How important is the paris climate agreement?

In the nearly 5 years since the Paris Climate Agreement was forged at the United Nations COP21 climate talks in Paris, there has been some progress, but also a great deal of broken promises. Earlier this week, the United States announced that it would formally withdraw from the agreement in November 2020, leaving the future of this landmark agreement’s future even more fragile. 

The urgent agenda set forth in the Agreement is especially important for humanitarian work. In looking at what the Paris Climate Agreement is, we can see how much of an impact it can have on the world’s most vulnerable communities.

In looking at the progress that has been made since 2015, we can see how much more work we have to do.

And in looking at the current effects of the climate crisis on the countries most affected by it, we can see why it’s vital that we not abandon this accord. 

What is the Paris Climate Agreement? 

In 2015, after decades of discussion, months of coalition-building, two weeks of fraught negotiations, and three consecutive nights of diplomatic tussling, the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted by nearly every nation around the world (signed by 195 countries and the European Union). 

The mission remains clear: Keep global warming down to under 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and aim to limit the temperature increase to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The 32-page accord marked the first truly global treaty to fight climate change, control greenhouse gas emissions, and curb the global temperature. Its mission was — and remains — clear: Keep global warming down to under 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, and aim to limit the temperature increase to a maximum of 1.5°C (2.7°F).

While these temperature changes seem slight, the impact of a 1.5° rise in temperature could be dire. According to CarbonBrief, a 1.5° warming could reduce freshwater availability in the Mediterranean Sea by 9%, increase the intensity of heavy rainfall by 5%, decrease wheat production by 9%, and the sea level could rise by 40cm. 

What does 2degC mean for world? 

The consequences of 2° (which has been shorthanded to 2degC) are even more severe: The Mediterranean would lose 17% of its freshwater, rains would increase in intensity by 7%, wheat production would drop by 16%, and  the sea level could rise by 50cm.

Paris Agreement

2016 international agreement concerning global warming

Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change  State parties  Signatories  Parties covered by EU ratification
Drafted30 November – 12 December 2015 in Le Bourget, FranceSigned22 April 2016LocationNew York City, United StatesSealed12 December 2015Effective4 November 2016[1][2]ConditionRatification and accession by 55 UNFCCC parties, accounting for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissionsSignatories195[1]Parties189[1] (list)DepositarySecretary-General of the United NationsLanguagesArabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish Paris Agreement at Wikisource

The Paris Agreement (French: L'accord de Paris)[3] is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, signed in 2016. The agreement's language was negotiated by representatives of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, and adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015.[4][5] As of February 2020, all UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, 189 have become party to it,[1] and the only significant emitters which are not parties are Iran and Turkey.

The Paris Agreement's long-term temperature goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels; and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C, recognizing that this would substantially reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

This should be done by reducing emissions as soon as possible, in order to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” in the second half of the 21st century.

It also aims to increase the ability of parties to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, and make “finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”

Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming.[6] No mechanism forces[7] a country to set a specific emissions target by a specific date,[8] but each target should go beyond previously set targets. In June 2017, U.S.

President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the agreement. Under the agreement, the earliest effective date of withdrawal for the U.S. is November 2020, shortly before the end of President Trump's 2016 term.

In practice, changes in United States policy that are contrary to the Paris Agreement have already been put in place.[9][10]

Content

Aims

The aim of the agreement is to decrease global warming described in its Article 2, “enhancing the implementation” of the UNFCCC through:[11]

  • (a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
  • (b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
  • (c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

This strategy involved energy and climate policy including the so-called 20/20/20 targets, namely the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20%, the increase of renewable energy's market share to 20%, and a 20% increase in energy efficiency.[12]

Countries furthermore aim to reach “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”. The agreement has been described as an incentive for and driver of fossil fuel divestment.[13][14]

The Paris deal is the world's first comprehensive climate agreement.[15]

Nationally determined contributions

Global carbon dioxide emissions by jurisdiction.

  China (29.4%)  United States (14.3%)  European Economic Area (9.8%)  India (6.8%)  Russia (4.9%)  Japan (3.5%)  Other (31.3%)

Contributions each individual country should make to achieve the worldwide goal are determined by all countries individually and are called nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

[6] Article 3 requires them to be “ambitious”, “represent a progression over time” and set “with the view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement”. The contributions should be reported every five years and are to be registered by the UNFCCC Secretariat.

