Five years after the Paris Agreement, climate disaster is closer

Low-carbon technologies increase more than expected but emissions are not reduced

When Laurent Fabius, François Hollande's Minister of Foreign Affairs, certified the approval of the Paris Agreement (five years ago tomorrow), the auditorium where representatives of 197 world governments were meeting in the French capital burst into applause. There were even tears of joy. A joy that was directly proportional to the suffering that had been caused by the birth of that 25-page document, in which the whole world finally agreed on the shared objective of fighting the climate emergency.

Preventing global warming from exceeding 2°C and, if possible, 1.5°C, is the main goal of the pact, which has been signed by 195 states and ratified by 189, and came into force on November 4 2016, after the necessary number of signatory states and the percentage of emissions they represent had been achieved. This goal, quantified in degrees Celsius, and the commitment to achieve "climate neutrality" by mid century are the pillars of the agreement that mark the path towards the end of fossil fuels, to try to save the planet from devastating climate effects. Even so, the process was left to the goodwill of the states, which every five years have to present their emission reduction plans, with the only condition that they have to be more ambitious than those they presented the previous time.

This 2020, five years later, many governments had to update their emission reduction targets (known as NDCs) and present them at a global climate summit - COP26 in Glasgow - which has been postponed until November 2021 due to the pandemic. The COP-19 has delayed the assumption of commitments by one year, but it has also led to a historic drop in emissions that should be taken advantage of, as the scientific world is calling for. The UN confirmed this week that in 2020 greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 7% compared to last year, which is good news if it were not for the high probability that it is only anecdotal.

"The world is not on track to avoid dangerous and irreversible climate change effects", warns The Paris Effect report, which assesses the situation five years after the Paris Agreement and which has received the support of some of the protagonists of that historic day five years ago, such as the then UN Secretary for Climate Change, Christiana Figueres. "The world is accelerating in the wrong direction", insisted climate activist Greta Thunberg in a video posted on social networks.

Still, the glass isn't quite half empty. In fact, The Paris Effect report points to many positive trends that instill hope. "Since Paris, progress towards low-carbon solutions and markets is much greater than many think", states the report, which finds competitive low-carbon solutions in sectors representing 25 per cent of global emissions by 2020, rising to 75 per cent by 2030.

The report highlights that if we add up all the governments, regions and cities that have formally committed to reducing emissions to zero in the coming years, together they account for 50% of global GDP. "Solar and wind power are the cheapest forms of new energy generation in countries that account for 70 per cent of global GDP", and "the alternative protein industry (to replace an animal-based diet that generates many greenhouse gases) has risen by 29 per cent in the last two years", says the report, which informs that many economic sectors are already reinventing themselves: there are already 66 zero-emission pilot ships and 200 electric aircraft in development worldwide, for example.

But in these five years, since the historical signing of the Paris Agreement, not all steps have been positive: the United States, second only to China in CO2 emissions, withdrew from the Paris Agreement and under the leadership of Donald Trump has boosted fossil industries. That is why climate NGOs are calling on President-elect Joe Biden to put the country back on the global climate pact first-thing, when he assumes office. The change of government in the US and the agreement reached this Friday in the European Union to cut emissions by 55% in 2030 are two elements that provide a new boost to the Paris Agreement. China, the world's largest emitter, announced some months ago that it wanted to become climate neutral by 2060, another piece of good news, even though it has not yet been officially written on paper.

"The climate crisis has only worsened since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015: 2020 may be the warmest ever recorded, and fossil fuel companies are still planning oil and gas extractions. Just as many political representatives are dragging their feet on climate action, our movement has only increased the struggle", May Boeve, director of 350.org, assures.

Another change from the momentum of the climate struggle five years ago has been the emergence of an increasingly strong social movement to demand that governments comply with the agreements they have signed. The movement inspired by Thunberg has mobilized new generations in a way that has never been seen before, despite the hiatus of the pandemic. And this is not all: more and more people are joining the climate battle, which has spurred on environmental parties in many countries around the world. If five years ago the world's governments took a small step in the right direction, perhaps from now on it will be the citizens who will spur the radical change the planet is calling for.

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