This article is written by Sushree Surekha Choudhury from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar. The article gives an insight into the Paris Agreement and other international approaches to adapting to and mitigating climate change and its impacts.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
This is one such instance in our legal reading where the topic does not need an introduction. Why, you ask? Because everywhere you put an eye on reflects this topic. Are there any nature lovers among our readers? I am certain there are. Are you one of those people who gets excited about seeing the bright blue clear sky, the autumn leaves, and the wind in your hair (like Taylor Swift did in ‘All Too Well’)? I know, I am. Then it is important to protect nature, right? Well, the bad news is that the climate and environment are depleting. And worse, it is due to human activities. This growing concern was noticed by the UN, which then started making active efforts to protect the climate. Climate change should occur naturally over time and humans should be its spectators. Unfortunately, ever since industrialization has taken place, climate change has occurred rapidly. To address this urgent issue, the United Nations, under its Framework Convention on Climate Change, formulated the Paris Agreement in 2016.
In this article, we shall learn everything about climate change, the international approach regarding it, and the Paris Agreement.
What is the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is an international treaty on climate change. It is a legally binding document that has been ratified and adopted by 196 countries (parties to the agreement). These countries signed the agreement on December 12, 2015, in Paris, following which the Paris Agreement became effective on November 4, 2016. The primary objective of the Paris Agreement is to control global warming by reducing the global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.
The Paris Agreement was the very first multilateral agreement binding countries wherein 196 countries came together to make efforts to combat global warming and climate change. Climate change is a grievous issue that needs immediate attention and positive changes. To bring change to an issue of this gravity, countries must cooperate and coordinate to achieve global goals. It is only through international cooperation that the global temperature can be balanced.
The United Nations held its UN-Climate Change Conference (also known as COP21) in Paris. The Paris Agreement was a result of this conference with member states and global leaders. The Paris Agreement was initially ratified by the parties to it for the following objectives:
- To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
- To aim to bring down the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius and make further efforts to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius.
- To establish a review and monitoring mechanism where every party’s (countries) efforts and progress will be reviewed every five years. This review will assess counties’ commitments and the extent to which they have achieved those commitments.
- To aim to provide financial and technical support to developing countries in combating climate change and decreasing it.
- To help developing countries in developing technical and scientific methods to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The Paris Agreement is legally binding on all its 196 member countries as it is an international treaty. The Agreement is based on commitments made by each of these countries and their achievement of those commitments. The Paris Agreement aims at periodic improvements in these commitments made by countries. There is an implied duty on the developed countries that are members of the Agreement to aid and assist developing nations in adapting and achieving their climate change mitigation goals. The Paris Agreement works with constant supervision, monitoring, and reporting by its member nations. It marks the beginning of an era of regulatory monitoring and compliance to combat climate change. It works with the ideology of making a better future for the generations to come by providing them with a suitable environment and climate, by attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.
Issue of climate change – the need for the Paris Agreement
Climate change refers to the slow or rapid periodic changes in the atmosphere, global temperature, and weather patterns that cause long-term impacts on climate. It is slow when it occurs naturally over a period of centuries. Unfortunately, rapid climate changes have been driven by human activities since the post-industrial era. Burning fossil fuels, releasing harmful gasses into the atmosphere, and other harmful human activities have catastrophic effects on climate, more than we realize. They result in global warming and the impacts are seen directly on life on Earth.
The greenhouse gas emissions of heat-trapping gasses have increased the world temperature by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial era, making the last decade (2011-20) the warmest the Earth has ever been.
Climate change impacts life in more than one way. Apart from rising temperatures and global warming, the impacts are seen in the form of diseases, contaminated air and water, impure food leading to health issues like malnutrition, as well as natural calamities. Natural calamities result in large-scale migrations. These people are designated as ‘climate refugees’ and they are increasing in number.
The problem is alarming and threatening, but the solutions are effective too. It is not too late yet to do good with the bad impacts that climate change has caused. There is still a positive chance to improve the future from the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The United Nations has already worked out its equation. They have put international treaties and conventions in place to find innovative solutions to the issue. The United Nations has set up its UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement. These conventions and treaties provide a framework for international cooperation and global action in combating, adapting, and mitigating climate change and global warming. The Paris Agreement has been the biggest step in the right direction in mitigating climate change with its mitigation and adaptation framework.
Importance of the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement has been ratified by 194 countries and members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Apart from states like Iran, Eritrea, Libya, and Yemen, the Paris Agreement has received global consensus and accession from all countries over the world. This shows the significance of the agreement that has brought 194 countries to common grounds of approval. Climate change and global warming pose serious threats to the environment and to humankind, and they can be mitigated only through international cooperation and integration.
Global warming is caused by human activities
Global warming is caused by the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect causes Earth’s heat to not escape from the atmosphere to space. This is caused by the presence of harmful gasses like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the Earth’s biosphere that produces heat and does not let it escape. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests a substantial increase in the levels of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere as compared to the pre-industrial era. Currently, carbon dioxide amounts to a 40% contribution to climate change, nitrous oxide is 20%, and methane is as high as 150% more since the 1750s. The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and forest fires are the primary causes of global warming. Thus, global warming is caused solely by harmful human activities.
Global warming poses a threat to the biodiversity and atmosphere
Global warming interferes with the climate system. It leads to unpredictable weather and often leads to calamities. Higher temperatures affect life and climate systems both on land and at sea. It changes the precipitation cycles and weather patterns. Calamities like droughts, tsunamis, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, etc., have become more frequent than ever due to unpredictable changing weather patterns. Global warming causes the depletion of the ozone layer that protects the earth from the UV radiation of the sun. Global warming also results in melting ice caps, glaciers, etc., which in turn raises sea levels beyond natural and safe levels. All of these factors impact life cycles on Earth, biodiversity, and the ecosystem. All of these things together create an unbalanced life on Earth.
Climate change impacts life on Earth
Global warming and climate change interfere with the atmosphere, biodiversity, ecosystems, weather patterns, and thus, overall life on Earth. It makes the air, water, soil, and food unfit for life on Earth. They cause diseases. New diseases can be seen every now and then, and previously existing diseases have been taking deadly forms. Public health concerns are growing rapidly.
The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) study suggests that extreme heat patterns lead to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. In May 2010, more than 1300 deaths were reported in an Indian city, Ahmedabad. Extreme heat also leads to air-borne diseases like asthma. It also leads to famine, drought, and malnutrition in children.
Changing weather patterns are causing water-borne diseases to multiply. It leads to floods, and contamination of fresh water, and this makes the water unsuitable for human consumption. When consumed, it further leads to diseases and infirmity. Food crops are grown with contaminated water and in a contaminated environment lead to several diseases and health issues.
Natural calamities destroy infrastructure, cause loss of livelihood, force migration, and cause deformative births. Vulnerable groups of people are the worst affected. Ironically, they are the ones who contribute the least to global warming and climate change. Therefore, climate change causes severe ill effects on life on Earth.
