Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Challenges & Slow Progress
Climate Change crisis is one of the most burning challenges before mankind today. Four years have passed since Paris Agreement was signed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (also called Paris Climate Agreement or COP21). It is an international treaty, which was adopted in Paris on December 12, 2015. Its aim was to reduce the emission of gases that contribute to global warming. It set out to improve upon and replace Kyoto Protocol, an earlier international treaty on this subject. The goal was also to achieve a balance after 2050 between atmospheric inputs of greenhouse gases by emission sources and removal of these into sinks .The emission sources are such as electrical power plants and engines that burn fossil fuels for energy. The sinks are forests, oceans and soils which could, in combination with technologies, extract and sequester carbon dioxide from power plants and other sources. Let us review broadly how Paris agreement has made impact on climate change crisis.
The agreement sought to decrease global warming and enhance the implementation of the UNFCCC through:
(1) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
(2) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development , in a manner that does not threaten food production;
(3) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. The strategy involved policies leading to the 20-20-20 targets, namely the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 20%, the increase of renewable energy’s market share to 20%, and a 20% increase in energy efficiency. Countries furthermore aim to reach “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”. This agreement has been described as a driver of fossil fuel divestment.
The Paris Agreement did not specify any funding targets. But it noted that developed countries should provide financial resources to LDCs so as to help them in meeting existing obligations under the Convention, such as the COP16 commitment of 100 billion dollars per year from developed countries by 2020. This funding was to support both mitigation and adaptation efforts. Funding from developed countries would be in the form of grants, equipment and, technical expertise. Each country had submitted plans to the UN detailing how they intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These plans were technically called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions).By December 10, 2015, 185countries had submitted INDCs to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 or 2030.Each country was to report regularly the progress in achieving the INDCs. Each party was also asked to update its INDC every five years. By November 2017, Paris agreement had been signed by 197 countries and ratified by 187 countries.
Implementation so far: Emissions from coal burning dropped by about 10 percent in the U.S. and Europe but oil use rose by about 0.9 percent and gas burning by about 2.6 % globally. The weak growth in carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 was due to an unexpected decline in global coal use but this drop was insufficient to overcome the growth in natural gas and oil consumption. Carbon from the burning of fossil fuels, from industrial processes and from cement manufacture increased by 0.6 % in 2019. It was much slower growth than in recent years but still it represented an increase. Emissions fell year-on-year by about 1.7 % in the US and EU, but rose in China as well as in India and most of the rest of the world. However, broadly the pattern has still been an increase. In 2017, emissions grew by 1.5 % and in 2018 by 2.1%. Carbon dioxide emissions rose weakly in 2019 as the use of coal declined but natural gas consumption rose. The rise in emissions was much smaller than in 2017 and 2018 .But the continued increase means that the goals of Paris Agreement are less likely to be achieved, which would require emissions to peak, then fall rapidly to reach net zero by 2050. Emissions for 2019 will be 4% higher than those in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed.
The small slowdown in carbon dioxide emissions this year is not important .What is important is if there are structural changes underlying this slowdown. Such structural changes could mean investment in renewable energy, low carbon infrastructure, and plans to make buildings more energy efficient. Global carbon dioxide emissions should embark on a clear downward trajectory. We need stronger policies to phase out fossil fuels. Deployment of low carbon technologies such as solar and wind power and electric vehicles often add to existing demand for energy rather than displacing technologies based on fossil fuels. While coal use has declined in the US and Europe , new coal-fired power stations are still being planned in China, India and other countries; developed countries such as Japan are funding their construction overseas.
As the agreement provides no consequences if countries do not meet their commitments, consensus of this kind is fragile. A trickle of nations exiting the agreement could trigger the with-drawl of more governments, bringing about a total collapse of the agreement. On June 1, 2017 Trump as US President (He became President of US in January, 2017) signalled his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Climate Agreement. The formal exiting process concluded in November, 2019. On November 4, 2019, the US submitted formal notification indicating its with-drawl, to the United Nations. The with-drawl will take effect one year from the delivery of the notification. The decision was made because the US government felt that the pledges made under the Agreement imposed an unfair economic burden on the American workers, businesses, and tax payers. However, in international discussions, US will continue to offer a realistic and pragmatic model, showing fewer emissions and more secure sources of energy.
It is encouraging to note that European Union members are supporting Paris Agreement despite the with-drawl of USA. European leaders will make a fresh push to agree on a target for a climate neutral EU by 2050. It is propose to revise EU climate target for 2030. The EU currently aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 but it woefully inadequate. European Parliament called for a target of a 55% cut when it declared a climate emergency. On January 11, 2020, President of France, Macron said: “I repeat; we will no longer sign agreements with powers that do not respect the Paris Agreement’’.
It is clear that the progress under Paris Agreement is below the original expectations. Let us hope that the pressure of world opinion brings USA back into Paris Agreement, and there is a more by way of policy changes and concrete action to honour the Paris Agreement by all the countries of the world including China and India.