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Lecturrete topic 380 - Paris Agreement



The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), represents a historic and collective effort by the international community to address the urgent threat of climate change. The agreement aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This article explores the background, key provisions, implementation challenges, and future prospects of the Paris Agreement in the context of global climate action.


Climate Change Science

The scientific consensus on climate change is clear: human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes, have significantly contributed to the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere, leading to global warming, sea level rise, extreme weather events, and disruptions to ecosystems and livelihoods. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that urgent and ambitious action is needed to avoid catastrophic and irreversible impacts of climate change on the planet.

International Climate Negotiations

International efforts to address climate change date back to the early 1990s with the adoption of the UNFCCC, which aimed to stabilize GHG concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Subsequent rounds of climate negotiations, including the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, sought to establish binding emissions reduction targets for developed countries and voluntary mitigation commitments for developing countries. However, these efforts were hindered by challenges such as the lack of universal participation, inadequate ambition, and the divide between developed and developing countries.

Key Provisions of the Paris Agreement

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

One of the key innovations of the Paris Agreement is the concept of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), whereby each country sets its own emissions reduction targets, mitigation actions, and adaptation measures based on its national circumstances, capabilities, and priorities. Countries are required to submit NDCs every five years, with a view to progressively enhancing their ambition over time. The flexibility and bottom-up approach of NDCs aim to encourage broad participation, ownership, and accountability in global climate action.

Global Temperature Goals

The Paris Agreement sets out ambitious long-term goals to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Achieving these temperature goals is essential to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities, ecosystems, and economies. The agreement recognizes the specific vulnerabilities and adaptation needs of developing countries, particularly small island states, least developed countries, and African nations.

Transparency and Accountability

The Paris Agreement establishes a robust transparency framework to enhance the transparency, accuracy, and comparability of countries' efforts to implement their NDCs and track progress towards their climate goals. Countries are required to regularly report on their emissions inventories, mitigation actions, adaptation measures, and financial support provided and received. The transparency framework aims to build trust, foster accountability, and facilitate peer review and learning among countries.

Climate Finance and Support

The Paris Agreement reaffirms the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, recognizing the historical responsibility of developed countries for climate change and the need for financial and technological support to developing countries. Developed countries are committed to mobilizing financial resources from a variety of sources, including public funds, private investments, and innovative finance mechanisms, to support developing countries in their efforts to mitigate emissions, adapt to climate impacts, and build climate-resilient economies and societies.

Implementation Challenges

Ambition Gap

Despite the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the current level of ambition falls short of what is required to achieve the temperature goals set out in the agreement. The collective NDCs submitted by countries are insufficient to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees Celsius. Many countries' NDCs are not aligned with the long-term decarbonization pathways needed to transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient future. Closing the ambition gap requires stronger political will, enhanced international cooperation, and increased ambition from all countries.

Financing Needs

Meeting the financial needs of developing countries for climate action remains a major challenge under the Paris Agreement. Despite pledges and commitments made by developed countries, the level of climate finance mobilized falls short of the $100 billion per year goal agreed upon in the Copenhagen Accord. Access to climate finance, particularly for the most vulnerable countries and communities, remains limited due to barriers such as lack of capacity, cumbersome procedures, and eligibility criteria. Bridging the financing gap requires scaling up public and private investments in climate-resilient infrastructure, clean energy, and sustainable development projects in developing countries.

Adaptation and Loss and Damage

Adaptation to climate change and addressing loss and damage remain pressing challenges, particularly for vulnerable countries and communities facing the impacts of climate change. Despite efforts to mainstream adaptation into national policies and strategies, funding for adaptation lags behind mitigation, and adaptation needs continue to outstrip available resources. Loss and damage associated with climate-related disasters, including extreme weather events, sea level rise, and slow-onset impacts, pose significant economic, social, and environmental costs for affected communities, requiring enhanced support for risk reduction, preparedness, and resilience-building measures.

Political Will and Leadership

The success of the Paris Agreement depends on political will, leadership, and collective action at the national, regional, and global levels. However, political dynamics, geopolitical tensions, and competing interests have hampered progress on climate action and hindered international cooperation. The withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement under the Trump administration and the lack of ambition from some major emitters have raised concerns about the effectiveness and credibility of global climate governance. Reinvigorating political momentum and building coalitions of countries, cities, businesses, and civil society is essential to overcome barriers to climate action and accelerate the transition to a sustainable and resilient future.

Future Prospects

COP26 and Beyond

The upcoming 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UNFCCC, scheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021, presents a critical opportunity for countries to enhance their climate commitments, increase ambition, and strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Key issues on the agenda include finalizing the rulebook for the Paris Agreement, enhancing ambition on mitigation and adaptation, mobilizing climate finance, and addressing issues such as carbon markets, transparency, and loss and damage. COP26 will also provide a platform for showcasing innovative solutions, fostering partnerships, and mobilizing public and private sector action to address climate change.