Paris Climate Accord, Explained
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
As the world increases its efforts in fighting climate change, the Paris Climate Accord has become a key indicator as to which countries are on the frontline, or more importantly, which ones are not.
What is the Paris Climate Accord?
The Paris Climate Accord is a landmark agreement marking a global declaration to combat climate change and strive for a low carbon and sustainable future.
On 12th December 2015, state members of the United Nations Framework Convention to Climate Change (UNFCCC) came together to formalise actions and investments to limit temperature increase from 2 to 1.5º. It builds upon the Convention, a much earlier declaration made by UNFCCC Parties in 1994.
The Paris Climate Accord includes individual state action plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), as well as support for developing countries.
Why is it important?
The agreement marks a historic moment in which ambitions for a sustainable future were formalised as an active goal of global society, with nearly 200 countries agreeing to participate.
It is significant because it required countries to create concrete action plans and strategies to make saving the environment a more achievable goal. NDCs are what connects the Paris Agreement to these long-term goals, as they require each country to communicate an outline for their post-2020 climate actions.
What's happening with the US?
Unlike the typical turbulence of Trump’s presidency and policymaking, the current US president has been consistent in his criticism of climate change science and the global emphasis on the issue.
The Trump Administration has been very vocal regarding its determination to leave the Paris Agreement, on the grounds of it being harmful to American taxpayers and workers, and generally bad for the economy. The paperwork for this process commenced back in November 2019 and will not be formalised until after the 2020 election.
Due to the voluntary nature of the Paris agreement, Trump and Congress can decide how they choose to address climate change, if they do so at all. Should Trump win the election this year, the United States will undoubtedly leave the Paris Accord, making it the only UNFCCC member not to ratify the agreement.
What impact will this have?
As the world’s biggest contributor to climate change and a huge economic powerhouse, the role of the United States in combating climate change is extremely significant.
As a society that is heavily driven by conspicuous consumption, its absence in fighting for sustainability will undoubtedly hinder the efforts of other countries.
Both the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, have condemned the decision. Exiting the agreement could mean more people depending on social work and activism alone to respond to climate change, rather than their government.
What about other countries?
The absence of the world’s most powerful countries in the fight against climate change will have serious implications.
Without the US, China and India, the main carbon emitters, the rest of the world only accounts for 11% of the globe’s carbon footprint. Many countries may become reluctant to invest in saving the environment, when the U.S. can use such monetary resources to become more competitive in the global economy.
And the UK? Can we meet our net-zero target?
In June 2019, Parliament passed legislation requiring government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100% relative to 1990s levels by 2050, the goal having previously been 80%.
In their June 2020 progress report, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) revealed that the UK is in fact not on track to meeting the net-zero target. In response, the government have announced some policy changes, including a ban on petrol and diesel cars from 2040.
Such efforts seem pointless in light of other policy initiatives, such as the Heathrow expansion. There is thus an urgent need for further changes and an evaluation on the government's commitment to fighting climate change.
So, what next?
The 2020 election not only has strong political and social implications for Americans and global citizens alike.
It is also significant in revealing the direction which the fight to save our planet will take for the next few years, or worst case, how many years we will fall behind in reaching a sustainable future.
For now, the world anticipates the results of the 2020 election. Nature, however, does not wait.
Find more resources on the international approach to sustainable growth with our Climate Crisis section.