Barely two years ago, after weeks of intense bargaining in Paris, leaders from 195 countries announced a global agreement that once had seemed impossible. For the first time, the nations of the world would band together to reduce humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels in an effort to hold off the most devastating effects of climate change. “History will remember this day,” the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said amid a backdrop of diplomats cheering and hugging. Two years later, the euphoria of Paris is colliding with the reality of the present.
In short, the world is off target.
“It’s not fast enough. It’s not big enough,” said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in England. “There’s not enough action.”
Even as renewable energy grows cheaper and automakers churn out battery-powered and more efficient cars, many nations around the world are nonetheless struggling to hit the relatively modest goals set in Paris.
The reasons vary. Brazil has struggled to rein in deforestation, which fuels greenhouse gas emissions. In Turkey, Indonesia and other countries with growing economies, new coal plants are being planned to meet the demand for electricity. In the United States, the federal government has scaled back its support for clean energy and ramped up support for fossil fuels.
There’s still time for the world to set itself on a more sustainable track; many countries have until 2030 to meet their initial targets. But when policymakers from around the world gather at a key U.N. climate meeting in Poland later this year, countries will be forced to reckon with the difference between how much they say they want to limit the warming of the planet and how little they actually are doing to make that happen.
Because the Paris agreement does not legally force countries to cut emissions, world leaders in Poland will have to rely on political and moral persuasion to push for more action.
“More than two decades ago, the world agreed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in our air to prevent dangerous climate outcomes,” said Rob Jackson, an energy and climate expert at Stanford University, referring to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change that set international negotiations in motion. “To date, we have failed.”
“Tremendous gains in energy efficiency and renewable power aren’t yet reducing our global hunger for fossil fuels, especially oil and natural gas,” he added. “Until they do, greenhouse gas concentrations will keep rising.”
The Paris agreement laid out ambitious goals to limit the planet’s warming — world leaders knew they would be difficult to achieve. The deal called for finding ways to remain “well below” a rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, and if possible, not above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). A rise of about 1 degree Celsius already has occurred.
But at the same time, the emissions-cutting pledges that countries brought to the table in Paris were nowhere near sufficient to meet such goals, which world leaders acknowledged at the time. The plan was for nations to ramp up their ambition over time.
“There’s this inherent conflict between the global goals and the national contributions,” said Niklas Höhne, a founder of the NewClimate Institute and professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Now, after the United States has said it will withdraw from the process and as many other nations struggle to meet even the modest pledges they made, the world must begin to wrestle with the forces that have so far prevented climate action from matching climate rhetoric.
In many corners of the world, emissions have continued virtually unabated, raising questions about how countries — even well-intentioned ones — can make bolder promises down the line when they have so far been unable to follow through on their current ones.
The struggles of Germany, one of the globe’s most progressive nations when it comes to embracing renewable energy, illustrates the problem.
The country’s “Energiewende,” or “energy transition,” aims to generate 80 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2050. The country also has set an aggressive near-term goal of cutting greenhouses gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020.
But Germany is struggling to meet its goals. The county’s emissions actually rose slightly in 2015 and 2016 because of continued coal burning and emissions growth in the transportation sector. That failing trajectory won’t change without “massive and rapid efforts,” according to the German Environment Agency.
The European Union faces a similar quandary. Third after China and the United States in total world emissions, the bloc has pledged a 40 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2030. Time remains for the E.U. to meet that promise, but according to the European Environment Agency, it is on track to fall well short of its goal.
see also 2016 GWPF Report — Paris Agreement: A Blank Cheque For CO2 Emissions For China And India
The Paris Climate Agreement, far from securing a reduction in global CO2 emissions, is fundamentally a blank cheque that allows China and India to increase their emissions as they see fit in pursuit of economic growth. Full paper