Paris as a city of love.. for the planet

13.09.2020
3 min read

Prior to diving into what the Paris Agreement is, let us take a walk down the memory lane and look at the previous history of climate-related negotiations.   First of all, prepare for a few abbreviations and a jump in time. The year is 1988 and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) put together the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (1). Interestingly, the Panel does not conduct its own research but rather does assessments, makes methodologies, and produces reports (2).   

The very first report of IPCC came out in 1990 under a relatively plain (and, of course, abbreviated) name of FAR: First Assessment Report. Many were to follow (3).  

Next stop: 1992, Rio de Janeiro, Earth Summit. And yet another abbreviation: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The objective of UNFCCC is as follows (quoting from the document itself): “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.   

Just a few years later and a few thousand kilometers away, happened the Kyoto protocol. It required the industrialized countries to cut their GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. 

The main aim of the Kyoto Protocol was to contain emissions of the main greenhouse gases in ways that can reflect underlying national differences in emissions, wealth, and capacity, following the main principles agreed in the 1992 UNFCCC (4). The efforts to get the GHG emissions under control even got recognized by The Nobel Prize Committee: the IPCC together with Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. For “their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about manmade climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change” (5). 

On top of that, 2007 was the year of the Fourth Assessment Report (remember how two paragraphs ago it was mentioned that many were to follow?). It is notable for bringing up the infamous 2 degrees Celsius of warming: the report says that, apparently, continuing business-as-usual emissions can result in the very worst-case IPCC scenario, where global temperatures rise by more than 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by 2100.  And just like that, the climate concern memory lane took us to the Paris Agreement itself, spring 2015 (6).

The Paris Agreement’s key highlights:

Temperatures
continuing all efforts to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius
Finance
rich countries to provide 100 billion dollars from 2020 as a “floor” (amount to be updated by 2025)
Differentiation
developed countries must continue to “take the lead” in the reduction of greenhouse gases while developing nations are encouraged to “enhance their efforts” and move over time to cuts
Emissions
aim for greenhouse gases to peak as soon as possible; plan for 2050 includes rapid reductions to achieve a balance between emissions from human activity and the amount that can be captured by “sinks”
Burden-sharing
developed countries must provide financial resources to help developing countries, while other countries are invited to provide support on a voluntary basis
Review mechanism
a review is to happen every five years (with the first one in 2023) and each review will inform countries in “updating and enhancing” their pledges
Climate damage
vulnerable countries have won recognition of the need for “averting, minimizing, and addressing” losses suffered due to climate change

When the two-week-long Paris Agreement negotiations ended, world leaders representing 195 nations came to a consensus and decided on the commitments from all countries that are supposed to tackle the issues of climate change (6). However, not all commitments are made equal, and there is a scale: commitments are rated from “critically insufficient” to “role model”, including such in-between stages as highly insufficient, insufficient, 2 degrees Celsius compatible, and 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris Agreement compatible (7).

And despite the fact that basically, the whole world is a part of the Agreement, if everything goes according to plan, at the end of 2020, one country, the U.S., will actually leave the Paris Agreement (8) .   

As in accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement , a country cannot give notice of withdrawal from the agreement before three years of its start date in the relevant country, the United States submitted its notice of withdrawal on November 4, 2019, at the earliest date possible. From then on, it takes 12 months to take effect. So, the earliest possible date of effective withdrawal by the United States cannot be before November 4, 2020. The reason for withdrawal, provided by president Trump was the fact that being a part of the Agreement can be hurtful for the U.S. economy, which has to be prioritized. (9)

What some countries are doing as a part of the Paris Agreement:

Nordic countries have been among the few to take truly decisive steps, supported by favorable public opinion and social contexts . For example, Sweden’s climate act of 2018 enforces annual reporting, sets targets at 1.5°C or below, and calls for forceful climate policy through the country’s dedicated Climate Policy Council (10). Sweden has set the highest carbon tax in the world, at €114 per tonne, and is engaging industry in sector-specific dialogue to create meaningful policies and has invested heavily in some new technology pilots, along with climate-resilient development projects through the UN Green Climate Fund.

The Netherlands has also taken some serious steps, putting in place a Climate Agenda and ambitious targets for renewables, reinforced by subsidies and biofuel mandates. The country has regulations on new building energy performance and aims to phase out gas boilers by 2050, supported by tax breaks and subsidies. Industrial sectors are also subject to energy efficiency and the best available technique standards. 

Several emerging economies, too, are starting to set ambitious renewable targets, even if they do not yet have a full carbon-neutrality plan. India is currently implementing the largest renewable power program in the world, and Morocco has developed the world’s largest concentrated solar farm, with the objective of making more than 50% of its electricity generation renewable in just 10 years (10).

However, climate change is still not a top concern globally, and engagement varies country by country. In developed economies, in Germany, climate change is the second biggest concern (right after inequality), while in Japan it is only one the 5th position, and in the U.S. it plummets to the 8th (10). The same variety applies to the developing countries: the 7th position for India and nowhere to be seen in the top 8 in Turkey, for example.

Just half a degree of warming makes a huge difference

Based on the IPCC’s report, while it is possible to avoid a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in temperature, our technologies, and more importantly, our behavior, will need to change drastically. One of the areas where we need to do a lot of rethinking is the transportation sector: energy efficiency and fuel-switching measures have to happen.

Another area with significant potential to reduce emissions is food production – there is a lot of space for energy demand as well as food waste reduction and efficiency improvement. Without a thorough and dedicated approach to finding a solution for the problem, that half a degree between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees Celsius, can be truly devastating.

Though 2.0 degrees Celsius is only 25% more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the impact can hit us at a much bigger scale: the decline in marine fisheries can be twice as bad, crop yields 2,3 times worse, and our losses of some species (for example, of insects, that, by the way, can be our future source of protein) can as high as 3 times worse.(11)