The Straits Times says

Paris talks crucial but just a start

The promise of a new climate deal has never been greater than at the current Paris talks, with US President Barack Obama declaring: "I'm convinced we are going to get big things done here." As has been pointed out, real progress has been made in the run-up to the talks - the 21st since 1995 - with pledges to curb emissions from more than 170 nations and a new agreement text. This is because the urgency to act has never been more visibly clear to all nations big and small, rich and poor. The vagaries of global warming, extreme weather, severe droughts and floods, and rising sea levels affect everyone. The bullishness is also aided by plummeting costs of renewable sources of energy and, most importantly, the collaboration between the world's two largest emitters of carbon, China and the United States.

China, particularly, has woken up to the serious consequences that it faces as a result of global warming, as its own report on climate change, published on the eve of the Paris talks, shows. "From the first (nine years ago) to the second to this third report, the negative impacts of climate change on China are increasingly apparent," one of the experts involved in the report said. Thus, Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking at the opening of the talks, exhorted negotiators to seal a binding agreement. However, he also urged adherence to the principle of recognising that developing nations have common but differentiated responsibilities from rich nations. This stance has been a key obstacle to a deal thus far. It affects many areas from targets to financing, and may yet hurt these talks.

While rich nations should recognise their heavier responsibility as the greatest contributors to the current climate crisis, larger and richer emerging economies could also do more to share the load. Some of the poorest, most vulnerable nations - which have some of the lowest emissions but bear the highest risks from climate change - have put up ambitious targets that can be met only with help from richer countries. The commitment to climate financing must be clear and strong at these talks, and vulnerable nations' call to address loss and damage must be seriously looked into. More should be done to help those bearing the greatest impact.

Yet, even if all these issues were addressed, an agreement reached and pledges are honoured, it would be just the start. Current pledges will bring global warming down only to 2.7 deg C above pre-industrial levels, still way ahead of the 2 deg C needed to head off dangerous climate change. Only through rachetting up "decarbonisation" can this target of 2 deg C be met. Much work still remains in finding solutions - from changing lifestyles to the race to innovate - to save the earth and its inhabitants from ever greater disasters. The Paris talks must not fail the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Paris talks crucial but just a start'. Subscribe