COP21 Global Climate Summit: A Review of the Paris Agreement

Professor Scott Sklar, George Washington University

Paris Agreement - COP21 Global Summit

Prof. Sklar is an EEC Expert Lecturer of the Solar Photovoltaic and the Renewable Energy Management & Finance courses, organised jointly by the EEC Accredited Centre and The George Washington University. Prof. Sklar recently presented an inspiring TEDx Talk on the future of personal energy use.

The 21st Council of the Parties (COP21) ended in Paris as the first time in history where most of the countries in the world actually agreed to very public and somewhat ambitious actions to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As one leading journal stated, “In many ways Paris was already a success before the conference itself convened. For the first time, more than 180 countries have made national commitments to address climate change, including all of the largest emitters”.

“The overriding goal was to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius, and the agreement calls for parties to halt global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” In a December 12, 2015 The New York Times article (, they interpret that the passage implies that at least some fossil fuels can continue to be used, as long as the greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by a larger number of “greenhouse sinks,” like new forests.

The agreement’s decision (, has some larger impacts.

 Transition Finance: According to an agreement at the pre-COP meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, it was agreed-to in principle that developed countries will aid developing countries with $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 to aid in the transition to sustainable forms of energy. This preliminary agreement was built upon to continue through 2025. Prior to 2025, a new goal will be adopted—exactly when or who is responsible for meeting it is unclear.

The agreement concludes these key points:

  • To cap global temperature differences “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels through the year 2100 and to seriously work to limit them to 1.5 degrees Celsius
  • To balance carbon source and carbon sinks in the second half of this century
  • To review each country’s emissions reduction contribution every five years so that it can be scaled-up
  • For richer countries to help poorer countries by providing “climate finance” to make it cost-effective to adapt to climate change

The earlier United Nations talks had called on developed economies rather than developing ones to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The new accord, in the works for nine years, requires action in some form from every country, rich or poor. But the weakness, for now, is that the agreement imposes no sanctions on countries that fail to reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas pollution.

On an optimistic note, local governments, where most of the transition needs to occur, have stepped up formally. Governor Jerry Brown led the formation of the Under 2 MoU with the German State of Baden-Württemberg, bringing together more than 80 jurisdictions, representing a combined GDP larger than that of the United States, that are now committed to reduce their emissions by at least 80 percent or to less than 2 tons per capita by 2030. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened the C40 Cities for Climate Action ( meeting in Paris, which now represents more than 80 cities and 25 percent of global GDP.

No political deals are ideal, but this agreement is a major step which drives the portfolio of international, national, and local government in the right direction.

David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego, according to Yale360 writes that a more flexible strategy of allowing countries to make non-binding pledges to cut emissions and smart leadership by the French helped to secure a deal. While it does not go nearly far enough, he says, the Paris agreement has broken the “gridlock and impotence” of the past and augurs steeper emissions cuts to come.

What COP21 represents is the first pragmatic and meaningful first step for a combined global solution to slow or blunt intense and immense climate disruption. It’s not far enough or fast enough, but an essential first step – and for that human kind should be thankful.

Scott Sklar is President of The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic technology optimization and policy firm for clean energy users and companies, with a focus on system standardization, modularity, and web-enabled diagnostics. Scott Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary sustainable energy courses, and an Affiliated Professor with CATIE, an international graduate university in Costa Rica offering graduate degrees on sustainability. Sklar is also part-time Executive Director of the non-profit Center for Small Business and the Environment, and Chairs the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition. On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and was re-appointed to the US Department of Commerce Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee (RE&EEAC), where he serves as its Chair, and can be reached at