"The Paris agreement aims to reverse the trend in CO2 emissions"

Article, 26.11.2015

The COP21 climate conference is taking place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015 and will be attended by a Swiss delegation. Pio Wennubst, Assistant Director General of the SDC, describes Switzerland's contribution to the conference and its activities in the field of climate change, and explains why climate change is a particular challenge for developing countries.

Fassade des Gebäudes, in dem die Klimakonferenz 2015 stattfindet. © Keystone
Taking place from late November to mid-December, the Paris climate conference will focus on reducing global warming. © Keystone

Mr Wennubst, what is the Paris climate conference all about? What is being negotiated?

The main objective of the Paris conference is to conclude a new global agreement for the period 2020 to 2030. The submissions already put forward by around 170 countries, covering national emission reductions and adaptation measures, are to be formally enshrined in the agreement and incorporated into the regular international review process.

Industrialised nations will also pledge to continue their financial and technical support to help developing countries implement climate measures. This is particularly important for the poorest countries, which contribute very little to the problem but are hit very hard by the effects of climate change.

The new agreement aims to limit the long-term average increase in global temperatures to 2 °C, bearing in mind that a 1 °C increase has already occurred.

It also aims to help reverse the trend in global CO2 emissions, which continue to rise by around 2% a year – mainly in developing countries, which have the world's most dynamic economic development combined with major population growth.

That said, we shouldn't have too high expectations of COP21. The Paris agreement is a global reference framework, intended to send out the strongest possible signal. Implementation will take place primarily at national level.

Portrait of Pio Wennubst
Pio Wennubst, Assistant Director General of the SDC © SDC

What will Switzerland be doing at COP21?

Switzerland will take part in the negotiations and help to shape the new agreement. The delegation travelling to Paris will be headed by Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard and comprise representatives from four federal government departments – DETEC, FDFA, EAER and FDHA – as well as representatives of scientific, economic and environmental associations. Switzerland has its own negotiating group with other non-aligned countries including Mexico and South Korea – the only grouping with such a mixed membership. This means that Switzerland will often be able to prepare the ground for compromises between the major blocs and so make a decisive contribution to consensus-building. 

Another priority for Switzerland will be to showcase specific flagship projects from its climate-related development cooperation, on the sidelines of the conference. This is another area where Switzerland has a lot to offer. Take the LC3 project in India, for example. Part of the SDC's Global Programme for Climate Change, the project has developed a new method of manufacturing cement, enabling energy savings of around 30% to be made while maintaining or even improving the quality.

These energy-efficient cement blocks have already been used for demonstration purposes in a new building at the Swiss embassy in New Delhi, with excellent results. We're working with a coalition of interests made up of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne and an Indian university, the firms Holcim and Lafarge, as well as a Cuban university which developed the original concept for the new cement-making process. India will be showcasing the LC3 project in its pavilion in Paris. If the project generates interest in China as well – which we're working on – it could have major implications, given that China accounts for 50% of global cement production and consumption. 

Why does climate change pose a particular threat to developing countries?

Climate change is a major additional challenge associated with poverty reduction. Rising food prices, often caused by the effects of climate change, are a big problem for the world's poor, who also tend to be dependent on income from agriculture and are disproportionately affected by flooding and drought. To put it briefly, the progress made on development and poverty reduction in recent decades could be jeopardised or even cancelled out by the increasing impact of climate change.

A World Bank report, "Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty" (see infobox), published in November 2015, claims that at least 100 million people in developing countries will be plunged into or back into poverty by 2030 unless current trends are reversed. According to the report, development cooperation should already be focusing on increased resilience and practical adaptation measures, as it is no longer possible to reduce global warming sufficiently by 2030.

This is something that Swiss development cooperation has recognised for some time. When financing climate measures in developing countries, Switzerland is one of the few donor countries to invest more of its funding – some 60% – in adaptation measures than in emissions reduction. Currently, only around 15% of global climate funding is spent on adaptation measures. 

Can the goal of limiting global warming to 2 °C by the end of this century be achieved?

The short answer to that question is: we don't know. In Paris we are focusing on measures through to 2030. As I said, around 170 country submissions are on the table. Scientists have already calculated that the combined effect of the reduction targets contained in those submissions will limit global warming to 2.7 °C at best, which is not enough. At the same time, climate scientists don't know for certain what the difference in impact would be between a 2 °C and a 2.7 °C rise in temperature.

While the reality of global warming and its negative consequences are no longer in much doubt, major uncertainties remain as to the exact local impacts of a given amount of global warming. The precautionary principle therefore applies to climate change, as to other global challenges.

Global warming will lead to dramatic rise in poverty, says World Bank

Just days before the opening of COP21, the World Bank has published a new report on the impact of climate change on poverty. The report claims that an additional 100 million people could fall below the extreme poverty threshold by 2030 if nothing is done to combat global warming. While this finding is alarming, the international organisation also identifies solutions for preventing such a scenario, including the rapid implementation of social and environmental measures specially adapted to the populations concerned. 

World Bank report: "Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty"