COP 21: Paris is an historic opportunity to tackle climate change

Worldwide contributions need to go further if we are to succeed in the fight against climate change, writes Jos Delbeke.

By Jos Delbeke

30 Nov 2015

The Paris climate conference is a historic opportunity for the world to agree to a comprehensive global deal to tackle climate change. 

A successful agreement in Paris will be one that achieves our main goal of keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees. This is the internationally agreed threshold beyond which there is a much higher risk of dangerous climate change.

While this is the ultimate objective, getting there - by accelerating the shift to low-carbon, climate-resilient development - represents a unique opportunity to revitalise our economies, both in Europe and globally.


It will require a transformation of our energy and transport systems, and the Paris protocol will need to provide the framework for shifting investment towards more sustainable, climate-friendly technologies.

As we head to the French capital, we are celebrating an important milestone. So far, more than 170 countries, covering 95 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have submitted national climate action plans. This signals a move away from action by a few, to action by all, and it represents major progress compared to what we have today. 

Under the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, just 38 countries, covering around 12 per cent of global emissions, have targets. Unfortunately, we already know that the initial contributions will not be enough to hit our below two degrees target. 

However, they do take us a long way towards it and, importantly, it remains within reach. This means that the Paris agreement has to deal with this reality and include the necessary provisions to ensure we remain on track for our objective.

For this to happen, three key elements are essential. Firstly, an operational long-term goal that will provide a shared vision of our destination. We need to know how and when to raise our ambition.

Secondly, knowing there will be a shortfall when we get to Paris, countries will need to meet regularly and consider and strengthen emissions targets in light of the latest science and progress made to date.

The final element is a system of accountancy and transparency to create the trust that what has been promised has been delivered. These three ingredients are essential for a credible deal, providing the long-term signal that citizens, markets, investors and decision-makers need.

Finance will be a critical issue in Paris. Supporting developing countries in their e  orts to tackle climate change is essential to achieving our 'below 2°C' target. The EU remains the largest provider of international climate finance.

Last year, the Union and its member states provided €14.5bn to support climate action in developing countries. At least 20 per cent of the EU budget will be spent on climate action by 2020. This means that at least €14bn, an average of €2bn per year, of public grants will support activities in developing countries between 2014 and 2020. This is more than double the average level in 2012-2013.

The EU remains committed to delivering its fair share of the goal of jointly mobilising $100bn per year by 2020 to developing countries.

Last year, this reached $62bn. So, while challenges remain, developed countries are collectively on track to meet their $100bn goal.

But public finance alone will not be enough. Unlocking more private finance will be key to scaling up investments in climate-smart development across the world.

The Paris protocol must be understood as a commitment by all parties to do the most they can, both today and in the future. That means support to others, as well as mitigation and adaptation.

Here in Europe, the low-carbon transition is already underway. We are well on track to meet our 2020 targets for emissions reductions, renewables and energy efficiency. 

What's more, we have shown that climate protection and economic growth go hand in hand. Between 1990 and 2014, our emissions fell by 23 per cent, while our economy grew by 46 per cent.

We are making good progress but we know we need to do more. This is reflected in our ambitious target of reducing emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 - part of our contribution to the Paris agreement.

We have already started to put measures in place to implement our Paris pledge with our plans to reform the EU emissions trading system. Next year, we will bring forward more legislative proposals.


Read the most recent articles written by Jos Delbeke - The Paris agreement one year on: What next?