Paris Agreement Aims for 1.5 Degrees

Information Interview

By Arman Kazemi

December 17, 2015

Almost 200 countries came to an agreement over the weekend to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius, with 1.5 degrees emerging as an “aspirational” target.

After nearly two weeks of negotiations and an overnight rush to solidify a deal on Saturday, the 196 nations at the COP21 Paris climate talks agreed on a 31-page treaty that would build on previous international agreements such as the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

The latest document for the first time puts the burden of cutting carbon emissions on both developed and developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol only required that developed countries meet emission reduction targets.

In the new deal, every country is free to set individual targets. But each country will be legally required to publish those targets and maintain a transparent record-keeping mechanism to be updated every five years beginning in 2023.

The Paris agreement aims to keep global temperature rise “well below” two degrees, and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees to “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” below the two-degree limit.

As one of the designated facilitators of the conference, Canada’s new Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna publicly affirmed Canada’s commitment to support the 1.5-degree target.

“If we want to achieve this temperature goal, everyone needs to be part of this. We need maximum participation where everyone puts their best efforts forward,” she said at a closed plenary session over the weekend, as reported by the CBC.

Canada entered the climate talks with the previous government’s emissions target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The new Liberal government has yet to establish new emissions targets.

But McKenna told the CBC’s Power and Politics that the 1.5-degree goal, “creates a sense of urgency that we really need to act.”

“Now we need to figure how to support what the provinces are doing and what role the federal government could play.”

McKenna also suggested that the clean energy industry will continue to grow in the wake of the agreement.

“What was really different in Paris was that you had businesses there,” she said. “With markets changing and realizing that they need to go forward to lower emissions, we’re going to see innovation and money flowing in that direction.

“Everyone’s seeing this as an opportunity.”