UNClimate Change

EXPERT REACTION: Agreement Reached at COP21 in Paris

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
A final agreement has been released from COP 21 following negotiations between nearly 200 governments in Paris over the past two weeks. The talks were scheduled to end on Friday, but extended well into Saturday local time.

Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre


  • United Nations Framework on Climate Change
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    Final statement

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Tom Worthington is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University.

The COP21 Paris Agreement on Climate Change (UN FCCC/CP/2015/L.9, 12 December 2015) includes provision for training and education to help combat global warming. "Education" is mentioned four times and "training" six, in the COP21 agreement (same as in the previous draft):

One way to provide the education, training and tools required for dealing with climate change is via the Internet. This is particularly relevant to developing nations which have limited educational resources.

Government administrators and those who have to implement carbon reduction strategies in industry can attend on-line training courses.

Developed nations can assist by providing course materials free on-line.

An example, is "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future". The Australian Computer Society commissioned me to write this course in 2008. It has been run by the Australian National University for seven years. The course materials are upgraded each year and made available under an open access license, so any institution is free to use it world wide. For 2016 the course is being upgraded to be delivered using low cost mobile devices in developing nations

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 8:15pm
Professor John Cole is the Executive Director of the Institute of Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland and is an Honorary Professor at the UQ Business School

Last night's agreement in Paris of the parties to the UNFCCC to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels gives added imperative and momentum to the Federal Government's new emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship.    

Achieving a phase out of fossil fuels in a time prescribed by the science of climate change will require massive technological transformation globally.  

It will also deliver enormous opportunities to a new cohort of innovative clean technology creators and businesses that will generate new economies along the way.

For regional Australia it means invigorated economic development in the form of renewable local energy and new jobs in the industries that will follow.

Last night we arrived  at the end of the beginning in humanity's quest to mount an effective response to man made climate change

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 7:46pm
Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Future Fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW on the changing nature of heatwaves.

December 12 2015 marks a momentous day in the battle against climate change. Leaders from both developed and developing nations have agreed to limit global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, and if possible, limit it to 1.5C.

There are of course some grey areas around how this will be achieved - for example, current pledges in greenhouse gas reductions will only limit warming to 2.7-3C by 2100. Also, to reach a target below 2C, dramatic, and quick reductions in fossilised energy sources are required, as well as removal of atmospheric carbon. However, from 2023, emissions targets will be reviewed every 5 years, with new pledges in reductions to only strengthen each time this occurs.

While developed nations will not accept responsibility of any loss and damage associated with man-made climate change impacts in developing countries, they are expected to lead the way in emissions reductions. Moreover, from 2020 $100 billion a year will be made available to developing nations to aid in their emissions reductions

The agreement calls for transparency in emissions reductions, and is legally binding in developed nations reporting their emissions, adaptation progress and finance every two years. While not perfect, the Paris agreement is a massive leap by the global community towards preventing dangerous climate change as much as possible.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 7:01pm

Peter Fisher is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University

Let's make sure that cleaning up the world's water doesn't send our climate targets down the gurgler.

Note that this October 2015  The Conversation article* examines an important but somewhat overlooked area for climate finance arising out of Paris viz.. installing water treatment systems where there are typically none or primary in developing countries that are low carbon based on renewables and micro grids. Widespread soil and water contamination by open defecation in Africa, India and South America is a vector for major disease and the development of resistant bacteria which ultimately get exported to the developed world!


Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 6:52pm
John Church is a Professor in the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

The Paris agreement is a great step forward.  The warming limit of well below 2C with a target of 1.5C is critically important, as is the five year reviews of commitments.  Achieving 1.5C is important as it significantly lowers (but does not eliminate) the risk of loss of the Greenland ice sheet, currently containing over 7 m of equivalent in sea level rise.  

However, current mitigation commitments fall well short of what is required to achieve these targets.  Mitigation efforts need to be ramped up urgently with a much higher energy conservation and renewable energy targets, including in the transportation sector. It is clear that the world must not develop new coal mines, and indeed it will be necessary to remove much of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere over coming decades and sequester it safely.

With current mitigation commitments and even with enhanced commitments to limit warming to the agreed targets, sea level will continue to rise (although at a much slower rate) for centuries to millennia, significantly increasing the frequency and the impact of high coastal sea level extremes.  We need to better understand the implications of different emission pathways for rising regional sea level – society needs to adapt to rising sea levels as well as to mitigate our emissions.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 6:37pm
David Karoly is the new Leader of the Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub in the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, based in CSIRO. He is also an honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne. Professor Karoly is a member of the National Climate Science Advisory Committee.

The Paris agreement is a small but very important step to avoiding dangerous climate change, but it is a great leap for humankind.

It sets a  much stronger target for limiting long-term global warming, which is critical for reducing the long-term impacts from global warming and minimising dangerous climate change. For the first time, it includes targets for action by all countries, both developed and developing.

The current commitments are not yet enough to ensure that target is reached but the agreement also includes regular reviews so that greater action can be implemented

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 5:28pm
Professor John Quiggin is an Australian Laureate Fellow in Economics at the University of Queensland

After decades of half measures, the draft text puts the world on the path to avoid dangerous climate change.  The key elements are:

·         the adoption of the more ambitious goal of holding warming well below 2 degrees, with efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees; and

·         the five-year review mechanism under will the currently inadequate national targets for emissions reductions will be reassessed and revised


The key implication of these measures is that the world economy will need to be completely decarbonized, or nearly so, by the middle of this century. If the goal of 1.5 degrees is to be reached we will also need measures such as massive reafforestation and radical changes in agricultural practices to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and greatly reduce methane emissions over the second half of the century.  Fortunately, while these challenges are large, experience has already shown that they can be met without significant adverse effects on living standards. Developing countries will need financial assistance (an issue on which the draft text remains vague) but there is a carbon-free path out of poverty open to them.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 5:23pm

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is Director of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland and Contributing Author, AR4 IPCC, and Coordinating Lead Author, AR5 IPCC.

It is very significant that we have finally settled on a scientifically robust target that has a good chance of limiting the damage from climate change.  Ultimately, aiming to reduce overall warming to well-below 2°C, and 1.5°C in the long-term, is important not only reduces the size of the warming, but it also commits to stabilising the conditions under which our all-important biosphere and communities need to function.  The current targets will ensure coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef will have a future.

Putting the euphoria associated with the sensible targets aside, we must remember that the current set of INDC pledges still fall far short of achieving these temperature targets.  For this reason, the next challenge will be the design and implementation of the five-year review and associated ratcheting mechanisms, as well as the very significant boosting of the INDC so that they ensure a safe planet.  Given the success of COP21 so far, I personally believe we are at a pivotal moment and that we will tackle this next set of challenges successfully.  Needless to say, the next 10 years are going to be among the most exciting in the history of humanity.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 5:03pm

Joel Fleming is Founding Chairman of Climate Friendly, a carbon management company.

The Paris climate agreement is unprecedented if imperfect and is a turning point for climate action.

The ambition is to limit warming to well below 2°C and to pursue 1.5°C. Actual commitments by countries is only currently enough to cap warming at 2.7°C. The ambition is praiseworthy. However the present commitment to do only half of what is necessary leaves much room for expanded action. The regular review of targets is a vital element for the necessary ratcheting up of actions to align with the ambition. The text makes explicit reference to aligning actions with climate science which is vital to address the gap between aspirational statements and action.

Imperfect though it is there is a real sense that we have reached a turning point and that progress will now become unstoppable. This is added to by the huge trend for corporates and councils going 100% renewable helping make clean energy affordable scalable and pervasive.

Australia will be under pressure to improve. Driven by fossil fuel use, our emissions rose 27% 1990-2013 (excluding land use change and forestry). By 2030, these emissions will have dropped by merely 0.2% per year over 40 years which is a clearly inadequate response and contributes to us ranking last in the Climate Change Performance Index for the OECD. It is now imperative that Australia get serious about economy wide decarbonisation with long term stable policies to encourage it. This brings with it not a cost but the biggest business opportunity in history.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:38pm
Roger N Jones is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies (VISES), Victoria University

There is a saying in political economy that when in difficult circumstances, the best agreement is the one that everyone is able to make. So I don’t agree with those who argue that it isn’t enough because it cannot guarantee a particular outcome, such as avoiding 1.5°C or catastrophic losses. It might not get there from here, but the world can have a bloody good shot at it.

At last we have global agreement that can be made to work. It doesn’t work yet, but has the elements it needs. The acknowledgements of strong decarbonisation, climate justice, damage and loss are all important. There is a strong commitment to adaptation, food security and climate-resilient development. Workplans need to be developed for many of these.

In my view, the weakest part of the agreement, concerns mitigation “so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”. Avoiding 2°C will require a negative balance this century, so this point will need to be redressed in the future. The protection of ecosystems and ecosystem integrity as a scale that protects key global processes is also missing, for now they are lumped in with everything else. But they need to be functioning for everything else to function. These are critical areas where science can contribute, so if the research community think and other stakeholders think these aspects are important, we need to get clear, unarguable evidence that this is the case, and to get cracking on solutions.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:32pm
Prof Jim Falk is Professorial Fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne. Emeritus Professor, University of Wollongong.

