Initial observations of the COP21 climate deal

By Michael Igoe 14 December 2015

At the COP21 summit in Paris, leaders from around the world reached an agreement that will serve as the backbone of an international effort to combat climate change. Photo by: Arnaud Bouissou / COP21

The world of climate change negotiations has its own language and lexicon — loss and damage, differentiation, the long-term goal, a global stocktake — and in Paris this month the future of the planet was written in these peculiar phrases.

In 32 pages of legalese, negotiators from nearly 200 countries assembled a document that will serve as the backbone of an international effort to combat climate change and adapt to its rapidly accelerating impacts. With the Paris climate talks now concluded, governments, civil society organizations, aid donors, NGOs and businesses are faced with a question: should they celebrate the Paris climate agreement, or protest it?

In the immediate aftermath of the agreement, supporters are rushing to declare it a game-changing victory.

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“This is a tremendous victory for all of our citizens — not for any one country or any one bloc, but for everybody here who has worked so hard to bring us across the finish line. It’s a victory for all of the planet and for future generations,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday in Paris.

And on the other side, civil society activists took to the streets in Paris and around the world to demand stronger action to curtail climate emissions, establishing their own “red lines” for what is and is not negotiable.

via Twitter

Almost all of the rapid reactions to emerge since the Paris agreement was finalized and adopted share a common thread. They recognize that the COP21 agreement, despite being the most significant climate agreement in more than two decades, is still more of a platform for ongoing activism and discussion than a concrete program of action.

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Vital questions that kept negotiators locked inside the halls of Le Bourget late into the night remain open for discussion and reinterpretation, and many of these strike at the core of the development community’s programs and priorities. Not least among them is, how will a framework for climate action that relies mostly on voluntary national contributions translate into a robust, strategic effort that puts resources where they’re needed most?

Development organizations, their partner communities and donors will maintain enormous responsibility as the Paris agreement moves from legal outlines to concrete action. A 32-page climate agreement cannot possibly contain the lived experience of development implementation, and yet, this experience will be necessary to inform decisions about where resources get spent, how and for whom. International negotiations can create structures like the Green Climate Fund, but they cannot guarantee those structures are informed by the state of the art in development practice.

The Paris agreement, like the Sustainable Development Goals, is a jumping off point. It has captured a moment of international consensus around a problem that needs to be solved. There is still plenty to fight over within the text itself — and Devex will break down some of the biggest development-related questions raised by the agreement in the next few days. But central to all these questions is a recognition reaffirmed in the first lines of the convention: that an effort to disarm the threat posed by climate change to the earth must proceed within the context of an effort to eliminate poverty from the earth.

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About the author

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Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.


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