COP21: the next step

COP21 has ended. For some people the work is nearly done, for others the work is just starting with new opportunities to work on climate change. Research is one of the areas where the agreement will provide new opportunities to work on. Wageningen UR researchers reflect:

Prof. dr. ir. Gert-Jan Nabuurs

"In my mind the Paris agreement is a big success. Not only because countries agreed on the 2 degree target. But especially because the text also incentivises the role of forests as sinks and the role of sustainable forest management. Thus not only conservation is mentioned, but especially the sustainable management; aiming at sinks and a continuous flow of wood products. This is exactly in line with the study we presented at COP21. Next steps are that the EU can now decide how they take up forests in their 2030 target and how and what they will incentivise."

Marjanneke Vijge MSc

"It was such a privilege to be present during the moment of agreement. The atmosphere was very optimistic the entire day, and elated at the moment Fabius announced the agreement. I think the agreement is a big achievement, and a large step in the right direction. It is certainly more than I had expected. In terms of next steps, I think the most obvious, but also most important thing to mention is that countries need not only to implement their INDCs, but also to ratchet up their targets in the coming years. Currently, the INDCs do not add up to the 2, let alone 1.5 degree target, even in the unlikely case that these will all be implemented according to plan (a UNEP report shows that carbon neutrality should even be achieved by the second half of this century in order to reach the 2 degree target). This means there is an inconsistency in the current agreement that needs to be addressed. The way forward will be for countries to regularly assess individual and collective progress and voluntarily ratchet up targets. Any binding country targets or international monitor or review process would, as Paris showed, be unrealistic at this point in time. Of course there are those--mainly from civil society--who criticise the agreement for being (too) weak, but the overriding emotion on Saturday in the overflow hall (filled with observers and parties) was happiness or contentment. This agreement will not mean anything if not implemented, so the coming years are crucial, but I guess that, compared to previous negotiations, there has been a shift in mindset among countries to start collaborating on combatting climate change rather than trying to avoid it. In that sense, this agreement may even be a turning point in climate change negotiations, fostering a positive spirit with something to build on rather than the continuous frustration of not having an agreement. The coming years will tell…"

Robbert Biesbroek PhD

"The Paris agreement is an important step in supporting countries to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. The agreement emphases the need to build adaptive capacities and share learning experiences in support of adaptation across countries. It explicitly asks countries to consider important and often overlooked issues, for example to pay more attention to the most vulnerable groups in society. However, many of the adaptation related requests in the agreement have hardly been addressed in scientific debates; how to assess how much adaptation developing countries need? How to assess the adequacy and efficiency of the support, financially or otherwise, developing countries receive in reducing their vulnerability? These questions will figure prominently in the many post-Paris scientific and political discussions and negotiations on adaptation that will take place in the coming years."

Dr. Annemarie Groot

"The COP 2015 showed an increasing interest of the Private Sector Finance to invest in green projects addressing climate change. This is good news considering that Wageningen UR researchers are constantly looking for new financial sources, especially since public funds are dwindling. However in order to successfully access private sector finance:

  • Wageningen UR has to identify research areas which are of interest to private investors and banks
  • Wageningen UR has to invest in strategic research that aims to connect ‘cash flow thinking’ and economic value of ecosystem services
  • Wageningen researchers, banks and investors have to learn how to speak the same language
  • Wageningen researchers have to learn how to design and implement bankable projects attracting Private Sector Finance"

Nila Kamil

I got the privilege of following the negotiation as part of Indonesian delegation team, although not as negotiator but I had the badge of “Party Overflow” meaning that I got to observe some of the meetings directly.

At the first week of the negotiation, we had Head-of-States commitments delivered on the first day, followed by rounds of informal consultations of the agenda items. In the second week, the drafted agreements were distributed on daily basis, then Parties got to discuss the draft internally before going to Plenary – this process happened every day until the deal was reach on Saturday. There were two nights were the plenary ran until 5.30 in the mornings, which were on Wednesday the 9th until Friday the 11th of December. And then the last draft came out on Saturday morning, which was to be adopted on the evening.

My personal observation is that the hottest issues of the negotiation were on the matters of:

  1. differentiation between developed and developing countries in terms of target, obligation, time frame, nature of target (commitment vs voluntary contribution);
  2. financing in terms of quantity of funds, mechanism, time-frame and operating entity; and
  3. the emission reduction target of Parties itself on the robustness of ambition, the mechanism of implementation, the monitoring and transparency mechanism, and balance of proportion between mitigation and adaptation in the Paris Outcome.

