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The Climate Agreement in Paris: Betting on Collective Action

15 December 2015|Op-ed

Op-ed by Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC (December 2015).

At the 21 Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which takes place in Paris from November 30 to December 11, the governments of the world face the challenge of reaching an agreement to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 above the pre-industrial level.

To achieve this aim, the COP21 introduces a different model compared to the Kyoto protocol (2005-2012), which was based on an interpretation of common but differentiated responsibilities. Today the new model emphasizes common responsibilities and softens the differentiation. This model is focused on the majority of countries contributing in terms of mitigation and adaptation, in formalizing their national voluntary commitment within the framework of the Convention as well as in achieving regular mechanisms of review. Additionally, transfers in the technological and financial spheres are expected to be agreed on, with an annual flow of up to $100 billion dollars.

The vehicle of change is the countries’ presentation of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). As of October 1, 147 countries had submitted their INDCs. The Secretariat of the Convention considers that these INDCs will bring global average emissions per capita down to 6.7 tons in 2030 from 7.3 tons in 1990, which implies a reduction of 9% and does not avoid the additional increase of 2.7°C by the end of the century.

In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, 23 countries, which together are responsible for 88% of the region’s total emissions (according to data from 2012), had presented their INDCs by that date. Mexico was one of the first countries at a global level to submit its proposal to unconditionally reduce 25% of its greenhouse gas emissions (GEI) regarding an inertial scenario by 2030. The Dominican Republic followed, committing to a reduction of 25% by 2030 compared to 2010. Brazil stood out with the proposal for reducing its emissions 37% in 2025 compared to 2005.

The effort of these contributions is mainly aimed at the forestry and energy sectors, and also includes actions oriented towards good practices on the agricultural sphere, clean transportation, waste management and improvement of the industrial process. The Latin American INDCs have a strong adaptation component, since the region is highly vulnerable to thaw, the rise in sea level, floods or extreme droughts, depending on the area.

For this, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) facilitates climate change scenarios by country and the rise in sea level, the transfer of analysis tools and support to governments’ priorities in terms of adaptation and inclusive mitigation, and with social gains.

In the case of our region, ECLAC promotes a progressive structural change for a more sustainable and inclusive development. Persistent inequality is expressed as much in energy consumption as well as in emissions and exposure to risk. This leads to protective measures for the most economically vulnerable to have a favorable effect on adaptation, and for social inclusion and health care measures -such as the improvement of public transportation, waste management and ecosystem’s health- to have a positive impact on mitigation and, therefore, an aggregated social value.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the composition of the emissions is dominated by electric power generation, transportation and the change in the use of soil. ECLAC advocates for a productive diversification. Therefore, a curb on the great polluters at a global level as well as the internal reduction of the main emitters by consumption are critical conditions to protect the remaining space to adjust the emissions that would come from a more diversified productive apparatus.

In short, COP21 is a moment of change and opens a transition period that should be successful in the sphere of multilateralism for a collective action. Future options when facing a failure of this path are not in any way attractive and even ominous for our region’s countries.


Alicia Bárcena

Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).