Celebrated as one of the greatest successes in multilateral negotiations, the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, entered into force in 2016 and adopted rules and modalities for its implementation in 2018. The agreement is expected to be fully operational in 2020, marking the beginning of a new climate change regime, to replace the now defunct Kyoto Protocol.
How much progress has been made?
The global context in which the Paris Agreement is set to operate is complex. The political commitment to ambitious climate action is quickly fading with the US, a key country as far as emissions and multilateral financial support are concerned, already signalling its withdrawal from the accord. Other industrialised countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Russia seem determined to follow the footsteps of the US. Some members of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland seem to only pay lip service in their commitment to reduce their emissions and providing the agreed financial support to help vulnerable developing countries.
Recent scientific reports cast a massive shadow of doubt as to whether the collective efforts of the international community will carry the world through to a low emissions, climate resilient future. The 2018 special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of a 1.5°C rise in temperature and the 2019 Global Environment Outlook report allude to the fact that we are not at all on target towards achieving the Paris Agreement goals, the SDGs and the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction framework.
Meanwhile extreme weather events and record breaking temperatures continue to significantly threaten lives and livelihoods of millions of people, and civil society movements keep growing. One particularly interesting call for action comes from students and youth all across the world inspired by the Swedish student Greta Thunberg.
What needs to be done?
Comprehensive and far-reaching climate action needs to be undertaken with great urgency. While the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement provide a solid policy framework and the scientific and academic communities continue to provide knowledge and basis for policy and action, much more needs to be done on the ground. For the Paris Agreement to meet the challenge for which it was established, three things must be put in place:
Firstly, the current commitments (the so called Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) must be ratcheted up in order to keep global warming below 2°C or 1.5°C as agreed in Paris. According to Climate Action Tracker, the current cumulative emissions reduction commitment is likely to lead to a global warming of 3.1°C to 3.5°C. Just to be clear, even a 1.5°C temperature rise will lead to significant disruptions of ecosystems, weather patterns and in turn lives and livelihoods. Therefore, the next round of NDCs, scheduled to be submitted by 2020, must be much more ambitious in order to actually mitigate climate change.
Secondly, it is imperative that the implementation of the Paris Agreement is centred on building resilience, supporting adaptation and addressing climate-induced loss and damage. This would imply a massive shift of investment and aid (as climate finance) to poor and vulnerable countries. It would also imply innovation in the way economies are built to ensure that they meet the two objectives of strengthening the coping capabilities of developing countries and embarking on low carbon development pathways.
Thirdly, climate policies and actions should consider the softer components of the Paris Agreement, notably on justice, human rights, gender, indigenous people, food security, etc. Climate finance should come in addition to development and humanitarian aid, or else the efforts to address climate change could undermine the broader international cooperation agenda and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The above are not just technical, but also political issues. The world has a desperate need for leaders who can fill the apparent vacuum troubling global governance in general and specifically the global climate change arena. Leaders who would be willing to choose the common good of humanity over their national or corporate interests - a move that might carry a very high political cost. Whether such leaders will emerge in the near future is anyone’s guess, given the preoccupation of the UK with Brexit, the climate deniers at the helm of US government, the ever-increasing carbon emissions in China and other emerging economies, and a lukewarm European Union that is struggling to maintain a shared vision on various issues.
The next and possibly the last opportunity to discuss and clarify the issues above is the forthcoming 25th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) which will take place in Santiago, Chile in December this year. It will be preceded by the September Climate Action Summit, convened in New York by the Secretary General of the UN.
ISAIAH TOROITICH, ADV'18
Head of Advocacy and Development Policy, ACT Alliance, Switzerland
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Graduate Institute, Geneva.