The world in 2020 is very different from the world of 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. As our planet deals with a different breed of global disaster, many are reflecting on the limitations, successes, and failures of this accord, as well as what it means for our future.
Getting 196 parties to agree on such a proposal was not an easy task and many credit Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, who led at the time the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, for this achievement. The agreement was not perfect and many scientists consider it a compromise that didn’t go far enough. Climate change denialists claimed instead that it was a capitulation, and are calling for it to be scrapped. These people may find their champion in Donald Trump.
After Trump took office he vowed to take the US out of the Paris Agreement. The official withdrawal was filed on November 4, 2019, and it took exactly 12 months to complete. The North-American country left on November 4, 2020, the day after the US presidential election that Trump lost, only for President-Elect Joe Biden to state that the US would rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day in office.
The US exit from the accord was considered the possible beginning of an exodus. Many expected other climate skeptic leaders to follow suit but fortunately the structure of the accord has created a level playing field for accountability. Politically the accord is very solid and it shows that the Trump administration was not only on the wrong side of history, but that it also misjudged the support from other like-minded leaders such as Bolsonaro and Putin.
The accord has also changed how we talk about climate. The optimistic goal of maintaining an average global temperature of below 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) is taken seriously and concepts such as achieving net-zero emission have now become policies in many countries.
While that is good, it is still not enough. The spring lockdown in many countries across the world showed a dramatic dip in emissions as transport and industry ground to a halt, which demonstrated that energy production and changes to this industry are the key to truly tackling the climate emergency.
And yet, while renewable energy sources have grown in popularity and more organizations are diverting from fossil fuels, we are digging for these like never before.
“The five years following the Paris Agreement have been the five hottest years ever recorded and during that time the world has also emitted more than 200 Gigatons of CO2,” activist Greta Thunberg said in a video to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. “Commitments are being made, distant hypothetical targets are being set, and big speeches are being given. Yet when it comes to the immediate action we need, we are still in a state of complete denial.”
Thunberg is asking for people to get involved in challenging the governments to make the systemic changes we need. A sentiment shared by the Ugandan climate activist, Vanessa Nakate. In an Op-Ed for The Independent, she wrote that it is a privilege to be discussing the successes of the Paris Agreement while many communities have been devastated by the climate crisis over the last five years.
“This is my world at 1.2C of warming. This is not progress. Vague, distant targets for 2030 or 2050 will not keep the world “well below 2C” of warming as the Paris Agreement promised. I can tell you, a 2C hotter world is a death sentence for countries like mine,” Nakate writes.
“Privilege allows governments and corporations to think of the climate crisis as a PR opportunity. Being a true leader on climate means taking action to drastically reduce emissions now, in line with what the science tells us we need to do to avert a climate catastrophe. It does not mean saying one thing at home and doing another thing abroad.”
If the goal is to truly stay below the 1.5C threshold at the current rate of emission we only have seven years. Action is needed immediately.