What is the Paris Climate Agreement and Why do we need it to Mitigate Climate Change?
Updated: May 22, 2021
Following the topic of climate change, which you can see from my previous article, we should now realize that global actions must be taken to change this global crisis. On the bright side, people including authorities across countries have realized this, even since the 1900s.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was made in 1992, producing the Kyoto protocol (1988), Copenhagen accord (2009), and the Paris Climate Agreement (2016).
All of these accords share the same concern about climate change and efforts to change it. But, just how far have these accords gone?
The reality is that all the accumulated and ongoing anthropogenic activities still outweigh the efforts to save the earth, even with these agreements. Realization is not enough without actions and the commitment to adaptation, mitigation efforts.
What is the Paris Climate Agreement?
The Paris Climate Agreement is made within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). It is a “legally binding international treaty on climate change” (UNFCC), becoming a landmark for climate change mitigation, adaptation, and financial efforts.
Being a global crisis that requires global actions, the Paris Agreement sets an emission target for both developed and developing countries to reach. Whereas previous accords such as the Kyoto Protocol only required developed countries to set a target.
So far, the Paris Climate Agreement has the approval of 196 nations since the announcement in 2015. These nations include major emission emitters such as China, India, and the United States, who once withdrew from the accords during Trump’s time at the office, but then has rejoined in 2021 since Biden became the president.
Whereas Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and three other countries which are also major emitters have not yet formally joined the agreement, due to fossil fuel being their prime source of income. However, these countries stated that they are working on reducing emissions by their processes.
Aims and implementation
According to scientists and future climate model scenarios, the average surface temperature will keep rising to around 2°-6° Celsius by the end of the 21st century, which is alarmingly high.
This is the cause of anthropogenic activities such as fossil fuel burning that emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The impact of this rapid global warming will cause disruptions in the earth’s ecosystem, extinction of species, rising sea levels, unpredictable weather events, and even cause new diseases to form.
Therefore, the Paris Agreement was made on grounds of commitment from nations to recognize the concerns, mitigate emissions, develop emission-reducing technologies, and adapt to climate change.
After many negotiations, it was finally established that the goal of this accord is to limit the increase of global warming to below 2° Celsius (3.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels, preferably to 1.5° Celsius (2.7° F).
There are no penalties if this target isn’t reached. However, it is strongly intended for countries to reach net-zero global emissions by mid-century.
This target involves commitments from countries to develop a long-term target of greenhouse gas mitigation strategies, also known as the nationally determined contribution (NDC), in 2020.
A human-induced climate change will not only affect the livelihood and biodiversity of the earth. Disasters originating from extreme weather events are causing a huge economic loss at approximately $2 billion per day, including health costs from displacements, famine, illness, even death.
The Paris Agreement, along with their NDCs, also aims to provide financial support for developing countries who are most impacted by climate change through financial assistance in resilient capacity and adaptation, furthermore, plans on developing emission-reducing technologies.
The Agreement encourages efforts including technology development, adaptation strategies, and climate financing measures. Through a global stocktake process, implementation of the accords is monitored and assessed every 5 years.
Since the establishment of the accord, many new business opportunities have been created in the renewable power and transportation sector.
Zero carbon solutions are also becoming a competitive economic sector. More countries and companies establish a carbon-neutral target, for example, by completely cutting off the use of plastic bags.
Implementing the accord isn’t an easy process. A large economic and social transformation across countries is necessary if we want to reach the goal. Complications also arise as there is no penalty on the time restriction.
The Paris Climate Agreement aims to limit the increase to below 2 Celsius. This requires a drastic reduction of emissions across nations. Although some steps have been done, analysis shows that these efforts are insufficient to reach the target.
Emission levels will keep rising to around 3°-4° C (5.5°-7° F) by the end of the century. If the goal wants to be reached by 2050, countries must take large and drastic changes to have an approximately 10% global emission reduction annually.
Nevertheless, China, United States, India, and Europe, which are the four top greenhouse gas emitters, have increased their annual emissions, despite the accords. This is due to the lack of any restricting enforcements, as the Paris Agreement was made based on beliefs and voluntary efforts.
Improving the Accord
The Paris Climate Agreement have done their best in uniting 196 nations to fight climate change, and all of these countries play an important part in reaching the goal. Therefore, all countries must not fall short of their commitments and continue to pursue mitigation and adaptation efforts.
However, it is not enough to expect countries to voluntarily commit to reaching the target within a specific time without any actual enforcement.
This will be particularly hard for developing countries to commit as they can be dependent on fossil fuel, due to the less advanced technology and struggling economy, even with the financial support given by the accord.
It is proposed to create other complementary accords within the Paris Agreement that invites developed countries to provide help for developing countries, especially in finding alternative sustainable strategies such as emission-reducing technologies and renewable energy alternatives, which could also help the economic sector by creating new job and business opportunities.
It is also strongly suggested that enforcements should be executed, as this will help drive the commitment from nations in following the accords more strictly. Time will tell.
Olivia Eugenia is an Environmental Science student at the University of Western Australia. She is also an activist and a content writer at the International Youth Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.