Earth Up! | Back to Basics: The Paris Climate Accord

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Earth Up! is a monthly column by Ayesha Mehrotra that intends to cover varied issues and solutions with respect to environmental sustainability in India.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty that came into force in the year 1994. This was built to tackle worldwide Green-House-Gas (GHG) emissions. The Kyoto Protocol introduced by the UNFCCC. Being the first agreement between nations to mandate reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions by countries, which was signed by nearly all nations at the 1997 mega-meeting popularly known as the Earth Summit, in Japan. The framework pledged to stabilize greenhouse-gas concentrations To put teeth into that pledge, a new treaty was required, one with binding targets for GHG reductions. 

The United States and China, two of the world’s largest emitters produced more than enough extra greenhouse gas to erase all the reductions made by other countries during the Kyoto period. Worldwide, emissions reached a level by nearly a 40% increase between 1990 and 2009, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The major reason for no outcome from this was because no country agreed to the terms put forth in this summit. There was no unity on decision-making.

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009 brought climate change policy to the highest political level. Close to 115 world leaders attended the summit, making it one of the largest gatherings in history. It had several key elements to combat situations on climate change. Although it pushed negotiation forward, it failed to unite countries to accept changes in policy. This is where the Paris Climate Convention (COP21) in 2015 was successful: in tying loose ends and creating a large scale impact. 

What is the Paris Climate Convention?

Global warming is one of the biggest crises our world is currently facing. The rising numbers on the temperature scale were a clear indication of the exploitation of natural resources. A number of natural disasters were occurring all over the world. The idea behind COP21 was to stabilize GHG emissions so that the future generations do not suffer from catastrophic and irreversible damage. The Paris Agreement’s main aim is to keep the rise of global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius.

To set a common goal, UNFCCC also put forth an agenda: “Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner”. It was to create a mechanism that would turn technology into an effective instrument for a global purpose, not just for private benefits. This was to assure a low-carbon and sustainable future. It provides transparency of action and support along with the framework and solutions. Areas like long-term temperature goals, global peaking, mitigation, adaptation, and decision-making are some of the topics the Convention offered for combating climate change.

This convention promised a measurement, reporting, and verification of efforts from all parties which would be legally binding and effective for each nation in terms of their individual criteria. A common direction of travel was necessary for each and every representative. An explicit understanding of the situation was expressed. The world is building is a new economy for itself. A well-revised, de-carbonised and the high climate resilient environment was something which was required by all.

Developing common goals and to face the consequences of everyone’s actions like an interdependent entity was a challenge that was overcome six years down the line (2009 to 2015). Out of the 195 countries that participated in this Paris Convention, 189 countries sent in their full-fledged plans to tackle the grave situation of Climate Change. Countries like the United States, Canada and China who were hesitant to agree in earlier years also put their best hand forward. 

 Developing and developed countries across the globe committed to creating a new international climate agreement using the guidelines put forth by the UNFCCC. In response to this idea, countries have agreed to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

They are now called the NDCs. These NDCs will lay basic standards, outlines, and targets to be reached and the steps each nation will take towards creating a cleaner, greener and safer environment for the present as well as future generations. The NDCs can develop a constructive feedback loop between national and international decision-making on climate change around the world.

In the words of Christina Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, there was a huge wave of transformational optimism. The impossible became possible, a confrontation became a collaboration and local as well as national interests became a global need. Figueres expressed satisfaction at more than 155 countries giving their approval for this agreement at the signing in New York. Short term goals turned into long-term commitments, which were always insufficient factors for positive outcome in the former’s case. The representatives recognized climate as a disastrous problem which needed to be solved.

World leaders at the 2015 Paris Conference: International Relations Online

Numbers indicate that around 126 countries intended to sign the Paris Agreement and 7 countries intend to sign and deposit instruments of ratification for the same. The UNFCCC is expecting a positive and large-scale response. The agreement will come into action only if this main criterion is met – that it is signed and ratified by at least 55 countries who account for 55% of GHG emissions in the world. 

Although the hype created in India about the Paris Convention by our very own Prime Minister is commendable, India is yet to come up with a well-structured and promising NDC. Being one of the largest contributors to the rising crisis of global warming and pollution, it is high time our country takes its commitments seriously and brings about effective change. Nations like France, Nepal and Bhutan are already working towards a better world with detailed and achievable plans; India needs to make changes along the same lines. Global warming is real, and we are all facing it.

Ayesha Mehrotra is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.