COP21[i], aka the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, has been the latest in a long line of international political discussions aiming to achieve agreement on action to address climate change.
For the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, COP21 set out to achieve a binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. Whilst the resulting agreement has been hailed as historic, it appears short on legally-binding detail[ii].
Realistically, what can Northern Ireland do and how can business play its part?
Northern Ireland makes up less than one sixth of the total land mass of the United Kingdom and the UK itself is less than 3% of the size of the United States. Small, however, does not mean insignificant. Business has a key role to play if there is any chance of capitalising on the opportunity COP21 has presented to drive forward the low carbon agenda.
With a small, close knit-business community, Northern Ireland has the ability to move quickly and take collective and collaborative action. Now is the time to influence governmental change as we head towards a local assembly election in 2016 with parties, departments and other organisations currently working to shape the next Programme for Government.
By understanding the risks of climate change, better managing these within the immediate organisation and the wider supply chain, companies in Northern Ireland can at least work towards mitigating their impacts on climate change. However, more importantly, by taking a leadership role including working together through representative organisations like BITC to demonstrate commitment to new approaches in low-carbon technologies, renewables, circular economy and resource efficiency, a signal will be sent to Government in Northern Ireland to ensure local policy which provides a framework ensuring benefits from growth of a low carbon economy for the Region.
‘Smart growth’ and the circular economy
What we need in the future is ‘smart growth’ – growth that recognises, addresses and takes responsibility for climate change, nurtures healthy ecosystems, and encourages a step-change in resource utilisation through the circular economy. This will be the focus of Business in the Community’s efforts on the environmental agenda from 2016 onwards and we challenge our members to be bold and brave in leading the charge on smart growth in Northern Ireland, so that all companies here may follow and ensure we are playing our part responsibly on the global stage.
[i] Beginning with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 where the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted, followed by the first annual COP (Conference of Parties) in Berlin in 1995 and notable meetings at COP3 where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 where the Montreal Action Plan was produced, COP15 in Copenhagen, COP17 in Durban and COP20 in Lima.
[ii] For the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, COP21 set out to achieve a binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. On Saturday 12 December, 195 governments adopted the Paris Agreement, striking an ambitious deal with a revised, aspirational aim to “pursue efforts” to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, with zero net ‘man-made’ greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century, and commitment to a process for review and continual improvement. However, whilst the negotiations arguably set the stage for a new impetus towards a low carbon future, it appears short on legally-binding detail. For example, whilst Article 9 states that developed countries shall provide financial resources to developing countries for both adaptation and mitigation, under Article 4, emissions targets, known as Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs), will be determined by the countries themselves.
Based on recent years’ trajectory, being able to limit change to 1.5°C would appear unlikely – certainly without full decarbonisation employing radical, unprecedented low carbon measures ranging from yet to be developed negative emissions technology to new fiscal policies and legislation. Observers have calculated that all of the INDCs (which 187 countries have to date submitted), if delivered, will only limit change to 2.7°C – well above the original 2.0°C goal of the Paris Agreement. For those of us living in industrialised, developed nations, at the very least this may affect our lives through changes in taxation, transport costs, and everyday living expenses. However, for those living on vulnerable Small Island Developing States (which fought for inclusion of the1.5°C limit), scientists believe it could mean countries being swallowed by rising seas. See the BBC’s analysis of what it could mean for you.