[16] Each further ambition should be more ambitious than the previous one, known as the principle of 'progression'.[17] Countries can cooperate and pool their nationally determined contributions.

The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions pledged during the 2015 Climate Change Conference serve—unless provided otherwise—as the initial Nationally determined contribution.

The level of NDCs set by each country[8] will set that country's targets. However the 'contributions' themselves are not binding as a matter of international law, as they lack the specificity, normative character, or obligatory language necessary to create binding norms.

[18] Furthermore, there will be no mechanism to force[7] a country to set a target in their NDC by a specific date and no enforcement if a set target in an NDC is not met.[8][19] There will be only a “name and shame” system[20] or as János Pásztor, the U.N.

assistant secretary-general on climate change, told CBS News (US), a “name and encourage” plan.[21] As the agreement provides no consequences if countries do not meet their commitments, consensus of this kind is fragile.

A trickle of nations exiting the agreement could trigger the withdrawal of more governments, bringing about a total collapse of the agreement.[22]

The NDC Partnership was launched at COP22 in Marrakesh to enhance cooperation so that countries have access to the technical knowledge and financial support they need to achieve large-scale climate and sustainable development targets.

The NDC Partnership is guided by a Steering Committee composed of developed and developing nations and international institutions, and facilitated by a Support Unit hosted by World Resources Institute and based in Washington, DC and Bonn, Germany.

The NDC Partnership is co-chaired by the governments of Costa Rica and the Netherlands and includes 93 member countries,21 institutional partners and ten associate members.

Effects on global temperature

The negotiators of the agreement, however, stated that the NDCs and the target of no more than 2 °C increase were insufficient; instead, a target of 1.

5 °C maximum increase is required, noting “with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2 °C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030”, and recognizing furthermore “that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 °C by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 °C.”[23]

Though not the sustained temperatures over the long term that the Agreement addresses, in the first half of 2016 average temperatures were about 1.3 °C (2.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above the average in 1880, when global record-keeping began.[24]

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When the agreement achieved enough signatures to cross the threshold on 5 October 2016, US President Barack Obama claimed that “Even if we meet every target … we will only get to part of where we need to go.

” He also said that “this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.

It will help other nations ratchet down their emissions over time, and set bolder targets as technology advances, all under a strong system of transparency that allows each nation to evaluate the progress of all other nations.”[25][26]

Global stocktake

Map of cumulative per capita anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 emissions by country. Cumulative emissions include land use change, and are measured between the years 1950 and 2000.

The global stocktake will kick off with a “facilitative dialogue” in 2018. At this convening, parties will evaluate how their NDCs stack up to the nearer-term goal of peaking global emissions and the long-term goal of achieving net zero emissions by the second half of this century.[27]

The implementation of the agreement by all member countries together will be evaluated every 5 years, with the first evaluation in 2023.

The outcome is to be used as input for new nationally determined contributions of member states.

[28] The stocktake will not be of contributions/achievements of individual countries but a collective analysis of what has been achieved and what more needs to be done.

The stocktake works as part of the Paris Agreement's effort to create a “ratcheting up” of ambition in emissions cuts.

Because analysts agreed in 2014 that the NDCs would not limit rising temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, the global stocktake reconvenes parties to assess how their new NDCs must evolve so that they continually reflect a country's “highest possible ambition”.[27]

While ratcheting up the ambition of NDCs is a major aim of the global stocktake, it assesses efforts beyond mitigation. The 5-year reviews will also evaluate adaptation, climate finance provisions, and technology development and transfer.[27]

Structure

Paris Climate Agreement

Our climate is changing at an alarming rate and we’re already feeling the impacts. Storms are increasing in number and intensity, wildfires rage well beyond their historic season, and our rising oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic.

Climate change is a global danger that we can only curb with global action—and the Paris Agreement gives us the pathway to do just that.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is the first truly global commitment to fight the climate crisis. In 2015, 195 countries and the European Union signed on to a single, sweeping agreement that aims to keep global warming to well below 2°C (3.6°F)—and make every effort to go above 1.5°C (2.7°F). 

The landmark agreement succeeded where past attempts failed because it allowed each country to set its own emission reduction targets and adopt its own strategies for reaching them. In addition, nations—inspired by the actions of local and regional governments, businesses and others—came to recognize that fighting climate change brings significant socio-economic benefits.