International cooperation is needed to mitigate climate change
It is evident from the impacts caused by global warming and climate change that they must be mitigated. Mitigating climate change is possible only through international cooperation and coordination. Controlling the temperature rises and limiting greenhouse gas emissions will be possible only when states actively take measures in their domestic spheres. Therefore, global action is needed to mitigate global warming. It is to fulfil this objective that the Paris Agreement has been formed. We shall learn all about the Paris Agreement in this article.
Paris Agreement – formation and implementation
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held its 21st Conference (COP21) in Paris. This conference lasted for two weeks, at the end of which the Paris Agreement was formed and adopted on December 12, 2015. Around 195 nations came to a consensus under the Paris Agreement and agreed to commit to mitigating climate change as well as adapting to the impacts of climate change.
Former US President Barack Obama entered the US to become a signatory to the Paris Agreement through executive authority under international law as the Paris Agreement did not impose any new legal implications or duties on the US. The United States of America’s domestic laws have already been structured in a way that aims to mitigate climate change. They aim at reducing pollution and harmful emissions.
The Paris Agreement needed at least 55 countries to join its global agenda for it to become effective. This goal was achieved on October 5, 2016, and soon after, on November 4, 2016, the Agreement became effective. Since 2015-16, all countries in the world have become members of the Paris Agreement for combating climate change.
Working and implementation of the Paris Agreement
Implementation strategies of the Paris Agreement and their operational details were discussed and decided on at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24), which was held in Katowice, Poland in December 2018. These implementation strategies form a part of the Paris Rulebook, agreed upon and finalized at COP26 in Scotland in November 2021.
Implementation of the Paris Agreement is essentially dependent on technological advancements paired with social and economic transformations. Based on these principles, the Paris Agreement implements its agenda through a 5-year planning cycle. These 5-year cycles are based on increasing ambitions of climate actions planned and implemented by member countries. As part of the 5-year cycle, member countries submit their updated ‘national climate action plan’ every five years, known as ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDC).
Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)
Member states of the Paris Agreement submit their 5-year national climate action plan as their NDCs. This climate action plan primarily speaks about the amount (in percentage or other measurable units) of greenhouse gas emissions. These action plans or commitments are in furtherance of the goals of the Paris Agreement. Action plans also include the measures that countries will take to form resilience to adapt to climate change and global warming. NDCs are mandatory obligations of member states.
Apart from the 5-year action plans (NDCs), the member states also set their long-term strategic goals in furtherance of the higher vision of the Paris Agreement towards mitigating climate change and global warming. Thus, the Paris Agreement seeks for the member countries to submit their ‘long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies’ (LT-LEDS). LT-LEDS are the long-term visions that are achieved by periodic NDCs. Therefore, the NDCs are framed with the vision of LT-LEDS, and member countries formulate their development strategies and priorities accordingly.
The US and the Paris Agreement
Although the US had become a member of the Paris Agreement back in September 2016, former President Donald Trump made controversial statements in 2017 as he called climate change a “hoax” and announced the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. He withdrew the USA’s participation in the Paris Agreement in November 2020. Even so, US envoys always continue to adhere to laws and principles for mitigating climate change in the US. The Paris Agreement was a huge success as many global leaders and countries continued to participate and believe in the cause of the Agreement. This was followed by many initiatives in the US supporting the Paris Agreement, like the United States Climate Alliance, the American Cities Climate Challenge, etc. These movements aimed to mitigate climate change at local and national levels in the US.
Under the provisions of the Paris Agreement, a member nation that has withdrawn from the Agreement can rejoin at any time in the future. When the Trump administration was replaced by the Biden administration, Joe Biden sent a formal letter to the United Nations seeking to rejoin the US as a member of the Paris Agreement. Thus, on February 19, 2021, the US rejoined as a party to the Paris Agreement. Therefore, the Paris Agreement continued with the global leadership of the US. Joe Biden’s climate change mitigation plan is considered to be the most comprehensive plan to combat climate change. This plan includes climate justice and aims to create a clean energy economy globally, and it continued to be implemented even during the global pandemic.
International cooperation in the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is an international agreement binding countries in the international forum. Its objectives can be fulfilled only by international coordination and cooperation. The Paris Agreement seeks for its member states to fulfill commitments in phases to reduce the impacts of global climate change. Thus, international cooperation is the basis of the Paris Agreement. The framework of the Paris Agreement provides for international cooperation and coordination in the form of financial aid, technical assistance, and support for capacity building for states that seek help in these aspects. It is primarily the duty of developed and technologically advanced nations to help other nations in their transition phase.
The Paris Agreement’s framework for international cooperation establishes that it is the duty of economically affluent nations to provide financial aid to states that are vulnerable and cannot make large-scale investments in incorporating the goals of the Paris Agreement. While it is an obligation of the developed countries to provide financial aid to less affluent nations, other nations, as well, are welcome to make contributions towards fulfilling one another’s commitments. Goals for reducing climate change and emissions require significant investments for mitigation, adaptation, and implementation of the commitments. Thus, the Paris Agreement rightly makes provisions for financial assistance to ensure that no member state is unable to implement commitments due to a lack of monetary capacity.
The Paris Agreement recognizes the need for technological advancement to improve the quality of the environment and reduce the impacts and pace of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Advanced technologies are required to adapt to the impacts of climate change and to pause the swift shifts in atmospheric dimensions. Technology helps in developing resilience. Therefore, the Paris Agreement provides a technological framework through which it helps the member nations achieve technical goals for adhering to their commitments to climate change. The Paris Agreement sets forth periodic policies and implementation of those policies in the international forum. Just as with financial aid, the member states are also encouraged to help and assist one another in providing technical assistance.
Capacity building support
Climate change has immense impacts on the environment, and countries need to be resilient to adapt to it. Adaptation and mitigation of the impacts of climate change require building capacity with technical assistance and large-scale investments. The Paris Agreement places emphasis on ‘climate-related capacity building’ to adapt and mitigate the changes. For this, the Paris Agreement provides support to those countries that need the support and seek it. The developed nations are encouraged to help and assist the developing nations in capacity building.
Paris Agreement’s Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF)
Member countries of the Paris Agreement have developed a framework for tracking progress and achievement of sustainable goals under the Paris Agreement, known as the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF). The ETF is going to track the records of individual countries from 2024. This framework shall possess a transparent track recording where countries will periodically report their progress in achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The reports shall contain the commitments undertaken by a state, the steps and action plans involved to execute these commitments, and the consequent progress made by them. States also have to report on the aid and assistance received by them from other states in the international forum in furtherance of their goals and commitments. The ETF receives and records these reports and assesses their credibility and progress index. It follows prescribed international procedures in the review process.
The primary duty of the ETF is to collect and submit the reports to ‘Global Stocktake’ (a body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) which performs the functions of storing and assessing the reports. Hereafter, the Global Stocktake provides the states with assessment feedback and recommendations that help them enhance their goals further.
Since the inception of the Paris Agreement, countries have made efforts to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement through goals and commitments. Countries adhere to these commitments and also strive to achieve sustainable development goals. Countries have been making efforts to create low-carbon solutions by developing a system that is free from harmful emissions and that develops without causing climate change and environmental depletion. Industries and companies in member states set and aim to achieve ‘carbon neutrality targets’ where they strive to eliminate or reduce carbon emissions into the environment. These factories and industries, especially in the power and transport sectors, aim to achieve ‘Zero carbon solutions’ and have been competing to achieve these goals better than their contemporaries.
