Opinion article

Paris, five years later

26 jan 2021
Mariano Marzo Emeritus Professor of the University of Barcelona Repsol Foundation Energy Transition Education and Research Programme University of Barcelona


On 12th December 2021, the Paris Agreement signatory countries met (this time virtually) to review the milestones achieved in the first five years of existence of the agreement and evaluate new commitments to further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. 

The agreement has undoubtedly served to make the fight against climate change a priority in most countries worldwide, thereby advancing towards the objective of preventing global average temperatures from increasing by more than 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. However, the balance of the effort made also has its shadows: many countries have not honoured the commitments taken on and, even in the cases where they have been fulfilled, scientific evidence points to the fact that global temperature would increase by around 2.6°C by 2100, which underlines the need for much more drastic actions than those agreed upon in 2015.

The Paris Agreement combines a high degree of ambition with the virtual absence of mechanisms that enforce strict compliance with national commitments. This agreement currently brings together 189 countries under the common goal of implementing measures so that the increase in global average temperature stays "well below” 2°C. It is no secret that this would require, at a global level, breaking free from the addiction to fossil fuels, stopping deforestation, reviewing the food production model and finding ways of removing the greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere. However, to achieve its objectives, the Paris Agreement allows each country to draw up its own plans and goals with little or no consequences for not fulfilling them. 

The idea was to create a dynamic structure that could evolve in response to changes in national economies, technology and political will. This flexibility has recently allowed several countries to announce their intention of reducing their zero-net emissions by 2050, thereby reinforcing their initial commitments. Such is the case of the EU, Canada, South Korea, Japan, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, US President-elect Joe Biden also explicitly expressed his support for said goal, ensuring that the fight against climate change will be a key aspect of his administration. Moreover, China, the world’s leading source of emissions, announced that it would reduce its climate pollution faster than initially promised, setting itself the goal of achieving emission neutrality by 2060. The Paris Agreement is alive and progressing towards the fulfilment of its goals.

However, in the last five years, less encouraging developments have counteracted the promising advances. For example, president Donald Trump withdrew the USA from the Paris Agreement (Biden intends to return to it as soon as possible). At the same time, Russia and Brazil, two other key countries in the fight against climate change, have flouted the agreement. Specifically in Brazil, under the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation has soared in the Amazon, releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide that had been stored in the forest stand and the soil. Adding to the non-compliance of many other countries with their national commitments, these events have allowed global greenhouse gas emissions to continue to increase, reaching an all-time high in 2019. And although the pandemic caused a drop in emissions of around 7% in 2020 compared to 2019, it is feared that this is a temporary phenomenon and that emissions will continue to increase as soon as the economies are reactivated.

Meanwhile, the clock keeps on ticking inexorably:  according to the data provided by a scientific emission monitoring project, at the current rate, the world only has seven years to not exceed the level of emissions that would ensure a rise in global temperature of less than 1.5°C by 2100. 


Article published in El Periódico.


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