National governments cannot meet this challenge alone. Fortunately, the Paris Agreement explicitly recognizes the role of local governments, businesses, investors, civil society, unions, faith, and academic institutions as critical to meeting the 1.5 °C goal.

Why do we need a global deal to fight climate change?

Human-caused global warming will impact people, wildlife, and habitats everywhere. We need to come together and immediately and aggressively cut emissions to save the Earth as we know it.

Recent reports from international climate scientists and the US federal government have underscored the severe risks of inaction. The difference between blowing past 1.5°C (2.7°F) of warming and reaching or exceeding 2°C (3.

6°F) is stark; the risk of heatwaves, floods, ice-free Arctic summers, and habitat loss, and more increase every moment we don’t act.Stopping the climate crisis is critical to our collective wellbeing, but no single country can stop the damage alone.

The Paris Agreement is unprecedented in the near unanimity of nations it brought together on this issue and is the best way to secure the global cooperation needed to address climate change.

Where does the United States stand?

The United States was instrumental in the design and negotiation of the Paris Agreement and signed on to it in 2015. As one of its signatories, the US submitted a pledge to cut emissions by 26%-28% relative to 1990 levels by 2025. In 2017, however, the federal government announced its intent to withdraw from the agreement after a new administration took office. 

The formal process of withdrawing cannot begin until Nov. 4, 2019—three years after the Agreement entered into force. The agreement then requires a minimum one-year period before the decision is finalized.

The Trump administration submitted its official notification of withdrawal on or around Nov. 4 of 2019. This means the earliest date by which the US can completely withdraw from the Paris Agreement is Nov.

4, 2020.

Who’s leading in the absence of the federal government?

Fortunately, more than 3,800 leaders from America’s cities, states, tribes, businesses, colleges, and universities have stood up to say they will continue to support climate action to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement as part of the We Are Still In movement. These leaders have crossed cultural, political, economic, and social divides to take on the challenge of the climate crisis.

With support from WWF and over two dozen other organizations, We Are Still In has been welcomed by other countries and applauded by everyday Americans eager to show the world that US leadership on climate change extends well beyond the executive branch of the federal government.

This type of coalition across sectors, partisan lines, and even faiths was once unprecedented, it is now a model that drives nations toward more ambitious climate action around the world.

The Alliances for Climate Action is a global network of coalitions now spanning five continents.

They are the new faces of climate leadership around the world and are speeding up the planning and implementation of critical action on climate.

Is this response only needed in the US?

Paris Climate Agreement Q&A | Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

More than 190 nations meeting in Paris in December 2015 reached a landmark agreement to strengthen the global climate effort. The Paris Agreement commits countries to undertake “nationally determined contributions” and establishes mechanisms to hold them accountable and to strengthen ambition in the years ahead.

C2ES offers a summary of the key outcomes in Paris. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

What’s the status of the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement formally entered into force on November 4, 2016. Other countries have continued to become parties to the Paris Agreement as they complete their domestic approval procedures.  As of November 2019, 187 parties have ratified the Paris Agreement.

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the agreement. In response, other governments strongly reaffirmed their commitment to the agreement. U.S.

cities, states, and other non-state actors also reiterated their support for the agreement and pledged to continue to enhance their climate efforts.

The United States formally initiated its withdrawal from the agreement on November 4, 2019; the withdrawal will take effect on November 4, 2020.

On December 15, 2018, delegates to COP 24, hosted in Katowice, Poland, adopted most of a comprehensive “rulebook” fleshing out the operational details of the Paris Agreement.

What were the main outcomes of the Paris conference?

The Paris conference was the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP 21.

The conference concluded a round of negotiations launched in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 with the aim of producing a new legal agreement among national governments to strengthen the global response to climate change.

A record 150 heads of state and government attended the opening day of the conference.

The Paris package had three main components: the Paris Agreement, an international treaty setting common goals, commitments and expectations; the intended “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) submitted by more than 180 countries; and the thousands of contributions offered by companies, states, cities and civil society organizations.

How does the Paris Agreement relate to the UNFCCC?

The UNFCCC, adopted in 1992, is a treaty among governments that provides a foundation for the global climate effort. Enjoying near-universal membership, the convention was ratified by the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The convention set a long-term objective (avoiding “dangerous human interference with the climate system”), established principles to guide the global effort, and committed all countries to “mitigate” climate change by reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.

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The Paris Agreement defines how countries will implement their UNFCCC commitments after 2020.

What are nationally determined contributions?

In 2013, at COP 19 in Warsaw, parties were encouraged to submit their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to the Paris Agreement well in advance of COP 21.

These INDCs represent each country’s self-defined mitigation goals for the period beginning in 2020.

To date, 192 countries accounting for almost 97 percent of global emissions have submitted INDCs to the UNFCCC secretariat.

Developed countries have offered absolute economy-wide emissions targets (the United States, for instance, has pledged to reduce its emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025).

Developing countries have offered a range of approaches, including absolute economy-wide targets, reductions in emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP), reductions from projected “business-as-usual” emissions, and reductions in per-capita emissions.

Final NDCs are submitted by each party upon its formal ratification or acceptance of the agreement, and are recorded in a UNFCCC registry. To date, 184 parties have submitted their first NDC and one party has submitted its second.

What obligations do countries have under the agreement to reduce their emissions?

The Paris Agreement establishes a set of binding procedural commitments.

Parties commit to “prepare, communicate and maintain” successive NDCs; to “pursue domestic mitigation measures” aimed at achieving their NDCs; and to regularly report on their emissions and on progress in implementing their NDCs.

The agreement also sets the expectation that each party’s successive NDC will “represent a progression” beyond its previous one and “reflect its highest possible ambition.”  The achievement by a party of its NDCs is not a legally binding obligation.

Does the agreement meet the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius?

In agreements adopted in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancún in 2010, governments set a goal of keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement reaffirms the 2-degree goal, while urging efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The agreement also sets two other long-term mitigation goals: first, a peaking of emissions as soon as possible (recognizing that it will take longer for developing countries); then, a goal of net greenhouse gas neutrality (“a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks”) in the second half of the century.

Analyses of the commitments submitted by countries conclude that, while they move us closer to the 2-degree goal, they are not ambitious enough to achieve it. An analysis by the Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of research institutions, concluded that the INDCs, if fully implemented, could result in warming of 3 degrees Celsius, which would be 0.3 degrees lower than without them.

The Paris Agreement encourages parties to formulate and communicate “long-term low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies” and invited parties to communicate those strategies to the UNFCCC by 2020. Thirteen countries have formally submitted their strategies, and 66 have signaled their intent to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

How will the Paris Agreement get countries to increase their ambition?

The Paris Agreement provides a durable framework guiding the global effort for decades to come. The aim is to create a continuous cycle that keeps the pressure on countries to raise their ambition over time.

To promote rising ambition, the agreement establishes two linked processes, each on a five-year cycle. The first process is a “global stocktake” to assess collective progress toward meeting the agreement’s long-term goals.

Parties will then submit new NDCs, “informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake.”

Because the Paris Agreement is to apply post-2020, the first formal stocktake under the agreement will not take place until 2023. But under a decision accompanying the agreement, parties would jumpstart the five-year cycle with a “facilitative dialogue” on collective progress in 2018, and the submission by 2020 of NDCs running through 2030.

The 2018 facilitative dialogue, renamed the “Talanoa Dialogue,” concluded a year-long

assessment of progress toward the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals and was meant to inform parties as they prepare for a new round of NDCs.

The dialogue culminated in 21 high-level roundtables engaging nearly 100 ministers and more than 40 non-party stakeholders.

Fiji and Poland, as presidents of COP 23 and COP 24, issued the Talanoa Call for Action, calling for the rapid mobilization of all efforts to meet the global goals of the Paris Agreement.

How will parties be held accountable?

Accountability will be achieved primarily through an “enhanced transparency framework.

” All countries are required to submit emissions inventories and the “information necessary to track progress made in implementing and achieving” their NDCs.

These reports will be subject to an independent review by technical experts and a “facilitative, multilateral consideration of progress” by fellow governments.

COP21: The key points of the Paris Agreement

The COP 21 or the Paris Climate Conference led to a new international climate agreement, applicable to all countries, aiming to keep global warming below 2°C, in accordance with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The number of participants and the force of the commitments made the Paris Agreement a landmark event unprecedented in the field of climate change negotiations.

The agreement formally came into force on 4 November 2016, several days before the COP22, and has now been ratified by 169 countries (including the European Union 28) representing 87.75% of emissions.

As host and chair of the COP21, France committed to supporting a multilateral negotiations process and listening to all stakeholders to reach an agreement that is:

  • universal and legally binding,
  • fair and differentiated,
  • sustainable and dynamic.

A universal legal agreement applicable to all

The 197 “Negotiating Parties” committed to drawing up long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. This is the first time that a universal agreement was reached in the fight against climate change.

Certain legally binding rules apply to the States Parties, such as the obligation for developed countries to provide developing countries with financial support to enable them to implement the agreement.

A fair and differentiated agreement

In response to the climate challenge, the agreement recognises that States have common but differentiated responsibilities, i.e. depending on respective capabilities and different national circumstances.

It takes into account the level of development and the specific needs of particularly vulnerable countries, for example. Beyond making financial commitments, industrialized countries will need to facilitate technology transfers, and more generally, adaptation to a low-carbon economy.

In terms of transparency, a system for tracking national commitments, which is slightly flexible for developing countries, has also kept track of everyone’s efforts.

A sustainable and dynamic agreement

It is an agreement with an “Action Agenda” aimed at implementing accelerators to ensure more ambitious progress, above and beyond binding commitments.

The purpose is to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to ensure that efforts are pursued to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. To achieve this, the Paris Agreement stipulates that all countries shall review their contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions every five years.

Each new contribution set out on a national level should include a progression compared with the precedent. The Parties committed to reaching a global peak in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, in order to achieve a balance between emissions and their removal in the second half of the century.

The States are also required to increase their efforts to mitigate and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

A financial component to guarantee international solidarity for more vulnerable countries

Funding is crucial for supporting emerging countries and supporting the transition to carbon-free economies.

The agreement provides that $100 billion in public and private resources will need to be raised each year from 2020 to finance projects that enable countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change (rise in sea level, droughts, etc.) or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This funding should gradually increase and some developing countries will also be able to become donors, on a voluntary basis, to help the poorest countries.

How did States contribute to the COP21?

Ahead of the COP, each country had to prepare and publish its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). This mechanism was new and allowed each State involved to participate in a universal effort through a concrete working plan with 2 key focuses:

  • reducing GHG emissions by 2025-2030,
  • adapting or reducing vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

The contributions were published as and when they were received on the website of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

On 22 November 2015, a week before the conference, 170 countries, accounting for over 90% of emissions, had already published their national contributions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Each contribution had to include quantifiable elements, the benchmark year, the implementation timetable as well as methodologies to quantify greenhouse gas emissions.

The “major emitters”, notably China and the European Union, undertook ambitious commitments.

All countries participated, including the least developed countries which committed to taking steps to reduce their emissions. Several States (Cape Verde, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Vanuatu) indicated that they wanted to transition to 100% renewable energy within 15 years.

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The Paris Agreement, a Strategy for the Longer Term

With the adoption of the UNFCCC, governments across the world set the long-term objective of stabilizing “greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”1 The adoption of this objective has been a fundamental guide for the intergovernmental process and its Parties in the fight to address climate change.

Efforts to operationalize this objective have delivered important milestones, such as the Kyoto Protocol and more recently the Paris Agreement.

Through these, governments agreed on concrete actions and time frames to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

They also agreed to cooperate on finance, technology, and capacity building with a view to increase efforts over time.

The Paris Agreement and its swift entry into force represent a bold statement of the determination of the international community under the United Nations to transform the global economy so as to limit the impact that our power generation, production methods, agriculture, and consumption patterns have on the climate system. The Agreement is in itself a global strategy for the longer term that is defined by the three aims enshrined in its Article:

  • First, limit the average global temperature rise to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursue efforts to limit this increase to 1.5°C.
  • Second, increase the ability to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and foster climate-resilient and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production.
  • Third, make financial flows consistent with a pathway toward low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

These three aims provide a single and clear direction of travel to state and nonstate actors for the longer term, given the link between economic activity, greenhouse gas emissions, and the impacts of climate change.

According to the latest available science, achieving the long-term temperature goal would require global greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2020 and subsequently be reduced to zero before the end of the century. To limit warming to 1.

5°C, this reduction to zero must take place around 2050.

The temperature goal reflects, above all, a vision of the type of society we want for the future. It represents an aim to design our economic system so that improving our quality of life is not hindered by the negative impacts on our climate.

In the light of science, this vision implies a major transformation. It compels us to rethink the way we produce, use, and consume energy; how we manufacture and build; and how we manage our land and ecosystems.

