Climate pact, with ecosystem integrity provisions, is historic

Climate change is destroying the coral reefs and forests that harbor so much of our world’s biodiversity.IFAW’s delegation has just returned from Paris where ecosystem integrity and climate resilience was successfully recognised in the new climate agreement.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference is essentially an international conference where nearly 200 world leaders met in Paris over two weeks to work on a new global agreement addressing climate change.

After a gruelling two weeks of global negotiations, world leaders worked through the night to reach the world’s first ever global climate change agreement. Having witnessed this mammoth effort, it was truly a historic moment when the gavel sounded and consensus was reached among the nearly 200 countries on the need to cut greenhouse gasses. At times it looked like a deal would never be reached, but under the powerful stewardship of French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius – rightly hailed as responsible for making this deal happen - 24 hours later than planned, the deal was done.

Key Outcomes of Climate Change Agreement

  • To keep average global temperature rise to "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • A requirement to submit an emissions reduction target and regular review cycles including the opportunity for scaling up each country’s mitigation contribution
  •  For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

Unlike the Kyoto agreement, which only covered developed nations; this Agreement has responsibilities for rich, poor and everyone in the middle. Going beyond cutting carbon, it is of great significance for IFAW’s conservation and animal welfare work around the world.

An example of why this matters can be found in some research we undertook with Professor Rudi Van Aarde at the University of Pretoria CERU, to find out just what will happen to elephants if the climate heats up as predicted. The research showed that in Southern Africa, countries like Botswana – where most of the world’s African elephants live – will become warmer and drier, making it less hospitable for elephants. Elephants will therefore become nocturnal to avoid the heat during the day – leading to less time for feeding during daylight, and resulting in greater infant mortality. In the Eastern ranges, the climate will be relatively more moderate, making it more viable for elephants - but also more viable for humans. But this need not be a competition. We need elephants to make sure the land and ecosystem remains viable for the long-term, especially as climate change impacts increase, so it is imperative we consider both.

This is exactly what we mean by ecosystem integrity, and this knowledge allows us to prepare plans and strategies to ensure humans and elephants can adapt to climate change to the benefit of both. This is what we are currently doing in Southern Africa, with research ongoing in Malawi and Zambia.

The final climate agreement is by no means perfect for everyone, but it was never going to be; in the words of President Hollande, it is a “choice for your country, continent and the world”. Despite its imperfections, the Agreement fully recognises that ecosystems are both a global challenge and a key component for Adaptation, with Article 7 paragraph 2 clearly stating:

Parties recognize that adaptation is a global challenge faced by all with local, subnational, national, regional and international dimensions, and that it is a key component of and makes a contribution to the long-term global response to climate change to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems, taking into account the urgent and immediate needs of those developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate changesure

Furthermore, it doesn’t only call on the developing world, where most of the challenges lie, to take on this burden. The agreement places a legal obligation on developed countries to continue to provide climate finance to developing countries, and encourages other countries to provide support voluntarily - a compromise between the highly polarised positions that have taken centre stage at the negotiations.

For example, although it is not immediately clear, the financing mechanisms within the Green Climate Fund provide support for ecosystem integrity.  When one considers much of the rural poor – especially around protected areas – rely on charcoal for fuel, it is very evident that by taking an ecosystem approach to conservation and development, we can avoid landscape degradation by providing solar power to communities. This is just the kind of initiative that this Fund can support. For IFAW, this can mean less risk of soil degradation and encroachment on shared habitats leading to human elephant conflict.

And it is not just the Green Climate Fund. Article 6 of the Agreement recognises that Parties can voluntarily choose to cooperate in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition in their mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental sustainability. Although it is disappointing that language was removed from the final text calling for internationally transferred mitigation outcomes to have a greater equivalent adaptation response, this still allows for further support for Adaptation around ecosystems.

All in all this means a $100bn a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and to use that figure as a "floor" for further support agreed by 2025 - it’s worth noting however  that this remains below 8% of worldwide declared military spending each year.

As it stands, the Agreement is just a piece of paper. It must still be ratified, and then implemented. The world still has a long walk ahead if it is to meet and go beyond the ambitions laid out in the Paris Agreement.

To paraphrase Nelson Mandela - whom the South African delegate, and Chair of the G77, quoted in her closing remarks - we have reached an agreement, but as we do, we realise there are many more challenges ahead. So let us sit back and enjoy this moment, before we continue on the long march ahead.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime