The Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted about eight years ago with an aim to limit the average global temperature rise to well below 20°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.50°C.
According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the current emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities have lead to approximately 1.10°C of warming above pre-industrial levels and is expected to reach or exceed 1.50°C threshold in the next 20 years. It is likely that based on current emission scenarios, the increase can be 2.70°C to 3.60°C by the end of the 21st century.
UN chief António Guterres warned that the world is currently “way off track” meeting either the 1.5°C or 2°C targets of the Paris Agreement. And the world is facing a “hellish” 30°C of global warming by the end of the century if the current trend continues.
At the current level of warming, a number of extreme weather events have occurred in the world recently including record-breaking heat waves in Europe and across Asia, wildfires ravaged in several regions of United States and Canada, ice storms in southern United States, floods in India.
According to IPCC at 1.50°C of warming, about 15% of the world’s population will be exposed to severe heatwaves and at 20°C, 61 million more people could be exposed to severe drought than at 1.50°C and 50% more people may face water stress, more heat related deaths, vector borne diseases and food insecurity.
If the average global temperature rises above 20°C, it could lead to a range of catastrophic consequences. Heatwaves, droughts and heavy rainfall events could become intense and more frequent, melting of glaciers and ice sheets could result in sea levels rise leading to flooding of coastal areas and displacement of millions.
In addition to reduction in emission of greenhouse gases, adaptation measures too required to cope with rise in average global temperature which include: transition to renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, afforestation; resilient infrastructure; concrete seawalls to protect from sea level rise; large scale shifting of population to shelters in short time in case of disasters; healthcare facilities to treat heat related diseases; resilient crops such as drought and heat tolerant, biofortified and genetically modified crops; early warning systems for extreme weather events
The Paris Agreement stipulates that the parties are required to submit their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which are their plans and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change. As of October 2022, 193 countries have submitted NDCs. According to IPCC, the greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 to limit global warming and then reduce by 43% by 2030. But the current NDCs are not sufficient to achieve them.
The Paris Agreement reaffirms on the ‘International Climate Finance’ i.e. the obligations of developed countries to provide financial resources to developing countries in implementing emission reduction efforts and adapt to the impacts of climate change. But the $100 billion made by advanced countries in 2009 at the Conference of Parties (COP 15) held in Copenhagen, has not been fully delivered.
The current financial flows for climate mitigation need to increase between three and six times between 2020 and 2030 to limit global warming to below 20°C.
The Loss and Damage Fund established at the previous COP27 is meant to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change. It’s realisation depends upon how much and how quickly developed countries contribute to the fund.
Developing countries need access to technologies and knowledge for transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy and climate-resilient development. But there are barriers such as intellectual property rights, trade restrictions in technology transfer from developed to developing countries which need to be addressed.
The current NDCs are not enough to achieve the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. But there can be political, economic, and technical constraints on some countries that can impede to suitably revise NDCs.
Some industries and sectors that are heavily dependent on fossil fuels may oppose or undermine the implementation of the Paris Agreement, as they fear losing their market share, profits, or influence. Similar, the case with fossil fuels producing countries, economically dependent on revenue from their imports.
The Paris Agreement is legally binding in the sense, is limited to, submitting NDCs by countries and to report the progress of implementation. It does not impose economic or political penalties such as fines or embargoes for non- compliance of NDCs or mitigating actions. Hence countries may not act fast and adequately enough to mitigate or adapt to climate change and developed countries continue to shirk responsibility in climate financing to developing ones.
The private sector plays a vital role in implementing the Paris Agreement in providing finance, innovations, and technology support for substitution of fossil fuels by renewable and low carbon energy.
While mitigation and adaptation are essential strategies, people’s contribution and cooperation are equally important in addressing climate change. Individuals can contribute by reducing their carbon footprint, increasing carbon sinks, supporting adaptation and resilience etc.
The Paris Agreement is expected to be a key topic of discussion at the COP28 being held in Dubai from today to December 12. The conference must encourage countries to take appropriate climate actions to keep the temperature rise below 1.50°C. It should also make sincere efforts to operationalise international climate financing. In all these cases, developed countries have to be persuaded to do what is required. Otherwise, the agreement continues to remain dormant and the world can be heading towards a “climate catastrophe” as warned by the UN.
Dr O Prasada Rao is a retired scientist from the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research.