If global net greenhouse gas emissions are to reach zero at some point before the end of this century, we need to ensure that our energy and production systems become neutral in terms of greenhouse gas emissions so that there is at least a balance between human-generated greenhouse gas emissions and removals of emissions from our land and through healthy, natural ecosystems.

This transformation must be achieved over time but also in time. No single country has the capacity to decisively shift the global energy base or land use patterns on its own.

To this end, policies need to be set in place now; technologies need to be developed, matured, commercialized, and deployed at scale; and the practices and behaviors of economic actors need to move ever faster toward low-emission and sustainable business and investment.

In fact, the scenarios and trajectories assessed by the scientific community consider time frames up to the end of this century and take different assumptions in the way these are reached.

At the country level, the Paris Agreement further defines requirements specific to mitigation, adaptation, cooperation, transparency, and so on.

Two of these requirements are of particular importance in the context of this note: first, an invitation to all Parties to communicate long-term low greenhouse emission development strategies, and, second, a requirement to each Party to prepare, communicate, and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs). These two mechanisms are mutually reinforcing: the long-term strategy provides a framework and direction for subsequent NDCs; at the same time, the increasingly ambitious NDCs are the means to achieve the long-term strategy. The requirement that Parties update their NDC or communicate a new one every five years provides the engine that will lead to progressively increasing ambition and avoid the impacts resulting from warming above 2°C.

These provisions constitute a clear signal to countries.

While there is flexibility for governments to define climate action according to their development priorities and capacities, the global emissions trajectory would require that all increase ambition over time and that, eventually, they balance their emission and removals.

In other words, the direction of travel established by the Paris Agreement foresees a future where the atmosphere sees no additional greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, all countries must work in this direction.  It is in this context where long term strategies become an essential tool for addressing climate change.

From an international standpoint, long-term strategies provide credibility and certainty to the Paris Agreement that its goals can be achieved.

They also increase transparency and enhance trust among nations as each Party demonstrates a determination to work toward emissions neutrality and encourages others to follow suit.

On the firm basis of positive reciprocity of action, long-term strategies constitute an ideal tool for governments to communicate their determination to address climate change to other countries that require this information to assess their level of engagement.

From a national perspective, these strategies are fundamental, as they guide the short- and medium-term perspectives of political and economic cycles and provide political certainty for bold and concrete action by economic actors. At the same time, they provide the flexibility required for countries to pursue a route that does not compromise their development and poverty eradication goals, all while enabling them to transform their economies.

A few countries have already responded to an invitation by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to communicate midcentury strategies, with 2050 as a reference year.

Most of these countries have translated their long-term vision into a quantified goal expressed as a percentage reduction, which in the case of Germany consists of a reduction of up to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. While not being a mandatory law, this quantified goal enables Germany to pursue emissions neutrality step by step and across its political cycles.

It encourages different segments of government, now and in the future, to continuously look for options to reduce emissions with the expectation that each will deliver enough action to reach this reduction of 95 percent.

However, long-term strategies can and must include future greenhouse gas avoidance goals, as well as direct reductions of existing emissions in an economy.

Countries interested in bringing a vision of a future free of emissions could express it, for example, in terms of a clean energy matrix, a modern transport system that uses only electric vehicles, or mandates to sustainably manage landscapes and reverse deforestation.

What is important for long-term strategies is that they convey an unambiguous signal to economic actors; that they provide flexibility for these actors to conform to the best of their ability to the set vision; that they are realistic; that they reflect the long-term aspirations of all sectors of society; that they are compatible with the political cycles and any changes brought in by midterm priorities; and, ultimately, that they effectively guide the country as rapidly as possible along the path to balancing its emissions and removals.

In thinking about the future, governments will undoubtedly need to address questions such as the following:

  • How will the country meet its energy needs?
  • How will it feed a growing population?
  • How will it address transport problems?
  • How will it balance social and economic aspirations?

Preventing the impacts of warming above 2°C will be impossible unless countries incorporate climate considerations when answering these questions.

Given that transforming economies is a process that takes years, long-term strategies become a main policy tool for delivering this transformation.

The vision enshrined in the long-term strategy must transcend political cycles and go beyond the interests of groups and individuals by bringing societies together.

The Paris Agreement and its objective is one such vision for the globe.

1 Article 2 further specifies that 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.

All the interpretations and findings set forth in this expert perspective are those of the author alone.

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