Last week Professor Joanna Haigh FRS, member of the Royal Society’s Council and Co-Director of the Grantham Institute, shared her thoughts on the new Paris Agreement on climate change.

This week, ahead of a Royal Society PolicyLab event on the same topic, we look closer to home at the implications of the Agreement for the UK.

COP21 adoption of the Paris Agreement

COP21 adoption of the Paris Agreement


A new international agreement on climate change

The Paris Agreement has been hailed by many as a historic moment and a great achievement in diplomacy. Barack Obama described it as the ‘best chance we’ve had to save the one planet we’ve got’. Although reactions have been mostly positive, some have expressed scepticism. Former NASA scientist, James Hansen, dismissed the Agreement, saying that ‘it’s a fraud really, a fake’.

As Joanna discussed, the Paris outcome aims to constrain greenhouse gas emissions and keep global temperature rise below the ‘danger threshold’ of 2°C. 188 out of 195 countries committed pledges to cover 99% of emissions. But now that the buzz around the Paris negotiations has died down, how do we ensure that the Paris Agreement and these national pledges are actually met?

What will the Agreement mean for the UK?

Although views are varied, there is widespread recognition that in order to restrict warming to 2°C, all sectors of society must be involved. For example, the trajectory towards a low-carbon future is likely to see considerable innovation in low-carbon technology. UK businesses will want to make sure that they are well placed to take advantage of a growing market for low carbon products and services.

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a non-profit organisation that supports informed debate on climate change issues, has provided a guide to what the Agreement might mean for the UK and what impact we can expect it to have.

The booklet draws from some established experts in climate science, including Dame Julia Slingo, Chief Scientist at the Met Office and Royal Society Fellow. Yet, contributions are diverse, ranging from the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury; Loretta Minghella, Chief Executive of Christian Aid; Marylyn Haines Evans, Vice Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes; and Aviva Investor, Euan Munro. Such contributions reflect the breadth of concern regarding climate change, as well as the diversity of approaches needed to address it (an issue we raised in our recent podcast on climate change).

In the booklet, Loretta Minghella, Chief Executive of Christian Aid, comments that Paris saw the most ambitious commitments come from the poorest counties, with many developing nations planning on 100% renewable energy. She writes that ‘UK and European Union targets are far weaker and fall short of their responsibilities’.

Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the RSPB, said that the UK government should now increase its ambition ‘both in terms of supporting low-carbon energy, transport and housing, but also in terms of protecting and restoring natural sites such as peat bogs and wetlands that are carbon sinks and vital habitat for birds’.

Maintaining momentum after Paris

After the success of reaching an international deal, the focus must now shift to considering how the UK will achieve the stated target and what impact this will have on the UK.

Such questions will be the focus of discussion at our PolicyLab event: ‘The Paris Agreement on climate change: what does it mean for the UK?’, chaired by Lord Nicholas Stern on 23 February. The event aims to synthesise the outcomes of the Agreement and look towards addressing the unanswered questions left for the UK.

As Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, remarked at the closing of COP21: ‘We have an agreement. It is a good agreement. You should all be proud. Now we must stay united — and bring the same spirit to the crucial test of implementation. That work starts tomorrow’.

With the Society’s PolicyLab, we want to add to the discussion about what the work will entail and how best to begin. Though the scale of this challenge is great, the implications of failure are even greater.

Listen to the Royal Society’s January podcast, which reflects on the climate change negotiations from COP21.

Register for the Royal Society PolicyLab ‘The Paris Agreement on climate change: what does it mean for the UK?’ by 18 February.