Energy Law Update: COP21 – What's In It For Ireland?

Author:Mr Rory Kirrane, William Carmody and Peter McLay
Profession:Mason Hayes & Curran

The Paris Agreement emerged in December 2015 from the 21st annual conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21 for short). The Paris Agreement is the latest major international agreement directed at mitigating climate change. We set out the highlights of the Paris Agreement, along with its likely implications for Irish businesses.

The Paris Agreement sets up a framework within which the signatory governments can develop and communicate their respective efforts to limit increases in the global average temperature.  The credibility and potential effectiveness of the Agreement are enhanced by the fact that it has attracted the support of formerly reluctant states such as the United States, Canada, China and India. 

However, the Paris Agreement does not set individual, binding obligations and, other than in relation to the conservation of "carbon sinks", including forests, it stops well short of providing guidance as to the precise policy measures that might be adopted by the signatory countries.  It seems inevitable that European, rather than global, initiatives will continue to play a dominant role in setting Ireland's own environmental agenda.

From the grass-roots

Each party to the Paris Agreement is required to prepare, communicate and maintain the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to make towards the Agreement's purpose of holding the increase in the global average temperature to "well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels".  In addition, parties are required to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.

NDCs are required to be communicated every five years, and a periodic "global stocktake" is to be held in order to assess the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the progress towards its goals.  The first global stocktake will be held in 2023.  While a compliance mechanism is also to be established, this is intended to function in a "non-adversarial and non-punitive" manner.

This grass-roots approach appears to have been politically attractive to states such as the United States, Canada, China and India, who had not participated in previous agreements.  However, given the transboundary nature of environmental effects, it is difficult to see how such an approach is capable of delivering a global solution in a systematic manner.

A hierarchy of needs


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