The Paris Agreement represents a gear-shift with a greatly improved momentum in the global response to climate change. Its ambition (a rise of “well below 2 degrees”)  is greater than many expected.  But at this point the Agreement still promises much less than may be necessary to achieve that.  It recognises that current proposed emissions reductions will still produce a rise of 2.7 degrees.  

To move forward it adopts an evolutionary model of governance - putting in place processes by which countries are intended to ratchet up their commitments over time.  Transparency, regular reporting and review of commitments are central to the Agreement. Underneath the text lies the belief that the current rapid shift in the economics of energy from the old fossil fuels to renewables will continue to escalate.  There is also a tacit need for means to be found to accelerate capturing and even absorbing back carbon dioxide into storage.  Much will depend on how well these expectations are realised. But for now, COP21 must be viewed as achieving the top level of what could reasonably have been considered possible.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:30pm
Willem Vervoort is Associate Professor of Hydrology and Catchment Management at the University of Sydney

The announcement of the Paris COP agreement by 195 countries is a historical moment in international politics. The strong move towards a lower target rise in temperature is a major shift in global politics.

This still leaves a lot to do for Australia, where the government will have to shift national policies to achieve new targets.

There will also still be a need to think through adaptation strategies, as temperatures will continue to rise. In particular to think through adaptation that does not generate further greenhouse gas output and contribute to global warming. So more energy driven air-conditioning to cool houses and more pumping of groundwater for thirsty crops might not be a good idea. Increasing irrigation efficiency, water recycling and combinations between alternative energy, water recycling and food production are good ideas.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:23pm
Dr Pep Canadell, CSIRO Research Scientist, and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project

By many accounts, the Agreement is an extraordinary success, particularly in cementing the long term goal of staying under (well under) 2°C above pre-industrial level. A mitigation mid-term target (eg, by mid century) would strengthen how we achieve that climate goal, which now falls into the more ambiguous statement of balancing greenhouse gas emissions and sinks sometime during the second part of this century. Achieving this balance by 2099 would certainly not keep the planet under 2°C.

The agreement recognizes the fact that half of all greenhouse gas emissions cannot peak and decline unless a large injection of climate finances is made available. Unfortunately, achieving a minimum of $100B per year is not a commitment in the agreement but a goal in the preceding text of the agreement.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:16pm

Associate Professor Frank Jotzo is the Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University

The Paris agreement is a framework for ambitious long term global climate policy. The goal to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees is the right one in light of the science, though it is aspirational given the dwindling global carbon budget. It would have been useful for the agreement to spell out that this means global decarbonization or net zero emissions as in early drafts of the agreement, even though this is implicit in the overarching goal.

A massive commitment gap exists between this new global goal and the emissions reductions pledges on the table now which are consistent with temperature increases around three degrees. The Paris Agreement provides a mechanism for ratcheting up countries’ emissions targets, with five-yearly reviews and each successive target being a ‘progression’, to avoid backsliding.

Whether the high global goal can be met is unclear, but there are reasons for optimism that the world will do better than the pledges that are on the table now.

The transition to a low carbon economy is increasingly seen as inevitable, and as an enabler of sustained economic growth. For example China now sees low-carbon transition as an economic opportunity and in line with other objectives such as improving air quality and energy security. And achieving emissions reductions tends to be easier and cheaper than expected. The cost of zero-emissions technologies such as solar and wind power has fallen very quickly, and the experience the world over is that well-designed policy instruments are highly effective in driving uptake of cleaner technologies.

Australia played a constructive role in the negotiations. There is a sense is that ‘Australia is back’. The government’s emphasis on innovation is helpful, as is the commitment to double R&D into clean energy over the next five years, made by Australia alongside 19 other countries. But the real test will be the review of policies announced for 2017, and the revision of the national emissions target. As a high emitting country and one that has an overwhelming self-interest in a strong global climate change response, the onus will be on Australia to make a strong contribution to the global effort.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:11pm
Alvin Stone is the Media and Communications Manager for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

On the communication of climate science:

The Paris COP21 agreement not only draws a line under the policy impasse of the past few decades it also effectively ends the false debate pursued by those who deny the existence of climate change and who have consistently tried to confuse the science around it. It no longer matters what an individual or climate denier echo chambers may think about the science, the Paris agreement means every country has accepted the science and is committed to action. This means the debate around climate change can move to where it always belonged, around policy, society, economic action and the response of business.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 4:02pm

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