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Delegates sign agreement at Paris COP21 climate summit

14 December 2015

An agreement to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been signed by delegates from 187 countries at the climate change summit in Paris on December 12. The deal, which came after two weeks of negotiations, is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions.

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Key points include:

LONG-TERM GOAL: The long-term objective of the agreement is to make sure global warming stays "well below" 2 degrees Celsius and to "pursue efforts" to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Temperatures have already increased by about 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. To achieve that goal, governments pledged to stop the rise in greenhouse gas emissions "as soon as possible." By some point after 2050, the agreement says, man-made emissions should be reduced to a level that forests and oceans can absorb.

EMISSIONS TARGETS: In order to reach the long-term goal, countries agreed to set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions every five years and more than 180 countries have already submitted targets for the first cycle beginning in 2020. Only developed countries are expected to cut their emissions in absolute terms - developing nations are "encouraged" to do so as their capabilities evolve over time. Until then, they are expected only to rein in the growth of emissions as their economies develop.

REVIEWING TARGETS: The initial targets will not be sufficient  to put the world on a path to meet the long-term temperature goal, so the agreement asks governments to review their targets in the next four years and see if they can update them. This is in expectation of new technology making renewable energy sources more affordable and effective in the future.

TRANSPARENCY: There is no penalty for countries that miss their emissions targets but the agreement has transparency rules to help encourage countries to deliver on their promises. The agreement says all countries must report on their emissions and their efforts to reduce them, and allows for some flexibility for developing countries.

MONITORING: The deal requires countries to monitor, verify and report their greenhouse gas emissions using the same global system. The United States insisted that an aggressive system of verifying each nation’s emissions was crucial to the success of any plan, and this was adopted in the final agreement. Whether this will include an outside verifying body or some other system of overview will be decided in the future.

FINANCE: Developed countries will make $100 billion available for developing countries by 2020, with the possibility of more in the future.

LOSS AND DAMAGE: For small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognising "loss and damage" associated with climate-related disasters, although this does not involve liability or compensation.

Some aspects of the agreement will be legally binding, such as submitting an emissions reduction target and the regular review of that goal. However, the targets set by nations will be voluntary.

The agreement sets out a long term temperature limit for the planet and a clear way of getting there, as well as a review mechanism to increase ambition over time.  But some environmental commentators claim the lack of binding targets make it unlikely that the deal could keep global warming below the 2C target.

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