Paris Climate Pact: Achievements, Challenges and the Road Ahead

Paris Climate Pact: Achievements, Challenges and the Road Ahead

What is the Paris Climate Pact?

The Paris Climate Pact, also known as the Paris Agreement is a pact within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), primarily dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, drafted during the period of 30th November – 12th December 2015, and finally signed in 2016. Representatives of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, have negotiated the agreement’s language. As of December 2020, all 197 members of the UNFCCC have signed the agreement and 189 of them remain a party to it. Among the eight countries which are not a party to the law, the only significant emitters are the United States and Iran. The agreement is the world’s first-ever legally binding climate change agreement.

Fig. 1: Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Blue:
State Parties
Yellow:
Signatories
Deep Blue: Parties covered by EU ratification
Source: Wikipedia

Under the Paris Agreement, each country is expected to determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it takes to mitigate climate pollution. A country must set a specific emission target by a specific date.

The Paris Agreement Objectives

The long-term goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C and to pursue efforts to further limit the global average temperature increase in the future. Achieving this objective would substantially reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. The greenhouse gas emissions reduction is among the key priorities to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” in the second half of the 21st century. One of the key objectives is also to increase the adaptability to the adverse impacts of climate change and global warming by making consistent finance flows with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions.

To summarize the primary goal of the agreement is to decrease global warming as described in Article 2 of the UNFCCC through: 

  • Limiting the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C, and to pursue efforts to further limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
  • Increasing the adaptability 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.
  • Achieving a consistent finance flow with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
Fig. 2: Paris Agreement Objectives
Source: Acciona

Various energy and climate policies are involved in this strategy, including the so-called 20/20/20 targets, namely the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, increasing the renewable energy’s market share to approximately 20%, and increasing the energy efficiency by about 20%. The pact has been described as an incentive for and driver of fossil fuel divestment.

The Challenges and Feasibility of the Paris Agreement Goals

The Paris Agreement set out a more ambitious long-term temperature goal than many had anticipated, implementing a rather strict emission reduction policy. The agreement by nature is a multidisciplinary challenge, filling the knowledge gap requires not only climate scientists, but the whole Earth system science community, as well professionals from other fields such as economists, engineers, lawyers, philosophers, politicians, emergency planners, and youths to step up.

A couple of research studies published in the AGU journals Geophysical Research Letters and Earth’s Future indicate that a few of the goals outlined in the agreement might be difficult to reach. The new research indicates that future climate extremes depend on the policy decisions made by major emitters. There is a possibility that major emitters might strengthen their commitments to reducing emissions, but even if that happens, the rest of the world would have to immediately reduce their greenhouse gases to zero to achieve the Paris Agreement goal.

Fossil fuels provide energy for many of our most fundamental technologies, especially many of the developing countries are highly dependent on fossil fuels. In the current scenario of fossil fuel-dependent society, the task of emission reduction can be seen as a somewhat abstract concept, until unless a renewable energy system that can fully replace fossil fuels is developed. Hypothetically, even if it is possible to transition to such a system, it will require vast social and technical changes.

Fig. 3: Annual Total Carbon Dioxide Emissions across the World (till 2018);
Source: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC)

Objectives achieved so far

Even if climate change action needs to be massively increased in order to achieve the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, in the past five years the agreement has already sparked new markets and alternative low-carbon solutions. Many countries, as well as major companies, are establishing carbon neutrality targets. Across the economic sectors, especially the power and transport sectors, zero-carbon solutions are becoming extremely competitive and created a lot of new business opportunities. At this rate, by 2030, it is possible that zero-carbon solutions could be competitive in sectors representing 70% of global emissions.

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