Five years after Paris agreement

Context: The Climate Ambition Summit, co-hosted by the UK, France and the UN, on the fifth anniversary of the 2015 Paris Agreement, comes at the end of a dreadful year.

What is the climatic status of nations, 5 years after Paris agreement?
  • GHGs: Greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere are at record levels, with the global lockdowns only having resulted in a temporary 4.2–7.5 per cent reduction in GHGs.
  • National contributions: All states have submitted their national contributions to diminish and adapt to climate change.
    • These contributions are radically insufficient to reach the “well below 2 degrees Celsius” limit and are even further from the “1.5 degrees Celsius” temperature limit identified in the Paris Agreement.
  • Scaling up national targets: The logic of the Paris Agreement relied on scaling up of national targets over time to bridge the gap. The first of these moments for scaling up is 2020.
    • Although 151 states have indicated that they will submit stronger targets before December 31, only 13 of them, covering 2.4 per cent of global emissions, have submitted such targets.
    • Many are expected to submit their updated contributions or make other pledges at the Climate Ambition Summit.
  • Net zero targets: All G-7 states (except the US) and 11 G20 members have mid-century (2050 or 2060) net zero targets (carbon dioxide or other GHGs). These include Argentina, Mexico, UK, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, the Republic of Korea, Italy, China, and the EU.

Net zero targets need to be subject to credibility, accountability and fairness checks before being applauded. Discuss

  • The credibility check:It is crucial for updated national contributions to reflect targets and actions in 2030 that will take these states to their 2050 or 2060 net zero target.
    • The IPCC 1.5 degrees Celsius Report indicated that to stay within a reasonable chance of achieving 1.5 degrees Celsius, global carbon dioxide emissions have to fall by 45 per cent from the 2010 levels by 2030.
    • There is a significant “overshoot” in terms of GHGs in the short and medium-term, and a reliance on negative emissions technologies to get there in the long-term.
  • The accountability check:  accountability under the Paris Agreement is limited. States are not obliged to achieve their self-selected targets. There is no mechanism to review the adequacy of individual contributions.
    • The most commonly used metric by states (110 of them) is that their emissions are a “small share of global emissions”.
    • The transparency framework does not contain a robust review function, and the compliance committee is facilitative and limited to ensuring compliance with a short list of binding procedural obligations.
    • Accountability has thus far been generated by non-state actors outside the UN regime rather than in the regime.
  • The fairness check: The issue of equity and fairness, side-stepped in the Paris Agreement, is emerging in climate litigation before national and regional courts.
    • “Fair shares” are also an issue in the ongoing case filed by six Portuguese youngsters, including two children, in the European Court of Human Rights against 33 European states for inadequate climate action.
    • Issues of fairness and justice, both between and within generations, are “unavoidable”.
Way forward
  • Net zero pledges need to be credible, accountable and fair to get us to a stable climate. All states, including India, can pledge actions that are credible, accountable and fair.
  • Credible short-term commitments, with a clear pathway to medium-term decarbonisation, that take into account the multiple challenges states face, such as on air pollution, and development, might well be the more defensible choice for some.
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