The Paris Agreement: A Focus on Mitigation

by Leonie Schiedek 

You probably know it already – we need to alleviate climate change, otherwise our livelihood is in danger. In this article we are exploring some of the basics of climate change mitigation and the current progress that’s made. But let’s start from the basics.

Human activities, in addition to natural processes, release large amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere enhancing global warming and climate change [1]. The main sources of these emissions are: 

  • extraction and burning of fossil fuels (incl. coal, oil and gas) for the generation of electricity, in transport or industry, and households (Carbon Dioxide/CO2, CH4/Methane, nitrogen dioxide/NO2);
  • land use change and deforestation (Carbon Dioxide/CO2);
  • agriculture (CH4/Methane, nitrogen dioxide/NO2);
  • landfills/waste (CH4/Methane, e.g. from decomposition); and
  • the use of industrial fluorinated gases [1].

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates with high confidence that these activities have caused approximately 1.0°C (likely range: 0.8°C to 1.2°C) of global warming since the beginning of the industrial revolution (“above pre-industrial levels”) [2]. This increase in temperature has already had impacts on human and natural systems, for instance, changes in different ecosystems like oceans. Despite the gloomy scenarios for our common future about possible impacts caused by global warming during the next decades, following the IPCC, the extent of these impacts depends on the rate, peak and duration of the warming [2,3]. As a result, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) considers the decrease in the amount of emissions by reducing the concentration of CO2 or equivalent in the atmosphere and increasing so-called carbon sinks (e.g. oceans, forest areas) as key [4]. These efforts describe what is called “climate change mitigation”.

Mitigation in international climate policy

Already under the Kyoto Protocol, many high income countries have set national emission caps for their economies, while the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) set an important milestone for low- and middle income countries to implement activities that reduce emissions and enhance carbon sinks [4]. In 2009 (Copenhagen Accord) and 2010 (Cancun Agreements), the latter agreed to the implementation of nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) supported by the high-income countries, while high income countries presented quantifiable emission targets for 2020.

Mitigation and the Paris Agreement

Mitigation is the central part of the Paris Agreement. There it was agreed in Article 2 (section of the Paris Agreement) to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” [5]. In order to reach that goal, , each country defines domestic mitigation measures in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) stating their ambitions towards this common goal (see also Article 3 and 4 of the Paris Agreement). In Article 5 parties are encouraged to implement joint mitigation and adaptation policy approaches to create synergies and non-carbon co-benefits for sustainable development. 

Not only on a national level but also on non-state and subnational levels there are attempts to support the 1.5°C goal, including civil society, businesses or investors. For instance, several cities aim at mitigating their emissions to be carbon neutral in the near future [6]. Glasgow, the city in which COP26 is supposed to take place in 2021, committed to be carbon neutral by 2030 [6,7].

How is the current situation and what are the plans for COP26? 

Despite these ambitions, the Emission Gap Report (2020) states that the total GHG emissions reached a new high of 59.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) [8]. Further, in 2020, CO2 emissions decreased by around five per cent due to COVID-19 lockdowns, however, atmospheric concentrations of GHG continued to rise. Adding to that, the NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC are still inadequate [8]. With the current predictions of emissions for 2030, global temperatures will increase further and lead to a 3.2°C scenario in this century, even if all unconditional NDCs would be fully implemented [8]. Therefore, in order to be able to get on the 1.5°C pathway, the Emissions Gap Report states that the ambitions shown in the NDCs need to be tripled, or increased minimum fivefold [8].

Prior to COP26, all Parties, including some of the key large emitters, are expected to present their new and updated NDCs forwarding carbon-cutting commitments to 2030 from 2050 [9]. Further, it is expected that topics like carbon market mechanisms, loss and damage caused by climate change, the $100 billion finance target from the Paris Agreement, and nature-based solutions will be discussed, which  will play a role for driving the ambition for climate change mitigation [10].

Nevertheless, to achieve the 1.5°C goal by mitigating emissions, the Emissions Gap Report (2020) emphasised that lifestyle changes by citizens and civil society are important to bridge the gap, alongside international and national climate commitments. 

For example, two thirds of global emissions are linked to private household activities according to consumption-based accounting, which would indicate individuals have a role to play in mitigating against climate change too [8]. This could involve lifestyle changes to reduce personal emissions; eating less meat and switching to plant-based foods, increasing insulation in their homes, reducing the number of flights a year, switching to a fossil-free bank, and being an active traveller (walking and cycling). 

It is important to note that governments play a major role in setting the conditions for which lifestyle changes can occur through shaping policy, regulation and infrastructure investments [8]. 

[1] EEA (2020). Climate change mitigation. URL: (last accessed: 01.04.2021) 
[2] IPCC (2018). Global warming of 1.5°C. URL: (last accessed: 18.04.2021)  Check this guidance note to get to know more about IPCC confidence levels: 
[3] IPCC (2013). Long-term Climate Change:Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility. (last accessed: 18.04.2021) 
[4] UNFCCC (2021). Introduction to Mitigation. URL: (last accessed: 01.04.2021)  
[5] United Nations (2015). Paris Agreement. URL: (last accessed: 01.04.2021)  
[6] Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (n.d.). URL: (last accessed: 01.04.2021)
[7] Glasgow City Council (2019). Council Sets Target Of Carbon Neutral Glasgow by 2030. URL: (last accessed: 05.04.2021) 
[8] UNEP/UNEP DTU Partnership (2020). Emissions Gap Report. URL: (last accessed: 01.04.2021) 
[9] UNFCCC (2021). Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). URL: (last accessed: 05.04.2021) 
[10] Bulb (2021). COP26: what it is and why it matters. URL: (last accessed: 05.04.2021)

Categories Key Terms and Agreements

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