The Paris Outcome was an important deal, but we need to see whether countries will walk their talk. So we will need to closely observing the subsequent meetings between now to 2020.

Dr. ing. Jan Verhagen

The result shows that countries can cooperate and work towards a positive outcome. Achieving the 2 deg outcome will, however require a major effort. The transparency of actions and support is an important element to track progress and priorities of parties.
I’ve been member of the Least Developed Countries expert group for about 7 years and it good to see that adaptation and finance for adaptation are a major part of the agreement. National adaptation planning as part of development planning will need to mature over the comming years. Agriculture is a key sector for the social and economic development of most developing countries. So besides finance also the need for knowledge, capacity building, and technology for adaptation planning and implementation in agriculture will need to step up.

Prof. dr. Martin Herold

The new Paris agreement is very much around the issues of bottom up “solutions” (by countries, private sector etc.) and climate smart development pathways. There will be an increasing need and opportunities for climate-change related research and implementation in the domains where Wageningen UR is very good at and we should better position ourselves to claim our important role in this. 25% of all emission reductions in the country’s INDC are proposed to be in the forest/land use sector and is, thus, key for achieving the objectives set out in the Paris agreement. There are still high uncertainty on both the historical levels and the projections of land use sector emissions and removal to assess the positive impacts from climate smart agriculture, 4 pro-mille, REDD+. This is an important challenge for the research community to reduce uncertainties and increase transparency in updating the INDC and reporting of progress of its the implementation under the Paris agreement.

For me the strongest and most binding text in the Paris agreement is on regular reporting obligations to ensure that the bottom up process for development achieves the intended climate outcomes. The agreement makes strong statements highlighting the importance of food production and food security (in the context of adaptation and climate resilience) and for implementing REDD+ (for mitigation and integral and sustainable management of forests). These two objectives are connected since the solutions to curbing tropical deforestation in developing countries are in the agriculture domain and climate resilience and adaptive capacity for agriculture also depends on functioning forest ecosystems within landscapes. Wageningen UR is one of the few organisation that is already very strong in CSA and REDD+ as individual domains and should take leadership in developing and implementing solutions for combining both for true “climate-smart development” in the land use sector and WUR could take a world-leading role in linking CSA with REDD+.

Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen PhD MSc

The Paris Agreement is for me historic, it is a sign of humanity’s ability to unite and look above narrow interest towards that of the globe and its future. It has a number of interesting combinations of legally binding and non-legally binding elements. Everyone has to participate and report but how much is up to each country to decide. This is not much difference for most multilateral environmental agreements, and for much international law. This means that the role of national public and political pressure on governments to ratchet up their contributions on mitigation, finance etc. will be crucial, and not only once, but that pressure has to remain high and increase significantly the coming years and decades. Which means that the role of educational institutions will be paramount. On the last night of celebrations one country highlighted Article 12 of the agreement as being the one that was first agreed upon, thus indicating the uncontroversial nature of education. The article reads
Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.

Let’s hope that it being uncontroversial makes it easy for countries to put strong action in this domain. But a similar article has been with us since the UNFCCC, if education and awareness raising had been taken seriously the last twenty years we would have had a much stronger support for ambitious INDCs than we have now in many countries. That is my guess.

Dr. Niklas Hoehne

“The Paris Agreement has been a historic step for multilateral action on climate change. For the first time a truly global agreement has been reached, showing the firm commitment of all countries of the world to act on climate change.
The agreement signals the end the fossil fuel era. It states that temperature increase has to be "well below 2°C" and that countries should “pursue efforts” towards 1.5°C . In addition, it aims for a "balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”. All three elements together mean, that global emissions of all greenhouse gases have to be zero by 2060 to 2080 and global energy-related emissions have to be zero even earlier, by around 2050. Investors will now think twice before being active in fossil fuel infrastructure.

There is still a mismatch between the long term global goals and the individual actions that countries proposed. The climate action tracker confirms that temperature could rise by 2.7°C (best estimate) by 2100 if all national actions are implemented and are followed by action of similar strength after 2030. All countries have to start tomorrow to find ways to increase their ambition.”

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