Applicability of the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is a ‘legally binding’ document. This means that the states that have signed and ratified this Agreement are legally bound to comply with it. This ratification has made them members of the Agreement. The UNFCCC defines the Paris Agreement as a “legally binding international treaty on climate change.” A legally binding treaty has implications for member states. Member states are obliged to obey the Agreement, act in accordance with it, and formulate domestic laws and regulations on par with it, wherever necessary.
Even so, the legal bindingness of the Agreement is debated. The reason for this debate is the lack of enforcement mechanisms and the lack of legal implications upon violation. Upon textual interpretation, it can be observed that the Paris Agreement is binding by law but its provisions vary in degrees of bindingness. The Agreement consists of several rules, regulations, and guidelines. The bindingness of these guidelines and rules can be determined from the literal interpretation of the document, which uses words like ‘shall,’ ‘may,’ ‘should,’ ‘must,’ etc. The provisions which the document suggests ‘shall’ or ‘must’ be obliged to, are legally binding. Other provisions depend on the discretion of the parties. It is interesting to note that the document contains a total of 117 ‘shall(s).’
For instance, Article 4 of the Agreement states that “Each party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve.” This implies that it is mandatory for the member parties to prepare, communicate, and maintain their NDCs.
Similarly, the Agreement at several points suggests that developed countries should take the lead in global action plans for climate change. It also suggests that developed countries shall provide aid and assistance to vulnerable parties. Here, it is voluntary in the former instance and mandatory in the latter. This is how the document can be interpreted.
However, the biggest loophole, as is present in many other international conventions and treaties, is the enforcement mechanism. No legal liability can be created against a member state for violating the Paris Agreement. If a member state is not working as per the provisions of the Agreement or failing in implementing its national action plans, there is no enforcement mechanism in place to mandate them to do so. No complaints or cases can be filed in a national or international forum against a member state for non-implementation. Therefore, the legal bindingness is often referred to on paper. What is your take on this?
Goals of the Paris Agreement
The motive behind forming the Paris Agreement is to combat climate change with international cooperation and the efforts of member states. The Paris Agreement aims to fulfil this objective by framing goals to be achieved under the Agreement. These goals are:
Limit increase in temperature
The Paris Agreement has been framed to achieve the objective of reducing the rise in global temperature in this century by capping it at 2 degrees Celsius. It further aims to achieve the cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius in global average temperature rise after the previous goal is achieved. The motive here is to slow down rapid climate change and global warming.
Reduce greenhouse gasses emissions
Along with reducing the global average temperature rise, the Paris Agreement aims to reduce the levels of greenhouse emissions. It is the duty of member states of the Agreement to ensure reduced emissions of greenhouse gasses and other harmful gasses into the atmosphere. Emissions will be reduced globally only when countries individually make conscious changes and efforts at national levels.
A framework to create responsibility and accountability
The Paris Agreement provides a transparent framework of periodic reporting and meetings. It enhances responsibility and accountability on the part of member states by creating a framework for supervision, information sharing, and periodic reporting. It provides a framework for the assessment, monitoring, and supervision of countries’ national targets and means of achieving them. It provides assistance and guidance to countries in achieving their targets. Global contributions are accounted for in the global stocktake established under the Paris Agreement. The UN Secretary-General which serves as the Depository for the Paris Agreement keeps a record of all national and international data relating to climate change, its adaptation, and mitigation action plans.
Support developing nations in combating climate change
The Paris Agreement understands that it is difficult for the developing and least developed nations to achieve climate change mitigation goals at par with developed nations. The Paris Agreement aims to ensure that this does not become a reason for obstructing global climate change mitigation goals. It ensures that developing nations execute and implement their action plans without difficulties. Thus, the Paris Agreement makes arrangements to aid and assist developing nations. It makes provisions for financial aid, technical assistance, capacity building, resource sharing, and other necessary arrangements so that developing nations can meet their goals. The Paris Agreement mandates developed nations to aid and assist developing member states. It also encourages other members to voluntarily contribute and assist them.
The Paris Agreement – arrangement of Articles
So far, we have studied the goals, importance, elements, and application of the Paris Agreement. We shall now understand the framework of the Agreement by studying the arrangement of the Articles of the Agreement and their interpretation.
The Preamble of the Paris Agreement begins with a reference to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Convention). The primary objective of member states and parties to the Paris Agreement is to comply with the Convention and help achieve its goals. The parties must do so while adhering to the principles of the Convention. The most essential principles of the Convention are:
- Principle of equity, and
- Common but differentiated responsibilities in accordance with parties’ respective capabilities and varying national circumstances.
The Paris Agreement outlines the following objectives that member states must aim to achieve:
- They must recognize the urgent threat of climate change, and take steps to mitigate it. They must develop an effective response mechanism to deal with climate change. This response mechanism must be based on best scientific practices and technological advancement.
- Special regard must be given to developing member countries that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Other member countries must put an effort into the upliftment of the vulnerable countries and assist them in achieving their goals toward climate change and the Convention.
- The highest regard must be given to the vulnerable situation of the least developed nations. Developed member countries as well as the Convention must provide financial aid and technical assistance to the least developed countries so they can adapt to climate change. No country shall be unable to adhere to and take measures in furtherance of the goals of the Convention for the reason of being financially or technically vulnerable.
- They must recognize the impacts to be felt by states, not only due to climate change but also during the implementation of mitigating plans.
- The climate change goals, impacts, and response mechanisms must be in alignment with sustainable development goals. States must aim to eradicate poverty at all times while responding to and mitigating climate change. It must be based on principles of equitable access and sustainable development.
- Eradicating hunger and ensuring food security must be recognized as a priority. The food production chains may be affected due to climate change as well as during the implementation of mitigation plans. In such times, food security should not be neglected.
- There must be a just transition of the workforce. Decent jobs and employment opportunities must be made available in alignment with the nation’s development goals.
- Climate change is a common concern to humankind. Therefore, states must respect and adhere to their obligations towards people with respect to their human rights, right to health, right of indigenous people and local communities, vulnerable groups of people like migrants, children, people with disabilities, etc. States must ensure gender equality, women empowerment, and intergenerational equity while aiming to achieve the state’s right to development.
- States must take appropriate measures to conserve and enhance the sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gasses.
- States must recognize the importance of and take protective measures towards the ecosystem, involving oceans, biodiversity, etc. States must protect Mother Earth and ensure climate justice while meeting their goals for adapting to climate change.
- States must understand the importance of and take measures to enhance education, training, public awareness and participation, access to information, and overall cooperation towards the issue of climate change.
- The need for cooperation between the governments of different nations and their legislation to combat climate change must be recognized.
- All measures taken by states must be taken in adherence to the sustainable development goals. Consumption, production, adaptation, and implementation must be sustainably achieved. It is the duty of developed nations to take the lead and encourage other developing and least developed nations to achieve sustainable goals.
The Member States are obliged under the Paris Agreement to aim toward achieving these objectives. In doing so, they are guided and bound by the following Articles of the Agreement.
