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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsSo what was the Paris Agreement all about? Well, there are annual negotiations by world leaders on issues of climate change. They occur every year in different cities around the globe. And this year was a particularly important year. They had them in Paris. And some people may remember that we've previously had a big event in Copenhagen in 2009, and a long time ago, in 1997, we had one in Kyoto in Japan. So this is the latest of the big annual events that we had.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 secondsAnd prior to Paris, virtually all countries in the world gave what was called a pledge, an INDC, an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, an awful acronym, but basically a pledge, a promise of what emission reductions that country would make between 2020 and 2030. So that all went in prior to the Paris negotiations and from all countries around the globe. And when you add up all of those pledges, what you find is that the temperature that we would get across the globe is about three to four degrees C temperature rise as an average. And, I think it's worth bearing in mind that that's a global average. And what's really important as well, what are regional repercussion of that?

Skip to 1 minute and 23 secondsAnd they could be as high as eight to twelve degrees C, repercussions in different parts of the world. So very severe heat waves and severe droughts and so forth as well. So what's the global average? We must remember that actually, that plays out regionally very differently to that. And of course, we have weather, which is what we live with day to day, not the climate. So the global averages can be a little bit misleading. And that a three to four degree temperature rise is a huge change in the planet. The difference between now and an ice age is only about five degrees. So we're talking about a significant move of that sort of order of magnitude.

Skip to 1 minute and 59 secondsIt's a commonly held view that we need to hold to less than two degrees C, that was the discussion prior to Paris and has been for quite a few years. A two degree C rise. But it's also worth bearing in mind, many of the poorer parts of the world have been arguing for much lower than that, 1 to and 1.5 degrees C, because even at 2 degrees C, many people will die. They'll be poor. They'll be generally in the southern hemisphere. They'll be low emitters. And they'll typically be nonwhite. So there are many people who will suffer, even at two degrees centigrade. And yet that's been the principle focus of international discussions up until Paris.

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 secondsSo there's a big gap between what was going into Paris, the pledges, and what people have been talking about internationally, these two degrees centigrade. So we're really aiming for three or four, even higher degree temperature rise, but really what we have is goal of no more than two. And Paris is really about discussing how do we reconcile those two. Now the Paris agreement was a 32-page document, the usual sort of legal boring document that comes out of these negotiations. And I think it was a triumph. There are lots of small triumphs, but there are two very big triumphs to me.

Skip to 3 minutes and 13 secondsThe first of these is that in having world leaders come together, virtually all world leaders, and say that they all agree climate change is a hugely important issue, they are basically saying they all accept the science. So there's been a long history of very sceptical or even scientific denial about climate change, by many people, often getting very well funded by the fossil fuel companies and so forth. So there has been a very strong opposition to the science of climate change, but often not by scientists, very seldom by scientists. And I think having the world leaders come together, and they actually said, we believe in the science, not the sceptics. And I think that is really very important.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 secondsSo that is a major triumph and significant credit goes to the French in pulling all of this together and their diplomacy and getting negotiations to work so well. The second triumph relates to a particular paragraph within the agreement, within the 32-page agreement. And this paragraph says that the global community is going to aim to hold the temperature well below two degrees centigrade and pursue efforts to keep the temperature rise to only one and a half degree centigrade, which is what the poor part of the world in particular have been asking for. They're also going to do that on the basis of the best science.

Skip to 4 minutes and 30 secondsThat's the IPCC, is probably the best way of thinking that, but obviously that evolves over time as well. And in line with equity, in other words, the poor parts of the world will take longer to reduce their emissions than the wealthy parts of the world. So 2 degrees C, 1.5, based on the best science, and equity. These are really important. These are enshrined within the Paris agreement. And we can all hold our leaders, whether that's our government leaders, our organisational leaders. So these people can be held to account, this is what we have internationally signed up for. There are some problems with the Paris agreement.

