What’s the Deal with the Paris Climate Agreement?


What’s the Deal with the Paris Climate Agreement?

When the Paris Agreement came into force in November 2016, it marked the start of a renaissance period for climate change policy, one that represents a global paradigm shift toward a lower-carbon economy. As of November 1, 2020, 189 countries had ratified the Paris Agreement (out of 197 Parties to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change [“UNFCCC”]). Canada ratified the Paris Agreement on October 5, 2016 and has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. In 2019, the federal government announced that it will develop a plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, supported by legally-binding, five-year emission reduction milestones.

The Paris Agreement articulates a series of global goals to enhance climate adaptation efforts and capacity-building, as well as strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. The Paris Agreement also establishes a long-term emissions goal of peaking global emissions as soon as possible, with a view to achieving net zero emissions in the second half of this century. Countries have also committed to an ambitious goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while they pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

At the 24th Conference of the Parties (“COP 24”) held in Katowice, Poland in November 2018, UNFCCC parties produced the Katowice Rulebook, which sets out the details for implementing the Paris Agreement. In addition to the rulebook, COP 24 also saw the completion of the Talanoa Dialogue, a year-long assessment of progress toward the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals, which was designed to inform countries’ efforts to update their climate targets (referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions) in 2020. At COP 24, Canada played a leading role in advancing various emission reduction initiatives under the Paris Agreement, including laying the groundwork for a global carbon market, promoting the Powering Past Coal Alliance (which Canada and the UK founded at COP 23), and advancing the work of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform.

COP 25 was held in Madrid in December 2019 against a backdrop of growing civil unrest with the rise of movements such as Extinction Rebellion and the Fridays for Future school strike for climate, which began in earnest in August 2018 when Greta Thunberg staged a single person protest outside the Swedish parliament. The “Greta effect” resulted in a series of significant climate strikes around the world in 2019. COP 25 had an important role as the stepping stone for more ambitious emission reduction comments to be presented by governments at COP 26, which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021 (originally scheduled to take place in November 2020, COP 26 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Negotiations at COP 25 were fractious and ultimately disappointing in terms of the lack of progress made. Many urgent decisions were deferred to COP 26, including decisions on the robustness of the rules for setting up an international carbon market and the issue of “loss and damage,” which involves providing compensation to countries already suffering from the impacts of climate change.

Despite the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, which became effective on November 4, 2020, global efforts to reduce emissions continue full steam ahead. China announced in September 2020 that it would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. In addition to Canada, a growing number of countries are pledging to become carbon neutral by 2050. Federal and provincial efforts are well underway to implement emission reduction initiatives under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Canada has endorsed the global goal of keeping rising average temperatures to within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — how this is translating into federal, provincial, and municipal climate action continues to evolve.