Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Five years of Paris Agreement

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Paris Agreement

Mains level : Paper 3- Net zero emission targets and issues with it

 Climate Ambition Summit was held on the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement. The article takes stock of the progress made on climate action in the last 5 years.

The Paris Agreement

  • The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
  • Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
  • To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.
  • It is a landmark process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

How does it function?

  • Implementation of the Paris Agreement requires economic and social transformation, based on the best available science.
  • The Agreement works on a 5- year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries.
  • By 2020, countries submit their plans for climate action known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

NDCs

  • In their NDCs, countries communicate actions they will take to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions in order to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Countries also communicate in the NDCs actions they will take to build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures.

Long-Term Strategies

  • To better frame the efforts towards the long-term goal, the Paris Agreement invites countries to formulate and submit by 2020 long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS).
  • LT-LEDS provide the long-term horizon to the NDCs. Unlike NDCs, they are not mandatory.
  • Nevertheless, they place the NDCs into the context of countries’ long-term planning and development priorities, providing a vision and direction for future development.

Progress made after 5 years

  • All states have submitted their national contributions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • However, 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.
  • This initial shortfall was expected — the logic of the Paris Agreement relied on iterative scaling up of national targets over time to bridge the gap.

Are countries scaling up the targets

  • 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.
  • While states have been slow to update their national contributions for 2025-2030, several have announced “net zero” targets in the recent past.
  • 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.
  • The Joe Biden administration is also expected to join this group.

Issues in Net Zero targets

1) Credibility of the commitments

  • First, the credibility check — are these long-term net zero goals aligned with short-term actions, policies and measures?
  • 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.
  • Current national contributions are not on track for such a fall.
  • For many there is a mismatch between short-term actions and long-term commitments.
  • Further, 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.

2) Fixing accountability

  • Many net zero goals have not yet been embedded in national contributions and long-term strategies under the Paris Agreement.
  • In any case, 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.
  • States are only asked to provide justifications for the fairness and ambition of their targets.
  • 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, therefore, has thus far been generated by non-state actors outside the UN regime rather than in the regime.

3) Fairness of climate action

  •  The issue of equity and fairness, side-stepped in the Paris Agreement, is emerging in climate litigation before national and regional courts.
  • In the landmark Urgenda case (2019), the Dutch Supreme court considered “fair shares” when identifying benchmarks against which the Netherland’s national effort could be judged in the context of a collective action problem.
  • Issues of fairness and justice, both between and within generations, are “unavoidable”.

India’s commitment

In 2015, ahead of the UN significant climate conference in Paris, India announced three major voluntary commitments called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC):

  1. Improving the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33–35% by 2030 over 2005 levels
  2. Increasing the share of non-fossil fuels-based electricity to 40% by 2030 and
  3. Enhancing its forest cover, thereby absorbing 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide

A success (?)

  • The Environment Minister said that we have achieved 21% of its emissions intensity reduction target as a proportion of its GDP in line with its pledge to a 33-35% reduction by 2030.
  • India was the only major G20 country that was on track towards keeping to its nationally determined commitments to halt runaway global warming.

Conclusion

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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