COP21 agreement: A decisive turning point


Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

The Paris Agreement at COP21 marks a decisive turning point in our response to climate change. I strongly applaud this historic commitment and the robustness of a deal that includes an ambitious target for limiting the global temperature rise, a five-year review cycle, clear rules on transparency, a global goal for resilience and reducing vulnerability and a framework for supporting developing countries.

Countries’ nationally determined contributions to emissions reductions post-2020 lay a pathway to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future that could safeguard the future health and prosperity of billions of people. But this is just the beginning of the road. The agreement is a framework for action, and governments now need to act.

Each country must spell out a credible roadmap for action consistent with the goal of holding the average temperature increase to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C. The timescale and sequencing of actions will vary across countries, reflecting their different circumstances, but this goal requires the full engagement of all major economies. Sustainable development and climate goals must be mutually reinforcing and advanced economies must fulfil their promises to support developing countries in addressing climate change with finance, technology and capacity building.

Strong and coherent domestic policy is essential to drive the changes we need, including putting a meaningful price on carbon, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, spurring investment in green technologies and innovation and tackling the policy misalignments that impede climate action. Effective policies will unleash the transformational capacities and capital of the private sector and will allow investors, and other actors such as cities and regions, to plan with confidence. The low carbon transition requires little more money than the trillions already being invested today. But it requires a massive shift towards low-carbon, energy efficient and climate-resilient systems. We welcome the recognition that Article 2 of the Agreement gives to making finance flows consistent with this goal.

A key role of the UNFCCC will be to monitor and review country performance against commitments, not only in emissions reductions but also in climate finance. The Agreement provides mechanisms for regular reporting, review and updating to check whether national targets and pathways are consistent with our collective climate goals. International organisations like the OECD can provide data and analysis to support transparency and accountability in many of these areas and we stand ready to support all countries in this process. The OECD will continue to work with governments to help remove the barriers to climate action that are built into existing policies from the fossil fuel age in everything from investment, taxation, electricity land use and transport.

This is a watershed day for the world and especially heartening for the OECD as one of the first international bodies to call for zero net emissions in the second half of the century, for a price on carbon and for greater efforts to channel finance into the low carbon economy.

I would personally like to congratulate the French President François Hollande, the COP President Minister Laurent Fabius, French Environment and Energy Minister Ségolène Royal, Ambassador Laurence Tubiana and their team on helping steer us to a successful outcome. The Paris Agreement builds on the considerable efforts by previous COP Presidencies, notably the Peruvians who laid the groundwork for this agreement in Lima a year ago and made subtle, inclusive and tireless efforts to support an agreement over the subsequent year. We owe a great debt of thanks to Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, and her team for their exceptional commitment, energy and leadership over the past many years.

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  1. James Greyson - 13/12/2015 Reply

    Agree that effective policies will unleash transformational capacities. Just wonder if we’ve really escaped the historical delusion of always underestimating the scale of the problem and overestimating our response?

    1. The IPCC’s science gives us the most consensual figures for climate sensitivity but not necessarily the safest. With vastly more knowledge of positive feedbacks and time-lags over the years we should expect higher sensitivity yet the 3C estimate hasn’t changed since around 1979. Can OECD experts please point out if David Wasdell’s analysis is wrong, with potentially 8C average global temperature rise with doubling of CO2 concentrations? If we want to protect against the risk that climate is a bigger problem than we’ve imgined then don’t we need to be exploring better than zero emissions and better than the second half of the century to get there?

    2. Shifting finance flows away from fossil fuels and toward green investments has always been a good goal, but are we sure it’s on the right scale of ambition? Finance flows ultimately respond to the direction we allow capitalism to run. Are we now just echoing do-good policy advice from the past or seriously engaging with the economics of a new capitalism that keeps resources (including carbon) in circular flows? The bigger question offers bigger solutions, where the risk of carbon becoming atmospheric waste is priced alongside the same risks of any resource becoming wastes in any ecosystem. Get this right and the paradigm shifts, the finance flows shift and the power of markets is transformed to solve multiple global challenges.

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