Skip to 5 minutes and 5 secondsFirstly, it's about climate change and you would think there'd be some reference to fossil fuels. Nowhere in the 32-page document is there any reference to fossil fuels or de-carbonization. Aviation and shipping emissions are exempt. So no country takes responsibility for those. They're simply just held separate to the agreement. The emissions from aviation and shipping are the same as adding the emissions from UK and Germany together. And they're growing much more rapidly than our national emissions. So aviation and shipping are hugely important. The voluntary pledges do not add up to two degrees C, much nearer three to four degrees centigrade. And we're not going to review those pledges until 2023 or possibly even a little later.

Skip to 5 minutes and 44 secondsBy that time, we will have put another 300 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. By the time we get to review the pledges that we all know are too weak for the commitments in the Paris agreement, by the time we get to review them, we would have put another 300 billion tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere. The only way that all of this can be squared, we can make any sense at all of this, is if we assume certain types of technology, which do not exist at the moment, that will suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in many decades to come.

Skip to 6 minutes and 17 secondsSo I sometimes refer to them as a Doctor Strangelove technology, based on quite a famous film about a mad scientist. Now, perhaps we should research these things, but I think to assume that they work is a real fundamental mistake. And yet that was embedded in the Paris agreement, but without any words to say so. You have to look behind the text to find this. The two other, well, one other major point I think, is that there is some money put aside in the Paris agreement for the poorer parts of the world to mitigate their emissions and to respond to the climate change that we have imposed upon them. It's about $100 billion every single year.

Skip to 6 minutes and 53 secondsNow there's is no agreement who's going to pay that or where it's going to come from, but I think it's worth bearing in mind that the subsidy in 2015 to fossil fuels, the direct and indirect subsidy, the indirect in the health impacts mostly from fossil fuels, was about $5.3 trillion, according to the IMF, the International Monetary Fund. So about 53 times more in 2015, a single year, than we're going to give the poorer parts of the world to deal with climate change. Or indeed, it's about 1/30th of the size of the UK economy.

Skip to 7 minutes and 21 secondsSo I think it is a derisory sum, that we've given such a small amount of money to the poor parts of the world to deal with climate change.

The 2° target in the Paris Agreement

In this video Kevin Anderson, visiting professor in climate change leadership, Uppsala University, discusses the 2°C target in the Paris Agreement in more depth.

He notes that the target to limit global warming to +2°C above pre-industrial temperatures is a dangerous target:

It’s a commonly held view that we need to hold to less than 2°C. […] But it is also worth bearing in mind that poorer parts of the world have been arguing for much lower than that, 1.5°C, because even at 2°C many people will die. They will be poor, they will be generally in the Southern hemisphere, they will be low-emitters, and they will typically be non-white.

There were two very big triumphs in the Paris Agreement, according to Anderson. Virtually all world leaders came together and agreed that climate change is a serious issue - so science won over the climate change deniers. Furthermore, world leaders were able to agree to limit global warming to 2°C or even 1.5°C, and to do this on the basis of the best science and equity.

However, much like Stabinsky said in the previous step, Anderson also notes that in sum the voluntary pledges of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) of the signatories are currently nowhere close of meeting the 2°C target, and that the treaty relies on speculative negative emissions technologies, which imply that we would find a way to capture carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it. Furthermore, the impact of aviation, international shipping or the need for decarbonization are not taken into account in the Agreement.

It is about climate change and you think that there would be some reference to fossil fuels. [But] nowhere in the 32 page document is there any reference to fossil fuels or decarbonization.

The Paris Agreement nevertheless provides a good starting point for climate action and leadership, he argues:

[W]e can all hold our leaders, that’s our government leaders, organisational leaders […] to account: this is what we have internationally signed up for.


What are your experiences of climate change in your life time? Are the changes sudden or slow and harder to detect? How are human and natural communities affected?

Add your thoughts in the comments section below (the pink box with a plus) and add your stories, photos and videos on Twitter hashtag #FLccleadership

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This video is from the free online course:

Climate Change Leadership

Uppsala University