Climate change

Paris Agreement’s achievability in 2021

Climate Change and Paris Agreement

Source: Paris Agreement Target Update, Climate Action Tracker 2020

The Paris Agreement sets out a vital pathway for future low carbon economic growth and investment. It stands on the three pillars of Mitigation, adaptation, and financial commitments. It provides a framework for global action pursuing efforts that help limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. In December 2015, under the 1992 United Nations Actions Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement came into being. 196 countries agreed to limit global warming well below 2°C. 2020 onwards, it was to replace the existing Kyoto Protocol.

At the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, UN Secretary-general Antonio Guterres urged leaders to declare climate emergencies in all countries, while COP26 president Alok Sharma warned the danger of missing the Paris climate target. The significant difference between the two is that the Kyoto Protocol did not hold all nations equally accountable. Developing countries are long known to be less responsible and yet held more accountable than the developed ones. The Paris Agreement demands a significant emission cut from developed and developing countries alike.

Working on a 5-year cycle of ambitious climate targets, the Paris Agreement required nations to submit climate action plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in 2020. However, the past year started on an uncertain note. COVID-19 pandemic posed a threat to the world, and many natural disasters were reported worldwide. In addition, resurfacing nations’ health systems and fighting the novel coronavirus tore apart the disaster management plans that existed. As a result, COP26 is now scheduled for November 2021.

Climate Change

Changes in emissions since 1990. Source: CarbonBrief

How does the future look like at the moment?

The Paris Agreement focuses primarily on keeping global temperature rise below 2°C (some also refer to as Cancun 2°C goal) by the end of the century. Even more, the preferably limit is 1.5°C in accord with UNFCCC’s 2014 review process. There were doubts on whether the 2°C objective was adequate to avoid the dangers of climate change. However, it is crucial to comprehend that climate change is happening much faster than anticipated in the past. The damage done will become irreversible soon.

The IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C mentions that the sea level is expected to rise beyond 2100. However, the exposure of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and the risk associated with many human and ecological systems are unfavourable at a 2°C increase. Keeping the global average at 1.5°C by the end of the century enables substantial adaptation opportunities. It can allow the restoration of the natural coastal ecosystems and coastal communities’ infrastructure.

A UNEP report highlighted that the combined emissions of the wealthiest one per cent of the global population (the vast majority of the ultra-wealthy live in the United States followed by China) account for more than the poorest 50 per cent. Thus, regional disparities, resource allocation, and financial help play a vital role in transforming growth for our cities and countries. The Emissions Gap Report by UNEP DTU Partnership, an annual science-based assessment of the gap between countries’ pledges and delivery, signals explicitly to the predicted greenhouse emissions in the next three decades and where they should be to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Climate Change and Paris Agreement

Image: Renewable power components in the first round of NDCs.
Source: IRENA analysis 2020

Countries’ pledges and promises

The UNEP 2020 report highlights that there will be no significant difference in the long-term by the temperature dip in CO2 emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the drop only translated to a 0.01°C reduction of global warming by 2050. At present, we are heading for a temperature rise of 3°C this century with emissions at 59 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e). Emissions need to fall to 25 GTCO2e for the world to reach the 1.5°C range.

International Energy Agency (IEA) in the Global Energy Review 2021 reflected on the projected CO2 emissions to grow by 4.8%, rebounding closer to the 2018-19 peak as global economies still rely on coal, oil, and gas for recovery. The IRENA 2019 report highlighted how the then-NDC commitments missed the 2°C goal by 30% and listed reasons for strengthening the pledges in 2020. The findings highlighted that countries overlooked the potential of renewable energy by 59%. Further, decarbonisation of the power sector alone is insufficient, thus requiring the entire energy sector to transform significantly.

Climate Change and Paris Agreement

Image: Annual energy-related CO2 emissions and reductions, 2010–2050.
Source: IRENA 2019

Climate Change

Image: Cumulative investment needed through 2030 and 2050 under Current Plans and Energy Transformation scenarios, USD trillion.
Source: IRENA 2019

The long-term vows give a fallacious image of the near future. For example, the current temperature increase rate suggests global warming to reach 1.5°C before 2052. It drastically contrasts the valiant plan of action of keeping it below 1.5°C by the century’s end. More recently, researchers have come to accept the phrase ‘likely below’ with the 2°C goal, with the probability being closer to 66%.

Where do we stand on the Paris climate target in 2021?

The current policies are on a trajectory of 0.8°C higher than the net-zero target assessment as per the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) as of December 2020. CAT began analysing the target estimates on global warming in 2009. The end of century warming estimate stood at a solid 3.5°C back then. However, the Paris Agreement’s adoption drastically affected the temperature estimates for climate change as they fell to 2.6°C in November 2020.

As of June 25, 2021, according to the CAT Climate Target Update Tracker, 59 countries submitted new NDC targets (out of which 13 submitted more vital targets), and 7 countries have proposed new targets. There are none or negligible positive enhancements by governments of 98 countries that did not update their 2030 NDC objectives. In 2020,  Japan and South Korea announced reaching carbon neutrality by 2050; however, both countries’ 2030 NDC targets are highly insufficient as per the CAT Tracker. Canada and the EU tabled net-zero objectives in their legislation as early as March 2020. Countries like Russia and Australia have shown no intention of updating and upgrading their NDC targets for 2030.

Simultaneously, while China announced to become carbon neutral by 2060 at the UN General Assembly, the IEA predicts CO2 emissions in 2021 to be 600Mt above 2019 levels. Similarly, India showed a promising commitment to achieving the Paris Agreement in the early years; however, did not chipped into the global targets or submitted NDC targets in 2020. Coal-fired electricity for economic recovery in the country may be thrice than that from renewables in 2021. The same would account for emissions to be higher than 2020 by 200Mt.

Climate Change and Paris Agreement

Image: Strategies to invest in green energy infrastructure and the effect on reducing emissions.
Source: Climate Action Tracker

The Time is Now!

The IPCC Special Report suggested that temperature increase anywhere above 1.5°C would immensely impact the livelihoods, food security, and water supply of the vulnerable and indigenous people; and affect human health globally due to heat-related morbidity and mortality. Correspondingly, crop yields of maise, rice, wheat, and other cereal crops may reduce dramatically in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. However, the net reductions are smaller for the target of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5°C. Thus, careful consideration of specific national and local circumstances is vital for policy formulation in combating climate change.

Global warming of 1.5°C does not annihilate climate change’s effects; instead, it will only buy us some more time to prepare and mitigate the next century’s growth direction. Without a thoroughly planned transition to low-carbon economies, nations are being even more ruthless than ever. The short-term actions of our governments of resurfacing the crashed economy because of the COVID-19 pandemic may prove horrific. Leaders are losing sight of the long-term commitments, necessary participation, and accountability to the dangers of climate change. However, the current set objectives show more dedication from the former than the latter.

Paris Agreement was a significant turning point in the planet’s fight against climate change. As countries prepare to build back better in the post-COVID world, it is an excellent time to take a pause and re-align our priorities and principles. The energy sector, followed by the economy and infrastructure, has a major untapped potential to go green. We must achieve 2030 targets for the long-term Paris Agreement goals to be plausible. However, the signed pieces of paper alone will not prevent the impacts of our actions. It requires continuously improvised efforts by all countries to reach the global mutual goal.

Ronika Postaria

About Ronika Postaria

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Associate Consultant at Cities Forum specialized in urban planning and design.

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