Article 1 of the Agreement defines essential terms used throughout the Agreement:
- “Convention” refers to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of 1992.
- “Conference of the Parties” refers to the Parties’ Convention and their conference.
- “Party” means a party to this Paris Agreement.
Article 2 states that the primary objective of the Paris Agreement is to enhance and strengthen the global response mechanism to climate change in alignment with sustainable development and the goals of eradicating poverty and hunger. To achieve this, the states must:
- Aim to cap the global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Further, the states must make efforts to further decrease this to 1.5 degrees Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels. Controlling the temperature rise would reduce the pace and impacts of climate change.
- Aim to increase adaptability towards the impacts of climate change by enhancing resilience. The states must aim at reducing the levels of greenhouse emissions in a manner that does not affect the food production system.
- Aim at maintaining and facilitating financial aid for states to achieve these goals.
Article 2 further clarifies that the Paris Agreement is governed by principles of equity and common but differential responsibilities as per each state’s capability and development.
Article 3 talks about international cooperation and coordination between member states in order to achieve the goals set out in Article 2. For doing so, states must make efforts as has been mentioned under Articles 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 13. Article 3 states that the global response mechanism to climate change will only be impactful when states work in harmony and help each other.
Article 4 talks about the scientific methods of achieving a balanced temperature by first peaking the greenhouse emissions, followed by their rapid reductions. In doing so, developing countries will require more time than developed countries. Therefore, a balance has to be maintained in the timeline as well. Article 4 speaks of achieving this goal by the second half of this century. Article 4 reiterates that climate change goals must be achieved sustainably while making efforts to eradicate poverty.
States are required under Article 4 to maintain national successive contributions and take domestic measures to achieve the aim of these contributions. This shall be based on the principle of granting common but differentiated responsibilities.
Article 4 urges developed countries to take the lead in setting and achieving greenhouse emission reduction targets. Developing countries must continue their mitigating plans to achieve climate change reduction goals. Least developed countries are also encouraged to share their mitigation goals and achieve them with the help of others.
Article 4 talks about formally communicating their nationally determined contributions as per the provisions of the Paris Agreement. Parties must inform of these contributions every five years, which are recorded in the Secretariat’s registry. Article 4 appears to be an exhaustive provision when it comes to states’ nationally determined contributions, and it encourages states to make efforts to achieve these goals.
Article 5 states that member states must make an effort to save and improve the conditions of sinks, reservoirs, and forests. They should take measures to reduce emissions of harmful gasses from deforestation and forest degradation due to forest fires and other related activities. States should work towards the conservation of forests and their sustainable management and development. Forest carbon stocks in developing countries should be improved. Innovative approaches and joint mitigation plans should be taken by the countries to reduce emissions due to forest degradation.
Article 6 recognizes the parties’ voluntary cooperation plans in implementing their nationally determined contributions. It recognizes a voluntary contribution mechanism to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and enhance sustainable development. Article 6 focuses on doing so while keeping in mind the integrity of the environment. These parties should maintain transparency in their voluntary implementation plans. States are required to implement robust accounting methods for accurate governance. These plans involve international mitigation outcomes in nationally determined contributions. These outcomes must be voluntarily implemented under the provisions of Article 6.
The voluntary mitigation contribution mechanism shall be monitored and guided by the Conference of Parties and discussed in periodic meetings of the parties to the Paris Agreement. The Conference of Parties shall appoint and form a supervisory body to monitor the voluntary mechanism. The supervisory body shall perform the following functions:
- The supervisory body shall promote the goal of the Paris Agreement by aiming to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. This must be done in consonance with sustainable development goals.
- It must encourage public and private entities at the national levels to participate and contribute to the mitigation plans of the respective states.
- Create a mitigation plan in a way that helps in reducing emissions for one party, which in turn helps in another party’s mitigation activities, thereby creating a chain.
- Promote individual mitigation plans that will ultimately lead to global emissions reduction.
Article 6 ensures that the international mitigation plans and parties’ contributions share proceeds in helping with administrative and implementing expenses of other developing countries that are at a vulnerable stage. The supervisory body must ensure that these states meet their costs of adaptation. All of these activities shall be in accordance with the rules and procedures set forth by the Conference of Parties.
States are required to formulate their contribution and mitigation plans while ensuring the following:
- Holistic development,
- Environmental integrity,
- Eradicating poverty,
- Capacity building,
- Finance and technology in mitigation and adaptation, and
- Balanced international and transnational approaches.
Ensuring the above-mentioned factors, states shall aim to:
- Promote and enhance ambitious mitigation plans,
- Promote public and private entities’ participation,
- Enhance cooperation and coordination in institutional arrangements.
Article 7 talks about the goals and obligations of the parties. The parties to the Paris Agreement:
- Establish a global goal to mitigate climate change.
- Establish to adopt innovative and sustainable goals to adapt to climate change.
- Aim to strengthen capacity building, resilience, and international cooperation.
- Aim to reduce the vulnerability of the vulnerable member parties.
- Aim to achieve temperature goals as established under Article 2.
- Recognize that the issue of climate change expands through local, national, and international borders. Therefore, states must set long-term resistance goals in order to conserve life, ecosystem, biodiversity, and the environment.
- Acknowledge the adaptation costs and other financial requirements for the fulfillment of the aims and objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Further, Article 7 requires the states to adhere to the UNFCCC Cancun Adaptation Framework which sets forth an adaptation framework for climate change. The Cancun Framework focuses on adapting to climate change through a mechanism of international cooperation and coordination. Under this framework, the states shall:
- Share valuable information and experience gained during the implementation of mitigation action plans. States shall share good practices and response mechanisms relating to scientific methods, technology, policies, and governance.
- Strengthen and enhance the institutional arrangements that aid in mitigation plans.
- Enhance research and development on climate change. This helps to strengthen the mitigation action plans. States shall conduct research on climate change and its impacts to understand the scientific factors related to climate change in a better way. By doing so, the states shall aim to improve the accuracy of decision-making in response mechanisms and action plans.
- Aid and assist developing countries in meeting their adaptation goals with the help of good practices and good governance.
- Aim to enhance the strength and resistance of the adaptation plans.
- Formulate a mechanism of assessment, monitoring, and evaluation to form action plans accordingly.
UN specialized agencies and bodies are encouraged to support countries in achieving their mitigation goals under the Paris Agreement. Member parties of the Paris Agreement are expected to periodically communicate their assessments, mitigation plans, and implementation plans. These communications shall be recorded in the public register of the Secretariat.
Under the provisions of Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, member states are required to take measures to reduce losses and damage caused by climate change. The Conference of Parties that serves as a meeting of the Paris Agreement parties in this regard is the “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impact (WIM).” Member states must adhere to these guidelines and showcase international cooperation in the following manner:
- States that detect a threat shall resort to an early warning system. This must be facilitated by UN bodies and specialized agencies.
- States must cooperate and coordinate emergency preparedness action plans.
- International cooperation in slow onset events.
- Certain events may be of permanent and irreversible nature. These events must be overcome by states through cooperation.
- Risk assessment and further management with the help of assessment results must be coordinated by member parties.
