Paris: A change for the climate?

Amidst the political crisis in Portugal, the economic and financial crisis in Europe and the recent attacks in Paris, it is easy to momentarily forget the importance of the event taking place in Paris next December (and which the organization decided to maintain in an unwavering and reticent response to rumors of its cancellation).

Paris shall be the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. Every year for the last two decades, world governments have met in a concerted effort to resolve, what may be classified as the largest collective action problem in the world: climate change. Scientific evidence has accumulated over the last decades: the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presents, yet again, scenarios of violent disruption in the global climate system in the next fifty years. Moreover: the report confirms that climate change can be sensed already today in climate disruptions and that an elevated degree of change is inevitable, even with the deepest efforts in containment of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the mounting evidence, along with the historical failure of the negotiations, why should we believe in the importance of this Summit over previous ones? Partly due to a number of positive signs: first, and in the context of the negotiations, a mutual understanding is growing that all nations, albeit in different ways, must participate in the effort to limit emissions. This growing realization reflects the sobering fact that, even if it were possible  with a superhuman effort to reducing emissions to zero from the global North, the uncontained growth in emissions from the global South would still invalidate any efforts from developed countries. The most significant factor for hope, however, is the awareness of the need for a paradigm shift, in particular, the self-interest of developing countries: On the one hand, some large emerging countries like China have understood the vulnerability to climate change and the way these changes will exacerbate important and harmful tendencies in its development. On the other hand, climate change acts as a catalyst for a new economic policy and for the quest towards comparative advantages through investments in new energy technologies (today, China is the second manufacturer of photovoltaic panels in the world and the country with the most installed capacity worldwide in recent years).

What should we expect in Paris? This past year, signatory countries were asked to lay down their “national contributions” to contribute toward a global effort to combat climate change, as an integral part of a new agreement to be signed in Paris.

Though analyses diverge (partly because many contributions are not as clear as they should be) they point toward a cumulative and substantial effect. If all contributions are maintained at the level committed by countries in their plans submitted to the Convention, analysts predict that the global temperature of the planet will have a maximum increase between 2.7ºC and 3.5ºC. Bear in mind that the definition adopted by the Convention’s own target for a tolerable increase in global temperature is to 2ºC. Further, when we talk about 2ºC as tolerable, we accept as inevitable the disappearance of entire ecosystems in the Pacific and Indian oceans, submerged by the rising average sea level which that increase already contains. Therefore, the sum of the commitments that we have on the table is clearly not enough. Nevertheless, this contribution process forced most governments to confront the need to limit emissions. At the same time, this process has increased the shared perception for the desirability to change lifestyles as well as the energy paradigm.

Simultaneously with this process of submission negotiations focus on three other pillars: climate financing – how to finance the change in the energy paradigm, the maintenance of the carbon stock in world forests and the need for adaptation of the most vulnerable communities and countries; adaptation – which technologies and capacities will be necessary to deal with the needs for adaptation to the already inevitable impacts, and finally; the pillar of technology – here the discussion is based on which mechanisms of the Convention can boost scientific and technological progress. It is undoubtedly in the finance pillar that the global community will face the greatest difficulty in reaching consensus. At the root of this divergence are diametrically opposed views on the source, the means and the priorities to establish financing mechanisms. Nonetheless, even in this most controversial dossier, there is good news: on the one hand, the timely capitalization of the main financial mechanism of the Convention, the Green Climate Fund with ten billion dollars; on the other, the recent agreements in the financing of the phase-out of technologies which emit HFCs (hydroflourocarbons – gases with an extremely high potential for global warming) or the OECD agreement on ending export credit support to new coal-fired power plants (passed on November 17th)  represent the seeds of hope that an agreement can be reached in this dossier.

Yet, in the end, the Paris agreement will simply be a signed piece of paper. It should be noted that the implementation of the agreement and overcoming the problem of climate change depends to a greater extent on what citizens are willing to do. In Portugal, amidst the economic and financial crisis which we are experiencing, it is important to highlight that the country maintained a clear path in incorporating renewable energy and in decarbonizing our industrial structure.

As much as the country has suffered and continues to suffer with the crisis, Portugal managed impressive gains in climate change mitigation, and energy security. Here’s hoping we stay the course after Paris, irrespective of the governments in office at the moment.

Pedro Martins Barata



Some selected contributions:

Country Base Level Reduction Target Target Year Sectors and Gases Use of international markets? Land-use inclusion/accounting method:
China 2005 Emissions peaking

60-65 percent (carbon intensity)

2030 (or before)


Not Specified Not Specified Target to increase forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level; accounting methodology not specified.
United States 2005 26-28 percent 2025 CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3

All of the IPCC Sectors ( Energy; industrial processes and product use; agriculture; LULUCF; waste)

No Yes, using a “net-net” approach
EU 1990 40 percent 2030 CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3

Energy; industrial processes and product use; agriculture; LULUCF; waste

No Policy on land-use accounting to be decided prior to 2020
India 2005 33-35 percent (carbon intensity) 2030 Not specified Not mentioned Not specified
Russia 1990 25-30 percent 2030 CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3

Energy; industrial processes and product use; agriculture; LULUCF; waste

No Target depends on the “maximum absorption capacity of forests.” – implies it will be included.
Japan 2005


25.4 percent

26 percent

2030 CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3

Energy, Industrial Processes and Product Use, Agriculture, Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry, Waste

The amount of emission reductions and removals acquired by Japan under the Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM) will be appropriately counted as Japan’s reduction. Removals by LULUCF sector are accounted in line with approaches equivalent to those under the Kyoto Protocol.
Korea Business as Usual (BAU) 37 percent 2030 CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6,

Energy, industrial processes and product use, agriculture and waste

Will use market mechanisms partly, in accordance with relevant rules and standards. A decision will be made at a later stage on whether to include greenhouse gas emissions and sinks of the land sector as well as the method for doing so.
Canada 2005 30 percent 2030 CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6, NF3

All of the IPCC Sectors ( Energy; industrial processes and product use; agriculture; LULUCF; waste)

Yes Yes, using a net-net approach; use a “production approach” to account for harvested wood products; exclude emissions from natural disturbances

Source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.


Source: contributions “pledges” lowered levels of global temperature target in 2100 3.6ºC to 2.7ºC above the pre-industrial average temperature. The target of the convention is 2 °C.