Heather Coleman's thoughts on the Paris agreement

Posted by Heather Coleman on Wednesday, June 22 2016

Editor’s note: We asked 2003 Switzer Fellow Heather Coleman, Climate Change Policy Manager with the relief and development organization Oxfam America, for her thoughts on the Paris agreement.

On the Paris agreement itself, I believe that this was the strongest deal that we could have achieved at the global level at this time in history, especially given the constraints that we face in the US Congress on this issue. The articles on mitigation and a long-term goal outline the need to reach net zero GHG emissions by the second half of the century and there is an aim to keep warming well below 2°C with the stretch goal of 1.5°C. Building on the momentum from countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) - 186 INDCs were registered last year-  countries have agreed on a process to ramp up action on emissions every five years and report on their progress. Ambition has been raised significantly on adaptation with a global goal of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability, and linking adaptation investment to the level of mitigation ambition. The Agreement creates a cycle of action for strengthening adaptation efforts regularly, similar to the mitigation cycles. And, finally, we secured important language on shifting finance flows to low-emissions activities and increasing the level of finance for poor countries to build low-carbon, climate resilient economies.

On what’s next, this question can be tackled at a macro level or can be more specific to what needs to happen in the US context to implement the agreement. At the macro level, even if governments came back to the negotiating table in the next five years to increase their emission cuts, developing countries would still face adaptation costs of at least $520 billion per year by 2050. Overall economic damage to developing country economies under a 2°C scenario is set to reach $1.1 trillion a year. We need to continue to work at a global level to identify new sources of climate finance (such as setting aside revenues from carbon markets) and we need to proactively engage governments to invest more deeply in adaptation as a public good. In order to meet the long-term goals established in the agreement we have no choice but to shift the trillions of investment in fossil fuels as quickly as possible towards clean, sustainable energy sources. This will require amped up pressure on financial institutions that build off of the grassroots momentum we’ve seen on climate during the past several years. In terms of US policy engagement, we must pressure Presidential candidates to make strong commitments to build on the Paris agreement, citizens must make climate change an issue that cannot be ignored on the campaign trail, and, most importantly, we must engage the next administration to meet the current 26-28% reduction commitment below 2005 levels and to set a commitment for 2030 that keeps us on a pathway towards a long-term emissions reduction trajectory of at least 80% reductions by 2050.

Additional Resources

Climate Change Threatens to Make More People Poor, in Scientific American on 11/9/2015

Who Is Going to Pay to Save the World?, in Foreign Policy on 12/11/15

Oxfam reaction to the US’s first payment delivery to the Green Climate Fund from 3/8/16

Not your average Earth Day from 4/22/16


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