- States must cooperate and help one another in formulating and executing insurance policies for risk analysis and management.
- States must help one another in overcoming non-economic losses.
- Resilience should be created to adapt to climate change. This should be facilitated by international cooperation between states and the UN bodies under this agreement and other relevant entities.
Article 9 talks about the obligations of developed nations to assist and aid developing countries. It is an obligation of developed countries to take the lead in global mitigation plans. Developed countries shall provide financial aid to developing country parties in fulfilling their action plans and adaptation costs. Apart from the developed nations, other member states are also encouraged to aid and assist one another voluntarily.
Developed countries should facilitate financial aid from public funds, institutional investments, and other entities. Financial resources should be balanced between mitigation plans and adaptation costs. Further, it shall be equitably distributed as per the needs and requirements of each state. Special care shall be taken for the vulnerable states’ needs and costs.
To maintain transparency, developed countries shall mandatorily communicate resource allocation information once every two years. This provision is not mandatory for other parties, they can do it voluntarily. This information will be noted by the global stocktake of climate finance. Therefore, the Financial Mechanism of the Convention is regarded as the financial mechanism of the Paris Agreement. This includes the financial entities and special bodies of the financial mechanism.
Article 10 talks about the significance of the use of technology in climate change mitigation plans. Article 10 recognizes the need for technological advancements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance resilience to climate change. Member states shall perpetually make efforts and take measures to facilitate technological advances and also to cooperate and assist one another in advancing technology in mitigation action plans.
Article 10 establishes that the Technology Mechanism of the Convention is the Technology Mechanism of the Paris Agreement. Developed nations, along with entities of the Convention shall coordinate and lead the technological framework of the Agreement.
Article 11 talks about the need for capacity-building to mitigate climate change and its impacts. The Paris Agreement encourages states and specialized bodies to help least developed countries, vulnerable groups, small islands, etc., in capacity-building so that they can implement their mitigation action plans effectively. This shall be coupled with climate finance; technology mechanism; awareness, training, and education on adapting to climate change.
Capacity-building is facilitated at local, regional, national, and international levels as per the specific needs of each country. Countries should learn from others whose facilities are well-fitting to the respective adaptation goals and build their own.
Article 12 puts an obligation on the parties to cooperate and coordinate in educating on climate change, its impacts, and its adaptation strategies. States must create awareness of the issue and facilitate research, training, and development. Public participation should be encouraged. A transparent mechanism of governance, combined with timely communication of accurate and valuable information, shall be maintained.
Article 13 reflects the transparency framework of the Paris Agreement. Transparency is essential in creating mutual trust and confidence. It is needed for the proper and effective implementation of present and future plans. It helps in achieving optimum utilization of transnational records and implementation. This ensures flexibility and enhanced protocols. In the case of developing countries, least developed countries and small islands, the transparency framework helps in the improved formulation and implementation of policies and action plans.
The transparency framework is maintained through different forms of arrangements such as biennial reports, response mechanisms, information sharing, preparedness programs, national communications and reporting, international supervisory, assessment, and reviews. This also includes national assessments, governance strategies, reviews of gaps and loopholes, assessing the global stocktake, and sharing of good practices.
Financial support, technological assistance, capacity-building, and voluntary contributions are all monitored and reported under the transparency framework. Further, under the transparency framework established under Article 13, each member state shall periodically submit the following reports:
- A national inventory report. This report shall contain all necessary and relevant information about the state’s emissions, their sources, and the good practices observed by the states. This report shall be in accordance with the agreed manner by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and approved by the Conference of Parties.
- A track report on the nationally determined contribution of the respective state.
Furthermore, countries must provide all necessary and relevant information relating to climate change, its impacts, and mitigation, adaptation, and implementation plans taken by them.
Article 14 talks about the ‘Global Stocktake’ under the Paris Agreement. The global stocktake established under the Paris Agreement is to take periodic stock of the implementation of the Agreement by the member states. It shall take into consideration the long-term goals and objectives of the Paris Agreement and the parties’ efforts and implementation plans in achieving them. It shall take a report of the adaptation, mitigation, and implementation plans of each member state. It will monitor and ensure that the plans are implemented in an equitable manner and with the optimum utilization of the available scientific knowledge.
The first global stocktake under this Agreement shall be held in 2023 and it shall conduct its future sessions every five years. The member states will be notified about the analyzed report. This report shall serve the purpose of improving action plans in the future. Therefore, the primary objective of the global stocktake is to assess, analyze and help in improving adaptation and mitigation plans and their implementation.
Article 15 prescribes a mechanism for ensuring implementation and compliance with the goals and objectives of the Paris Agreement. Article 15 establishes a committee of experts for the fulfillment of these objectives. The committee will supervise each member state’s implementation activities and ensure that they are complying with the rules and guidelines prescribed under this Agreement. The committee is non-adversarial in nature and functions non-punitively.
Article 16 talks about the Conference of the Parties, their meetings, and the manner of decision-making. Article 16 establishes that the Conference of the Parties is the supreme organ of the Paris Agreement. It serves as the meeting of the parties and takes the necessary decisions. The Conference of the Parties consists of only those states that are members of the Agreement. Other parties who are members of the Convention but not of the Agreement cannot be regarded as members of the Conference. All members of the Convention can attend the meetings of the Conference. However, non-members of the Agreement can only spectate the meeting. The members of the Agreement participate in the decision-making and in the sessions.
The Conference of the Parties performs the following functions:
- Ensures the implementation of action plans by states.
- Ensures and promotes the fulfillment of the objectives of this Agreement.
- Establish necessary subsidiary bodies for the furtherance of the objectives of this Agreement.
- Perform other functions from time to time as may be deemed fit for the fulfillment of the objectives of this Agreement.
The rules, procedures, financial framework, and other mechanisms of the Conference of the Parties shall be similar to that of the Convention. The Conference shall hold periodic sessions to discuss and decide upon necessary matters relating to the Agreement. The Conference may hold extraordinary sessions for the purpose of taking important decisions. International bodies, specialized agencies, and other relevant national and international entities can be represented during the sessions of the Conference of the Parties to ensure informed decision-making.
Article 17 talks about the secretariat of the Paris Agreement. The secretariat of this Agreement is the secretariat as has been established under Article 8 of the Convention. As mentioned in Article 8 of the Convention, the secretariat shall perform the following functions:
- It shall make arrangements for the periodic sessions of the Conference of the Parties and its subsidiary bodies.
- It keeps track of necessary reports, compiles them as necessary, and transmits them to relevant bodies.
- It assists the member countries, especially the developing countries in their compilation, communication of information, and other necessary communications.
- It prepares periodic reports on the activities undertaken and submits them to the Conference of the Parties.
- It coordinates with the secretariats of other international bodies for necessary activities.
- It may enter into necessary contractual and administrative arrangements with relevant entities with the approval of the Conference of the Parties.
- It performs all other relevant functions as may be necessary for the furtherance of the objectives of the Agreement.
