2. What is the Paris Agreement’s goal?

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to hold ‘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’[1]. This is because a 2ºC increase in global average temperature was considered as the upper limit beyond which the risks and negative impacts of the changing climate are expected to increase rapidly[2].

 

To achieve its goal, the Paris Agreement set a long-term GHG emission reduction target –to achieve a ‘balance between anthropogenic (or man-made) emissions by sources and removals by sinks (the oceans, trees and plants) of GHGs in the second half of the century’[3]. This is in line with the IPCC’s most recent analysis, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which concluded that net zero GHG emissions will be required to stay below 2ºC well before 2100[4]. Because significant emission reductions would be required to achieve its goal and long-term target, the Paris Agreement recognizes that a maximum level (or peak) should be reached ‘as soon as possible’. However, it acknowledges that ‘peaking will take longer for developing countries’[5].

 

The IPCC concluded that middle income countries, where more than 70 percent of the world population live[6], are currently responsible for 54 percent of global GHG emissions[7]. The top ten largest emitters, in descending order of total emission levels, are China, the United States, the European Union, India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Canada and Mexico[8]. Of the ten, five –China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico— are middle income countries. The others are high-income countries, where 18 percent of the world population live[9] and have the highest per capita emissions.

 

Allowing developing countries to take more time to reduce GHG emissions may seem as a fair outcome of the Paris Agreement for some. However, it may enable some developing countries, currently categorized as middle income countries by the IPCC, to continue delaying climate action.

 

In addition, international aviation and shipping were not included in the Paris Agreement, thus also allowing these sectors to postpone action to reduce emissions. International travel and trade currently accounts for two percent of global GHG emissions[10]

 

 

 

Sources:

[1] Paris Agreement, Article 2 (2015)

[2] United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (1990); IPCC, Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Synthesis  Report (2014)

[3] Paris Agreement, Article 4 (2015)

[4] IPCC, AR5, WGI Summary for Policymakers (2013) and Synthesis  Report (2014)

[5] Paris Agreement, Article 4 (2015)

[6] World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, United Nations Population Division (2015)

[7] IPCC, AR5, WG III, Chapter 1 and Chapter 13 (2014); and Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). European Commission, Joint Research Centre/PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (2014)

[8] UNEP. The Emissions Gap Report 2015 (2015)

[9] World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, United Nations Population Division (2015)

[10] Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). European Commission, Joint Research Centre/PBL