Understanding the Paris Agreement

Understanding the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is a landmark environmental accord to combat climate change and its adverse irreversible impacts. It has been ratified and adopted by 189 countries out of 196 signatories till date. It is a legally binding global climate change agreement that came into force on 4th November 2016, after being adopted at the Paris climate conference (COP21) on 12th December 2015.

The Paris Agreement has a long term goal to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; and by pursuing efforts to further limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5°C. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which established legally binding emissions reduction targets only for developed countries, the Paris agreement has a framework which pushes for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reduction commitments from all major countries including China and India, and to strengthen those commitments over time. It requires all countries—rich, poor, developed, and developing—to pitch in and cut their emissions. Meeting the goals of the agreement are majorly dependent on large scale reductions in the use of fossil fuels, improvements in energy efficiency and a rapid shift to renewable low-carbon alternatives, such as solar energy. Hence, all countries ratified under the agreement have submitted comprehensive national climate action plans called nationally determined contributions or NDCs which highlights the individual nation’s climate goals, emission reduction targets and plan of action. The agreement also aims to support and build the capacities of developing nations by providing assistance from developed countries for pursing their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. This support includes the efforts of developed countries to mobilise USD 100 billion per year by 2020 and extend this until year 2025. Further, the pact to track progress of the commitments under the Agreement has even created a framework for the transparent monitoring and public reporting of countries’ individual and collective climate goals. All the detailed rules, essential procedures, mechanisms and guidelines that operationalise the Paris Agreement were adopted at the UN climate conference (COP24) in December 2018 and are called the Katowice climate package.

India is also a party to the Paris agreement and is at the forefront of international efforts to fight climate change. India ratified the agreement on 2nd October 2016 and submitted its NDC to the UNFCCC in 2015 as part of the Paris Agreement. India NDCs had three main quantified targets: (1) to lower the emissions intensity of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 33% to 35% compared to 2005 levels by 2030, (2) to increase total cumulative electricity generation from fossil free energy sources to 40% by 2030, and (3) to create additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tons through additional forest and tree cover (Government of India 2015). India has made significant progress in fulfilling its climate pledges for its first two goals. However, additional effort is needed to meet the requirements of target three. Our country has to put in more efforts in our greening program to successfully achieve our additional carbon sink goals.

Though countries like India are fulfilling their goals, one major upcoming hurdle that the Paris Agreement is currently facing is the looming danger of the United States, the second-largest global emitter, under the Trump administration, officially withdrawing from the Agreement starting November 4, 2020. The withdrawal of United States from the agreement poses a major challenge to meeting the Agreement’s global commitments including the long term goal to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to strive for limiting the increase in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius which otherwise would lead to grave consequences. By withdrawing from the Paris accord, the United States could potentially undercut collective efforts of nations to cut emissions and transition to renewable energy sources, hamper efforts to develop and transfer new carbon-mitigating technologies and lock in future climate measures. Under these circumstances, going forward, it is extremely important that all the other countries that have ratified the accord shall come together and show an even strong collective commitment and resolve to maintain targets under the Accord.

It remains to be seen how in the future the agreement will shape given the increased uncertainty with major players like United States leaving. However, one thing is clear, to avoid irreversible damage all countries need to work together to implement and achieve targets under the Paris Agreement. Decisive leadership, global partnerships, research backed informed judgments and swift action is the need of the hour for putting the Paris agreement back on track.

Sudeshna Maya Sen
Deputy Manager—ACE (Action for Climate & Environment)

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