Article 18 talks about the relevant subsidiary bodies established under this Agreement to facilitate implementation plans and provide technical assistance and other help. There shall be a Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, and a Subsidiary Body for Implementation. These bodies shall be under the guidance of Articles 9 and 10 of this Agreement. The functions and obligations of these bodies shall apply mutatis mutandis to the functions and obligations under the Convention. These bodies shall have periodic meetings as per the rules of the Convention.
Article 19 states that all institutions and subsidiaries established and functioning under the Convention shall also operate towards fulfilling the objectives of the Paris Agreement after approval of the Conference of the Parties. The Conference shall determine the functions and obligations of these bodies in furtherance of the goals of this Agreement. Therefore, these bodies shall work under the guidance and directions of the Conference of the Parties.
Article 20 provides for countries to become member parties of the Paris Agreement. Countries that were not members of this Agreement could become members by signing and ratifying the Agreement. By signing and ratifying, they accepted the terms of the Agreement and gave their approval to the provisions of the Agreement. Therefore, the provisions of the Agreement become binding on them and as member states, they are expected to take measures in their domestic sphere in furtherance of the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Countries were provided an opportunity to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement at UN Headquarters, New York during 2016-17. Article 20 was implemented during the initial days of the formation of this Agreement.
Article 21 was articulated for the Paris Agreement to come into effect. It was decided that the Agreement would become effective on the 13th day from the day on which at least 55 countries become members to the Agreement. This was fulfilled when the Agreement became effective on the 4th of November, 2016. These 55 countries were supposed to cover 55% of global greenhouse emissions and they were required to submit their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession.
Article 22 applies mutatis mutandis to Article 15 of the Convention. Article 15 of the Convention talks about the amendment to the provisions established under the Convention. Thus, the Paris Agreement can be amended in the following manner while adhering to the established rules under this Article:
- Any member party can recommend an amendment to the Agreement.
- Amendments can be adopted in an ordinary session of the Conference of the Parties. When an amendment is proposed to be adopted in a session of the Conference, it is the duty of the secretariat to inform the member parties 6 months before the date of such session about the contents of the proposed amendment. This is done so that the parties get reasonable time to analyze the proposition and develop their opinion on it.
- The parties are expected to reach a common consensus on the adoption of the amendment. If this fails, the amendment shall be implemented after attaining a three-fourth majority of the quorum.
- When an amendment is adopted in a session it is communicated to the Depository. It is now the duty of the Depository to communicate with all the parties about the adoption and seek their acceptance.
- Hereafter, the member parties submit their instruments of acceptance or approval at the Depository.
- The amendment comes to force on the 19th day from the date of submitting instruments of acceptance by parties at the Depository.
Article 23 of the Agreement applies mutatis mutandis to Article 16 of the Convention relating to the adoption and amendment of annexes to the Agreement. Annexes of the Agreement shall form an integral part of the Agreement. Annexes to the Agreement shall be in the form of lists, forms, or other forms of description containing scientific, technical, procedural, or administrative information.
The procedure of adoption and amendment of the annexes of the Agreement shall be in the manner established under Article 22 relating to the amendment and adoption of the Articles of the Agreement. Adoption shall be effective after 6 months from the day of communication by the Depository.
Article 24 of the Agreement applies mutatis mutandis to Article 14 of the Convention relating to the settlement of disputes. Disputes may arise between two or more parties. Disputes may be on the interpretation of the Agreement or its implementation. In these situations, alternate dispute resolution methods should be applied as priority. Parties shall aim to resolve their disputes through peaceful negotiations. Parties who are not regional economic integration organizations shall:
- Submit to the International Court of Justice to have jurisdiction to solve disputes relating to them, and/or
- Adopt a suitable procedure of arbitration to govern their disputes. This arbitration procedure shall be effective after getting approval from the Conference of the Parties. This shall be annexed to the Paris Agreement.
These organizations shall agree to these conditions compulsorily ipso facto and without any special agreement. They shall submit their written approval at the Depository. Thereafter, the agreed mode of dispute resolution shall be applicable to any probable future disputes relating to the interpretation or application of this Agreement.
These organizations can make declarations of their chosen method of dispute resolution under the Paris Agreement. These declarations shall be effective from the date of making the declarations and shall remain in force till the expiration of their predetermined term. In case of revocation of a declaration, it shall cease to be effective after three months from the date of submitting a notice of revocation at the Depository.
A notice, a new declaration, or a revocation will not affect any proceeding that is pending in the ICJ or the arbitral tribunal. However, the parties to the dispute can mutually agree and withdraw their cases.
Parties shall make the first attempt to resolve disputes peacefully. If a dispute is not resolved through peaceful negotiations within twelve months from the date of notification from one party to another, the dispute shall be referred to conciliation. Either of the parties may request the formation of a conciliation commission. The conciliation commission shall be composed of an equal number of members chosen by each party and a chairman who shall be chosen jointly by both parties. The award passed by the conciliation commission is recommendatory in nature. It will not be binding on the parties. However, parties are expected to oblige in good faith. Any other procedural requirements for the arbitration and conciliation proceedings may be notified by the Conference of the Parties.
Article 25 states that as a general rule, each member party will have the right to vote. Each party can cast 1 vote in each decision, approval, resolution, or session. However, regional economic integration organizations shall vote in numbers equal to their number of members to the Paris Agreement. One of these members shall cast their vote for all members and others would not cast their votes. And vice versa.
Article 26 states that the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall be the Depository for the purposes of the Paris Agreement.
Article 27 establishes that a member party cannot make any reservations to the Paris Agreement. When a reservation is allowed, countries can ratify an international agreement while also making reservations to certain provisions of that agreement. When a country makes a reservation, it is not bound to oblige with that particular provision as opposed to the other provisions of the agreement.
Article 27 clarifies that member countries cannot make reservations to the Paris Agreement. This means that each member country has to abide by and comply with all the provisions of the Paris Agreement with no exceptions.
Article 28 speaks about the process that a member state can follow when it no longer wishes to be a member to the Agreement. A member party can submit a written notification to the Depository to express its wish to withdraw from being a member. This can be done after three years from the date on which the Agreement came into force.
When the notification is received by the Depository, the withdrawal can be affected after one year from the date of receipt of such notification, or on any later date as may be specified in the notification. When a member party to the Convention withdraws from the Convention, such a party is deemed to have withdrawn from the Paris Agreement as well.
Article 29 states that the original texts of this Paris Agreement shall be deposited and retained with the Secretary-General of the United Nations that serves as the Depository for the purpose of this Agreement. The original documents of the Paris Agreement are in English, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, French, and Russian languages.
The Paris Agreement was formed in Paris on the 12th of December, 2015 and this original document shall serve as proof of it. It shall be duly signed by witnesses.
Global Climate Action Agenda
The Global Climate Action Agenda (GCAA) which was initially named the Lima Paris Action Agenda was initiated with the objective of fulfilling the purpose of the Paris Agreement faster. It aimed at bringing quick and effective climate action. It aimed at improving cooperation and coordination between different international, national, regional, local, and other public and private entities to implement climate action. GCAA aims to establish strong, resilient, and sustainable societies to fight climate change. It gives primary importance to the Sustainable Development Goals in implementing climate action.
