Key Term: Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement was made at COP 21 in 2015, and was the first to include all nations in its goals (unlike its older sister the Kyoto Protocol, which only targeted developed nations) [1]. The Agreement is based on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) towards the emissions reductions needed to preferably keep global warming below 1.5°C, and definitely below 2°C [2]. This is based on the IPCC’s special report on the dangers of these levels of warming (summary: one is not good, and the other is a whole lot worse) [3].

INDCs, and later NDCs when the Agreement was ratified, for each country were determined by the country itself, and to be reviewed every 5 years to make sure they are working [2].

So – are they working? You won’t like the answer: not really.

Carbon Action Tracker helps visualise NDC outcomes on their map, by how much warming we’d have if the whole world had one country’s targets. For the EU, UK, and Canada it would be 3°C. We’d have 4°C if we all followed Singapore’s, China’s or South Africa’s targets, and more than 4°C if we followed the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Viet Nam. On the flipside, Morocco’s, Gambia’s, and India’s targets would give us less than 2°C.

Overall, if all countries stuck to their goals in 2017 (unchanged since), we’d see 3°C warming by 2100 [6]. If 1.5°C warming causes an average 2 months of worldwide droughts a year, 2°C causes 4 months, and 3°C causes 10 months a year [7]. On top of this, NDC accountability stops at transparency – there’s no risk of sanctions or confrontation if a country falls short [4] – a problem with environmental policy identified well before COP 21 [5].

So was Trump’s USA right to start pulling out of the Agreement in 2017? While the Agreement is flawed in ambition and accountability, leaving it sets a more dangerous precedent. The Agreement was different from Kyoto in its universality for all countries, and where Kyoto was flawed in its absence of the US and China, Paris now risks the same fate [8].

There’s a lot to say about the Paris Agreement, and this new decade is a big one for the Agreement’s plans. There are, however, more flaws to be explained. The big one is the double counting problem of Article 6, which made news at COP25 in 2019 [9]. In another post, we’ll see which countries gain and lose from this, and what the UNFCCC can do to fix this loophole.

Categories Climate Policy History/Key Terms