What is the Paris Agreement and Why is it Important?

2021-04-09

 |  The Starfish

At its core, climate change mitigation has long been a global issue. Therefore, in more recent years, countries have come together with solutions to tackle climate change. A major solution among these is the Paris Climate Agreement.

What is the Paris Agreement and why was it made?

The Paris Agreement is a landmark international treaty that provides a global framework in mitigating global warming effects while strengthening countries’ ability to deal with the impacts of climate change. Signed at the Paris Climate Conference in December of 2015, the Paris Agreement marked a historic turning point for global climate action. As world leaders reached a consensus within this deal, climate change needed immediate attention from all countries. Through this agreement, a total of 195 were given goals to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, while supporting other countries to achieve the same goals and contributing to climate science.

Why 2 degrees under pre-industrial levels? 

As a result of shared scientific findings, the Agreement aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels while aiming to keep the number under 1.5 degrees Celsius. If this number is not met, over 70% of Earth’s coastlines will see sea-level rise of over 20 centimetres, resulting in increased flooding, beach erosion, salinization of water sources, as well as other impacts on humans and ecological systems (see here for more information on the impacts of temperature rise). These systems will result in more severe and frequent stormsincreased drought and forest fires. In addition to limiting the global temperature increase, all major carbon-emitting countries have agreed to cut their climate pollution while helping developing countries affected by the activities of the “global north”. The “global north” essentially consists of the richest and most industrialized countries in the world, who contribute the greatest amount of carbon into the atmosphere. These countries include the United States of America, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among many others. Respectively, the “global south” countries include developing countries, mostly located in the southern hemisphere. Some of these countries are Brazil, India, Mexico, and Indonesia.

How is this being measured/checked?

One of the largest and most significant parts of this agreement was the shared responsibility in relation to climate emissions, and the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF). This framework enforces the transparency and accountability that is necessary for the ambitious climate target of keeping the global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. As the agreement took place in 2015, the countries agreed to various mandatory measures including monitoring, verification, and public reporting of the countries’ success towards reducing their national carbon emissions (the first transparency report is due from each of the countries on Dec 31, 2024). Through this, a sense of global peer pressure is invoked, and countries around the world can find out how their counterparts are contributing to the Agreement, resulting in accelerated efforts by countries that are in the “global north”, because they know they are being watched.

How is Canada doing its part?

In support of the Paris Agreement, Canada has agreed to contribute $2.65 billion CAD between 2020 and 2025 in an attempt to pursue ambitious action on climate change in developing countries. Under the Paris Agreement, these countries have agreed to work together towards a low carbon future, while becoming more climate-resilient. 

Canada’s involvement in the Paris Agreement was strong, and they immediately adopted targets to reduce its economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, these targets aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. As previously mentioned, a significant component within the Agreement is the progress submissions, and Canada is required to submit its next report by 2025. In addition to this target, Canada has also set out to achieve net-zero emissions nation-wide by 2050. Getting there will require a continuous partnership with international partners, but more importantly requires strong domestic action. 

Canada’s plan toward this strong domestic action is called the Pan-Canadian Framework, which was developed with the provinces, Territories and in consultation with Indigenous Peoples. This plan acknowledges the need for growing the economy whilst building resilience to climate change and reducing current emissions. This action plan is set upon four pillars: pricing carbon pollution, complementary actions to reduce emissions, adaptation and climate resilience, and clean technology, innovation, and jobs. This plan also includes over 50 concrete actions that target all sectors of the economy, and positions Canada on a path to meet its Paris Agreement goals of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. It gives provincial governments and the Territories the flexibility to implement climate policies in their own plans with the federal government’s full support. So far, $3 billion CAD has been invested into clean technology research, including developing and commercializing green technology among other new developments. These changes that are being implemented on a local scale will be shared with the international partners, while ensuring that Canadian communities thrive in a changing climate. 

The Paris Agreement is an ambitious but exceedingly necessary step towards the fight against climate change. While it is ambitious, and much effort is required of each of the 195 countries, the level of global support and cooperation built into this agreement gives hope that we as a globalized world can take a big step in the right direction.