The Lima Paris Action Agenda of 2014 focused on areas like land, oceans and coastal zones, transport, energy, human settlements, water, and industries. In 2016, the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action was launched to act as a catalyst in climate action plans. It aimed to fulfill the objectives of the Paris Agreement and enhance ambitious targets by 2020. The 2016 Action Agenda focused on 12 themes:
- Short-lived climate pollutants,
- Renewable energies,
- Energy access and efficiency,
- Cities and sub-nationals,
- Business, and
Member states make commitments on these themes and aim to achieve those commitments under their climate action plans.
International agreements on Climate Change
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a UN convention that deals with climate change and its global impacts. Entered into force on 21st March 1994, 198 countries have become members of the Convention. 194 out of these 198 countries are also members of the Paris Agreement. The UNFCCC is the convention framework that supervises the Paris Agreement. The primary objective of the UNFCCC is to protect the climate system from “dangerous human interference.”
UNFCCC’s contribution to climate action
It was the first time when the UNFCCC was formed that a need to protect the environment from harmful human activities was felt. Ever since the UNFCCC has worked relentlessly toward formulating action plans to mitigate climate change. The progress can be summarized consecutively as:
- The UNFCCC recognized the need to address the alarming climate change in the international forum. In 1994, when scientific advancement was limited as compared to today, the UNFCCC made efforts to recognize the problem and bound member states by it.
- It began with setting a generic goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to ensure that climate change occurs naturally, without human intervention. It aimed to protect food production and aimed to balance economic development with sustainable development.
- Developed nations are trusted to lead climate action globally. Developed industrialized countries are the major reasons for climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, they must take the lead in mitigating the impacts of climate change.
- The UNFCCC keeps a constant record of climate action plans, countries’ mitigation and adaptation plans, and provides scientific solutions to arising problems.
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted as an international treaty by the UNFCCC in 1997. Its objective was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that caused global warming. The Kyoto Protocol established a “commitment period” during 2008-12 where 41 countries and the European Union were required to reduce the emissions of 6 greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) by 5.2% below the levels in 1990. In doing so, the Kyoto Protocol suggested innovative solutions to countries, such as:
- Establishing ‘sinks’ to remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. Countries were suggested to plant more trees to heal the environment.
- It launched the ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM) where developed countries were encouraged to provide assistance to less-developed countries in building infrastructure and technological advancement.
- Another innovative step taken was ‘emission trading.’ It allowed countries to buy and sell emission rights on greenhouse gas emissions. This was to ensure each participating party adhere to the Kyoto Protocol’s commitments towards reducing emissions. Countries that failed to meet their commitments had to pay fines and fulfill their incomplete commitment in the next session.
To provide more effective solutions and cover all aspects to mitigate climate change, the UNFCCC formulated the Paris Agreement in 2015-16 which now provides an enhanced, informative and detailed solution to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The way forward
How far has the Paris Agreement been useful? Has it been able to achieve as it promised? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is negative. Countries have not been able to achieve as they promised and it certainly seems like they overpromised and underdelivered. A huge reason behind this is the lack of a punitive mechanism in the Paris Agreement. Most legal treaties and international conventions meet this fate and even when there are fines in place for violations, developed countries do not mind paying a little penalty once in a while. It is the developing and least developed nations that suffer the worst. While developed nations are major contributors to the ill effects of climate change, they face the least consequences. Paradoxically, the developing and lesser developed nations who contribute negligibly to improper climate change are the ones who suffer the most of its consequences.
Let us give some time for some storytelling here. This is an incident based on true events. There is a small state in India, named Odisha. While countries like the UK, the USA, the EU, etc., are known to disrupt climate change for centuries now, India as a developing nation has been facing its consequences since similar times. It was 1999 when this small state in India witnessed the worst cyclone in years. Over 10,000 people lost their lives and it caused devastation in the state. It caused loss of life, infrastructure, crops, productivity, and economy in the state. The unfortunate event occurred due to unstable climatic conditions witnessed in the post-industrial era. There was a hopeful peace in the decade following 1999. However, this peace was short-lived as the state has faced around 9 cyclones persistently over the years since 2013. It was hit by cyclones in 2013, 2014, 2018, twice in 2019, 2020, and thrice in 2021, followed by yet another cyclone warning in 2022. These periodic cyclones cause loss of life, food production, building infrastructure and the overall growth of the state. In addition to this, the state has been experiencing unpredictable weather conditions where one day witnesses extreme heat followed by the next day facing heavy rainfall, delayed rains, untimely rains, heat in winters, etc. All these climatic disasters and unpredictableness are the result of climate change and its impacts.
Events like this are occurring worldwide. This shows the failure of international agreements as well as domestic laws dealing with climate change. Let us divulge into answering the question of why has climate goals not been achieved and the reasons for failure.
The Paris Agreement: successes and failures
Under the provisions of the Paris Agreement, member states have time and again pledged to mitigate climate change and global warming with action plans and international cooperation. They agreed on the Paris Agreement’s objectives to reduce rising temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the level of harmful gases like carbon dioxide keeps increasing in the atmosphere. It is due to acute negligent and destructive human activities that the objectives of the Paris Agreement are failing. The indiscriminate cutting down of trees, burning forests, missile launches, power testings, etc., have worsened the global climatic conditions. As I write this article, a piece of news flashes on the screen saying, “threat of nuclear attack on Europe gets more real as Russia deploys nuclear bombers.” It is well-known that the devastation of a nuclear attack would be catastrophic and lead to irreparable climatic conditions for generations to come. Yet, the states in their selfish intentions execute such catastrophic activities.
Mentioned below are the worst natural disasters of all time caused due to climate change:
- Hurricane Harvey, a devastating rainstorm in the continental US in 2017 caused loss of life, property, and environment.
- The 2004 earthquake in the Indian Ocean that took the form of a tsunami killed nearly 3,00,000 people.
- In 2008, the temperature fell to -30 degrees Celsius with 180cm of snow causing the Afghanistan blizzard that killed people and animals.
- Catastrophic floods caused due to heavy rainfall persistent for five weeks caused severe damage to life and property in Mozambique (February-March 2000).
- The 2003 August heatwave in Europe killed almost 35,000 people.
This list goes on. To know more about the worst natural calamities of all time, click here. The pertinent point of observation here is the unpredictable and catastrophic climatic conditions caused due to human actions. In a situation like this, would it not be wrong to blame it entirely on the international treaties, agreements, and laws for the climatic conditions that we suffer? Think about it. We shall answer this question in the latter part of this article.
Failing temperature goals
One reason for the failure of the Paris Agreement is the countries’ failure to comply with the requirements set forth in the Agreement which put a cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond which the global temperature should not raise. This cap was declared after scientific estimations and analysis. However, the countries have failed to formulate their action plans in a manner that would prevent increasing temperatures and maintain the cap. As per a 2021 report, the global temperature has already raised 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era. This is borderline dangerous, to say the least. An IPCC report suggests that the current temperature level will result in the following calamities:
- Heatwaves with 14% of people being exposed every 5 years, globally.
- Frequent droughts and floods would affect food production and as a result, increase poverty and hunger.
- Rising sea levels will submerge coastal areas and people living by.
