COP21 Accord Finalized, Shipping Unaffected

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius concludes the COP21 negotiations with a strike of his gavel (U.S. State Dept.)

Published Dec 13, 2015 7:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

World leaders have reacted with optimism and emotion at the prospect of a unified response to climate change as 200 countries completed negotiations on a baseline agreement for action.

Speaking in Paris after the conclusion of the COP21 climate summit, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the document a “historic turning point” in efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Minister Fabius said that as individual nations sign and ratify the treaty, "you will make a choice for your country, for your continent, but also a choice for the world. It will be a major leap for mankind.”

Its text is ambitious: the accord suggests a “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,” followed by “rapid reductions thereafter . . . to achieve a balance between [emissions and absorption of] greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” Commentators say that the latter phrase, a diplomatic formulation for the concept of global “carbon neutrality,” calls for the eventual end of the fossil-fuel economy.

But the agreement notes that the combined emissions pledges of the nations are still not enough to limit average temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, much less the “high-ambition” target of 1.5 degrees. The two degree Celsius limit is the scientific community’s consensus goal for reducing the risks posed by climate change.

Still, the document – if countries adhere to its provisions – could mean significant changes in policy and in business practice.

"The business community of the entire world is receiving a message of countries now moving toward clean, alternative, renewable energy and trying to reduce their carbon footprint," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. "That is going to spur massive investment."

For vessel owners and operators, the final draft of the agreement makes no mention of transportation or shipping interests, consistent with earlier reports of exclusion. The IMO had lobbied for the management of carbon emissions to be vested in its own authority rather than assumed under the COP21 process, over the objections of European Community Shipowners Association members like Maersk Lines.

Additional features of the agreement include a baseline assistance package of $100 billion for helping developing nations to adopt cleaner technology – a key demand of the less-developed economies. It specifically excludes liability for countries with a long history of carbon emissions – such as the United States and other western nations – in the event that sea level rise should inundate low-lying areas like the Marshall Islands. 

Transparency mechanisms include a “facilitative, non-intrusive, non-punitive” system of review to track progress, a key demand for the U.S. and the E.U. in their desire to make sure that carbon-dependent nations are held to their pledges.

The document does not contain measures for enforcement in the event of noncompliance.

Leaders suggested that further progress is now up to individual nations. “Today, we celebrate,” said Miguel Arias Cañete, the E.U.'s negotiator. “Tomorrow, we have to act.”