On December 12, nearly 200 countries signed the landmark COP21 Paris agreement into effect. The agreement’s major achievement is a commitment to keep global temperature increases "well below" 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to further limit increases to 1.5C by 2100. In addition, the agreement included a pledge from developed countries to provide US$100 billion a year in climate financing to help developing countries reach their emission targets and better adapt to climate change by 2020, with a commitment to provide further financing after 2020. Countries are also legally obligated to review their progress every five years.

The COP21 meetings in Paris are the latest in a long line of international climate talks, starting with the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. One of the major outcomes of this initial global meeting was the development of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which laid the groundwork for all future climate change negotiations. Since the ratification of the UNFCC in 1994, there have been a number of international talks, including those in Kyoto, Copenhagen, Durban, and Lima. These talks concluded in several important international agreements, including: i) the Kyoto Protocol, which committed signatory countries to meet internationally binding emission reduction targets and provided several innovative mechanisms (such as emissions trading) to help countries achieve those targets and ii) the Durban COP agreement, which laid out a roadmap to achieve long-term stabilization of greenhouse gas (GHG) levels beyond 2020 and which extended the commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.

The negotiations featured varying disagreements over several elements, including whether to cut carbon emissions to 40-70 percent below 2010 levels or to 70-95 percent below 2010 levels, and whether to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the end of the century or after the middle of the century.

Another area of strong contention was who should take more responsibility for, and pay for, emission reductions and climate change adaptation. Many developed countries called on developing regions to take more responsibility to cut emissions and contribute to international financing initiatives to support climate change adaptation. Many developing countries, however, felt that these demands were unfair and unrealistic and instead placed the onus of climate change adaptation on developed nations, which have been historically larger polluters. Ultimately, the final text addressed this issue by calling on both developed and developing nations to step up efforts to reduce their emissions and transition to clean energy, with the understanding that most developing nations will require financial and technological support to do so.

This issue of differentiation between richer and poorer nations proved to be a stumbling block for the final agreement, with the United States and other developed countries facing political pressure to bring emerging economies like India and China on par with richer nations in terms of commitments for emission reductions and funding. There was some progress earlier in the talks when the European Union entered into an alliance with 79 African, Caribbean, and Pacific nations to back the signing of a legally binding deal that will be reviewed every five years. Such a coalition between developed and developing countries, while it did not lay out a specific set of aims, provided a strong sign that countries were more willing to acknowledge different needs and goals and work together to achieve them.

One major issue that is noticeably lacking from the agreement, however, is agriculture. In a statement released before the start of the COP21 meeting, IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan highlighted the fact that extreme weather shocks as droughts and rising temperatures, driven by a rapidly changing climate, could reduce crop yields in poor countries by as much as 50 percent by 2050. Agriculture is also responsible for 30 percent of global GHG. Agriculture’s role as a sector that both contributes to and suffers from climate change means that it could play a lead role as part of the global solution. While several leading international organizations and programs, like CCAFS and NEPAD, stepped up calls for agriculture to be included in any final agreement, however, the issue was not ultimately addressed. Additionally, there has been some disappointment over the fact that individual countries' emission reduction targets are not legally binding, and that the $100 billion pledge for assistance to developing countries is also not legally binding.

For further COP21 coverage and regional analysis from the Food Security Portal:

Africa's Role at COP21

COP21 and India's Climate Plan: Implications for India's Agriculture Sector

Draft COP21 Agreement Released, Multiple Points of Contention Remain

Centroamérica y su participación en la COP21

BY: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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