The Climate Change Dictionary: What Is the Paris Agreement?

The Climate Change Dictionary’ is all about the buzzwords of climate change. Here we explain the Paris Agreement.

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The Climate Change Dictionary’ is all about the buzzwords in the global politics of climate change, and we have been hearing 'The Paris Agreement' quite a bit these days.

More so now that COP 26 has concluded in Glasgow, as developing and developed countries begin renegotiating the promises made under the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 is a “legally binding” international treaty on climate change. It is considered to be a landmark event in the global politics around climate change.

196 countries signed the Paris Agreement of 2015.

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What is the Paris Agreement?

In December 2015, the conference of parties on climate change or COP21 was held in Paris, and it was there that 196 parties (what are parties?) decided to adopt this treaty -- the larger aim of which was to limit global warming.

Limiting global warming largely meant keeping the temperature of our globe under 2 degree Celsius.

The Paris Agreement was the first time in human history where combating climate change was accepted as a binding common global cause and a legal agreement was signed between countries to work towards it.

Keeping the global temperature under 2 degree Celsius was the key element of the Paris Agreement.

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Why is It Important to Limit Global Temperatures and How is It Done?

It is important to ensure that our globe does not heat above 2 degree Celsius because if it does then the classic doomsday scenario will play out-- melting glaciers, dying polar bears, floods, heatwaves, and cold waves, among others.

We need to limit our global temperature by peaking our emissions of greenhouse gases approximately over the next decade. This means that once we hit the peak of this graph of our emissions, it starts falling down. Once that happens, we hit a state of carbon net-zero, ideally by 2050.

This would be a state of carbon neutrality where our emissions are cancelled out by carbon absorption and sequestration.

At COP 21, the Paris Agreement was considered to be a major leap ahead in climate action.

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What is the Role of the Paris Agreement in Limiting Global Temperatures?

After it was decided that all countries had to contribute to limiting the global temperature, the next question was figuring out who contributes how much.

Here came another term, nationally determined contributions or NDCs. Under this, countries declare what they are going to do as individual units to contribute to this common cause of saving the planet -- while also ensuring that they are taking enough measures to tackle the ongoing climate crisis, as well as the foreseeable extreme weather events in their own countries.

While all countries had to contribute, their contributions were not supposed to be equal. Here came another important concept of common but differentiated responsibilities or CBDR.

Three key elements  of the Paris Agreement

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What are Common but Differentiated Responsibilities?

While nations had a common responsibility towards climate change, these responsibilities were not to be equal or identical. They were to be differentiated on the basis of where these nations stand on several parameters.

The developed nations and historical polluters, which are largely responsible for this climate crisis such as the UK or the US were expected to do much more and also help developing countries achieve their climate targets.

Meanwhile, developing countries such as India and South Africa, among others, who have mostly been on the receiving end of the impact of catastrophic climate events while being largely underprepared to deal with them, were supposed to have lower targets considering their economic capacities.

Rise in greenhouse gas concentrations jeopardises the Paris Agreement temp target

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What Promises Did the Developed World Make?

To ensure that all the countries are able to contribute to this common global cause, developed world promised to help the developing countries. These promises were supposed to be three fold:

  • First, and most crucial-- financial assistance for climate action such as mitigation and adaptation.

  • Second-- Through technology.

  • Third-- Through capacity building to deal with the ongoing climate crisis.

COP 21 was held in Paris in 2015.

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Where Does the Paris Agreement of 2015 Stand Now?

Simply put, the developed countries have not really been ambitious with their Nationally Determined Contributions or honest with their promises.

Developing countries seek more liberal targets and relaxations to pollute for longer, while citing their need for development. At the same time, the developed countries are putting pressure on them for rushed timelines.

The developed world is failing to deliver on its promises.

The expectation from developing countries to also achieve net-zero by 2050-- around the same time as the developed countries-- seems to go against the equity principle of CBDR that was crucial to the Paris Agreement.

Today as we speak, the huge milestone that the Paris Agreement appeared back in 2015 now seems to be falling apart. Largely the developed world is not keeping their end of the bargain, and a lot of the NDCs that the developing world promised, were conditional to the developed world providing them assistance. That seems to be shaky too.

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Topics:  Climate Change   Explainer   COP21 

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