“Historic”: that’s the word most often used to describe the agreement signed at the end of the COP21, which was revealed on 12 December 2015 by COP 21 President and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. This document, with its 29 articles and 32 pages, is certainly a first in that it was signed by virtually all of the world’s countries: 195 of the 197 recognized by the UN. Everyone is committed… to making some kind of commitment, and that’s the Conference’s major failure. The commitments actually made by the countries should cap global warming at 3 °C, rather than the target of 2 °C set before the conference. The signatory countries have agreed to meet again in five years to review their commitments, in order to meet “the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020” and the objective of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C”.
The word “transportation” does not appear once in the text
The transport sector is emblematic of the signatories’ hesitations. The total absence of words like “transportation” and “fossil fuel” in the final agreement is striking. To look on the bright side, the agreement does state that by 2050 greenhouse gas emissions must be entirely compensated with “carbon sinks”, mainly trees, and by carbon capture and storage solutions which industrial players will be required to implement. Except that as of today, only a very few of these solutions exist, and they are used only in certain tiny sectors. That’s just as well, since the agreement does not actually define any emissions reduction targets.
Failing that, one might think that the agreement would set a price for industrial CO2 emissions. The idea had not only been discussed, it was supposed to appear in the agreement and even certain industrial groups like Michelin, Total, Veolia and Saint-Gobain supported the measure. On 10 December it was added to the draft agreement… and the next morning it was gone.
What about fossil fuels? An article published in Nature argues that to keep global warming to under 2 degrees, we would need to leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. A hard figure that the COP21 participants could have used to set clear limits. And why not a target of “100% renewable energy” by 2050? Quite a few NGOs have proven that it can be done, and even ADEME, the French energy agency, agrees, but no such objective appears in the text.
Pragmatism: leverage for progress?
In short, what are the COP21’s main effects for the transport sector? The COP 21 confirmed that a significant minority of the population now understand the urgent need to change the way we consume and are striving to effect change through their daily lives That’s true in the developed world, but even more so in developing countries, particularly in India and China, where the emerging middle class has first-hand experience with the devastation wreaked by pollution, with air pollution sometimes so severe they can’t even send their children to school.
In light of that shift, despite the lack of regulations new opportunities are emerging in terms of road transport. In response to market requirements and political pressure, companies in the transport sector – like in other industries – will continue to transition to renewable energy. Their innovations and their R&D, with the support of local leaders, will make all the difference.