the sensible targets aside, we must remember that the current set of INDC pledges still fall far short of achieving these temperature targets. For this reason, the next challenge will be the design and implementation of the five-year review and associated ratcheting mechanisms, as well as the very significant boosting of the INDC so that they ensure a safe planet. Given the success of COP21 so far, I personally believe we are at a pivotal moment and that we will tackle this next set of challenges successfully. Needless to say, the next 10 years are going to be among the most exciting in the history of humanity.”

Professor John Quiggin, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow in the School of Economics at the University of Queensland

“The key implication of these measures is that the world economy will need to be completely decarbonized, or nearly so, by the middle of this century. If the goal of 1.5 degrees is to be reached we will also need measures such as massive reafforestation and radical changes in agricultural practices to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and greatly reduce methane emissions over the second half of the century. Fortunately, while these challenges are large, experience has already shown that they can be met without significant adverse effects on living standards. Developing countries will need financial assistance (an issue on which the draft text remains vague) but there is a carbon-free path out of poverty open to them.”

John Church, Coordinating Lead Author of the chapter on sea level rise in the IPCC AR5 and CSIRO Fellow

“The Paris agreement is a great step forward. The warming limit of well below 2C with a target of 1.5C is critically important, as is the five year reviews of commitments. Achieving 1.5C is important as it significantly lowers (but does not eliminate) the risk of loss of the Greenland ice sheet, currently containing over 7m of equivalent in sea level rise.

However, current mitigation commitments fall well short of what is required to achieve these targets. Mitigation efforts need to be ramped up urgently with a much higher energy conservation and renewable energy targets, including in the transportation sector. It is clear that the world must not develop new coal mines, and indeed it will be necessary to remove much of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere over coming decades and sequester it safely.

With current mitigation commitments and even with enhanced commitments to limit warming to the agreed targets, sea level will continue to rise (although at a much slower rate) for centuries to millennia, significantly increasing the frequency and the impact of high coastal sea level extremes. We need to better understand the implications of different emission pathways for rising regional sea level – society needs to adapt to rising sea levels as well as to mitigate our emissions.”

Prof David Karoly, Professor of Atmospheric Science in the School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

“The Paris agreement is a small but very important step to avoiding dangerous climate change, but it is a great leap for humankind.

It sets a much stronger target for limiting long-term global warming, which is critical for reducing the long-term impacts from global warming and minimising dangerous climate change. For the first time, it includes targets for action by all countries, both developed and developing.

The current commitments are not yet enough to ensure that target is reached but the agreement also includes regular reviews so that greater action can be implemented.”

Dr Pep Canadell, CSIRO and Executive Director of Global Carbon Project, Australia

Photo: http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/

“By many accounts, the Agreement is a very strong one, particularly in cementing the long term goal of staying under (well under) 2°C above pre-industrial level. A mitigation mid-term target (eg, by mid century) would strengthen how we achieve that climate goal, which now falls into the more ambiguous statement of balancing greenhouse gas emissions and sinks sometime during the second part of this century. Achieving this balance by 2099 would not keep the planet under 2°C.

“The agreement recognizes the fact that half of all greenhouse gas emissions don’t really have a plan for peak and decline unless a large injection of climate finances is made available. Unfortunately, achieving a minimum of $100B per year is not a commitment in the agreement but a goal in the preceding text of the agreement.”

Prof Jim Falk, Professorial Fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne. Emeritus Professor, University of Wollongong

“The Paris Agreement represents a gear-shift with a greatly improved momentum in the global response to climate change. Its ambition (a rise of “well below 2 degrees”) is greater than many expected. But at this point the Agreement still promises much less than may be necessary to achieve that. It recognises that current proposed emissions reductions will still produce a rise of 2.7 degrees.

To move forward it adopts an evolutionary model of governance – putting in place processes by which countries are intended to ratchet up their commitments over time. Transparency, regular reporting and review of commitments are central to the Agreement. Underneath the text lies the belief that the current rapid shift in the economics of energy from the old fossil fuels to renewables will continue to escalate. There is also a tacit need for means to be found to accelerate capturing and even absorbing back carbon dioxide into storage. Much will depend on how well these expectations are realised. But for now, COP21 must be viewed as achieving the top level of what could reasonably have been considered possible.”

Roger N Jones is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies (VISES), Victoria University

“There is a saying in political economy that when in difficult circumstances, the best agreement is the one that everyone is able to make. So I don’t agree with those who argue that it isn’t enough because it cannot guarantee a particular outcome, such as avoiding 1.5°C or catastrophic losses. It might not get there from here, but the world can have a bloody good shot at it.

At last we have global agreement that can be made to work. It doesn’t work yet, but has the elements it needs. The acknowledgements of strong decarbonisation, climate justice, damage and loss are all important. There is a strong commitment to adaptation, food security and climate-resilient development. Workplans need to be developed for many of these.”