- Ocean changes causing 90% of coral reefs to be wiped out.
- Frequent ice thaws will occur that have not occurred in two thousand years. As a result, 40% of the Arctic’s permafrost will be thawed by the end of the century.
- Aquatic, terrestrial and other species will endanger or become extinct.
Developed nations are to be blamed the most for this climatic catastrophe with the US, China, and the EU being the highest emitters of greenhouse gasses. Commitments made under the Paris Agreement have not been enough as the countries have not been ambitious enough in executing their action plans. The Paris Agreement was regarded as an initial step to combat climate change and mitigate it, even during its formation. With time, countries were expected to enhance their plans and reduce emission targets. It is now estimated that global temperatures will rise by 2.1 degrees Celsius by 2100 which is a cause for concern.
Another cause for the failure of the Paris Agreement is the refusal of countries to comply with ‘coal phase-down’ plans. Coal-reliant countries are heavily dependent on the use of coal and have refused to reduce this reliance even by 2040.
Failure was also observed in countries’ progress on climate finance. The UN Environment Programme estimates that developing countries need $70 billion every year for their adaptation and mitigation plans and this would double by 2030. These high funding requirements have not been met. Therefore, developing and lesser developed nations are facing additional challenges in their adaptation and mitigation plans.
The central challenge and cause of the failure of the Paris Agreement seem to be the issue of ‘accountability’ on part of the countries. This has been fuelled by a lack of punitive measures under the Agreement. Additionally, a better formulated and comprehensive mechanism of the global stocktake is required. There have been shortcomings, but the Paris Agreement cannot be termed as an entire failure. It facilitated efforts toward mitigating climate change and many positive changes have come along the way. However, the sufficiency of these changes remains questionable. The change plans should inclusive of more women, young minds, indigenous people, and traditional dwellers. These indigenous communities have been protecting the environment since times when we did not even know that the issue existed. For all we know, deep-rooted ethnic techniques met with scientific advancement will solve long-term problems and save us all. The UN Secretary-General named them the “climate change army” and recognized the power of activists and protestors in bringing unimaginable changes to global climatic conditions.
Suggestions: creating a better world
It is the duty of the government at regional, national, and international levels to formulate laws, regulations, conventions, and treaties to mitigate climate change and global warming back by scientific research and analysis. At the same time, you and I can actively bring changes by inculcating good habits and practices that would go a long way and impart higher impacts than perceived. This is where we answer the question we asked above, is it just the Paris Agreement to be blamed?
The answer to this question is a definite NO. While the global climate action plans have been failing, the primary reason behind the depleting climatic conditions remains to be reckless human activities. Although we talked about these harmful activities undertaken by states in power-play and politics, what misses attention are the everyday activities that harm the environment in more ways than we imagine. So, what can we do to stop these activities and contribute to creating a better, safer world for the present as well as future generations? Here is what:
Spread the word. Create awareness about climate change. Educate your friends, family, neighbors, relatives, and strangers about the severe impacts it poses on Earth. Create a community of responsible and diligent citizens who would actively pursue a safer and protected environment.
Put the political pressure
Keep pressurizing your government to take active steps in protecting the environment. Put pressure on political parties in power to rely on an eco-friendly method of running the country with innovative steps.
Change how you move. Resort to public traveling, car-pooling, cycling, and other environment-friendly methods that would prevent the emission of harmful gasses from vehicles.
Efficient use of resources
Resort to the use of renewable and bio-degradable resources over non-renewable and non-biodegrable resources. Save resources, and energy and avoid using substances harmful to the environment.
Check your daily diet
Eat plant-based meals. In a recently unique initiative, many countries have developed ‘plant-based meats.’ Resort to these ways of food intake.
Create a sustainable world
While shopping, aim on buying sustainable, eco-friendly, cruelty-free products. This will bring humongous changes in combating climate change.
Do not waste food, energy, resources, etc. Buy only when it is a need. Try not to waste and throw food. Try not to discard clothes while they are still usable.
Dress (climate) smart
The fashion industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. ‘Fast fashion’ is the practice of buying more and throwing faster. This has created a dumping ground and landfills in parts of the globe. Acres or land have become waste-land due to this practice. Do not become a contributor to this practice. Dress (climate) smart.
This is the most basic yet neglected habit. Plant as many trees as you can. They heal the environment and fight everything causing climate depletion.
Make planet-friendly investments
Invest your money in organizations indulged in bringing positive changes to the environment. This will not only help their initiative but also encourage others to inculcate the same values.
Be the change you wish to see and need to live for no power is stronger than a determined human mind driven by purpose.
Climate, biodiversity, and ecosystems hold more significance than people realize. It is in fact the most essential part of life on Earth. Therefore, it is the duty of every human being as a world citizen to maintain the natural force of the environment. Development is inevitable and essential for a country’s economic development. In the advent of development, countries must make conscious efforts to balance it with the well-being of the environment. While the post-industrial era has seen humongous development, efforts must be made to make it sustainable. Sustainable development refers to the phenomenon where the present generation continues to develop while also ensuring the future generation gets an equal opportunity for survival and development. The past decades have witnessed alarming climate changes. But we still have an opportunity to save Earth and life on it. With this objective, the UNFCCC and its international treaty, the Paris Agreement prescribe a series of guidelines and regulations to mitigate climate change with mindfully executed action plans with help of the highest available scientific knowledge and expertise. Member countries must abide by these guidelines in good faith and mitigate climate change with international efforts and cooperation. While the Paris Agreement has formulated a detailed framework to combat climate change, little has been achieved over the years.
We can see the climatic conditions depleting and worsening with each passing day. But it would be unfair to blame this entirely on the Paris Agreement and other international bodies dealing with global climate change. The primary cause behind climate change and its harmful impacts have always been reckless, negligent, and selfish human activities, sometimes to assert dominance and sometimes to boom the economy. A situation of war between Russia and Ukraine has taught us much about this. There is no second way of mitigating this than by changing people’s mindsets, recklessness, and approach towards the environment. By planting more trees, using cruelty-free products, resorting to a sustainable lifestyle, promoting sustainable development, saving non-renewable resources, minimizing the use of non-biodegradable products, etc., we can actively work towards improving the climatic conditions and creating a better world for ourselves and our future generations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How far has the Paris Agreement been successful?
Member countries of the Paris Agreement express their aim to reduce greenhouse emissions and attain net-zero or carbon neutrality by 2050, but only 14 out of these countries have taken measures and implemented laws to achieve this target. Despite rigorous efforts, climate change conditions have improved very little. Experts claim this to be a failure of the Paris Agreement. So far, the Paris Agreement has not achieved at par its aims and goals.
How does the Ukraine-Russia war affect the purpose of the Paris Agreement?
The Russia-Ukraine war resulted in serious damage, to property, life, and of the environment. The energy market roiled in the war. Severe damage was caused and the world economy took a toll. These factors also resulted in the slowing down of the action plans under the Paris Agreement which was already slowed by the global pandemic.
Which member country of the Paris Agreement has achieved the most in mitigating climate change in 2022?
As per the latest statistics, Denmark has achieved the highest in climate protection and performed the best in Climate Change Performance Index 2022.
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