World rallies to save Paris climate agreement, five years on

Ice loss from Greenland as a result of increasing temperatures is contributing to global sea level rise.
Ice loss from Greenland as a result of increasing temperatures is contributing to global sea level rise. REUTERS - Bob Strong

As the Paris Agreement turns five, world leaders and others are readying for an anniversary summit to demonstrate their commitment to the 2015 landmark climate deal, which critics warn is already proving a failure.


Saturday’s Climate Ambition Summit – co-hosted by France, the UK and the UN – hopes to “rally momentum” and boost countries’ pledges ahead of next November’s make-or-break Cop26 conference in Glasgow.

With multiple studies warning the Paris goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C remains well out of reach, governments are being pressed to present bigger and better climate policies to drastically reduce their emissions over the next decade.

Some 70 heads of state will be speaking at the virtual event, which comes on the back of dire warnings by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that humanity’s “suicidal” war on nature will end in catastrophe if governments do not step up now.

Indeed, the Climate Action Tracker this week calculated that even if all of the world’s existing net-zero pledges are fulfilled, temperatures would still rise by 2.1C above pre-industrial levels.

To add context, scientists warn that warming of 2C or more would provoke severe weather extremes, kill off nearly all of the world’s corals, destroy huge swathes of plant habitat and plunge hundreds of millions of people into poverty.

Hotter temperatures

The five years following the Paris agreement have been the hottest ever recorded, with a report by the World Meteorological Organisation confirming that despite the global standstill brought about by Covid-19, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have continued to rise.

“Inaction must give way to an urgent and massive leap forward,” says the French branch of the Climate Action Network in a study that warns the road ahead has gotten far steeper since the Paris Agreement was signed on 12 December, 2015.

Under the hashtag #FightFor1Point5, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg used 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement to warn “the world is still speeding in the wrong direction” with its “distant, hypothetical targets”. 

Her distress call is supported by the UN Environment Programme’s 2020 Emissions Gap report, published Wednesday, which compares the current emissions trajectory with emissions pledges under the Paris Agreement.

It warns the world is on track for an average temperature rise of 3C, adding that carbon emissions reached a new high in 2019.

A student takes part in the global students strike for action on climate change in Tokyo, Japan.
A student takes part in the global students strike for action on climate change in Tokyo, Japan. REUTERS - KIM KYUNG-HOON

More aggressive goals

While a promise by President-Elect Joe Biden to have the US rejoin the Paris deal has buoyed optimism, aggressive climate goals by the EU, China, Japan and South Korea stand to deliver the biggest rewards.

The EU took a step closer to its ambition of becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent on Friday when bloc leaders agreed to cut carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030. The decision to boost the climate target from 40 to 55 percent came after intense negotiations that lasted all night long.

With global temperatures already at about 1.1C above the pre-industrial average, organisers of the Climate Ambition Summit will be hoping for similar promises of deeper emissions cuts from leaders on Saturday.

There are expectations that China, in particular, will improve on its promise of reducing emissions to net zero by 2060.

“The world will be watching,” Greenpeace International said in a statement – describing 12 December as “a moment of accountability” during which policymakers have an opportunity to change course. 

The NGO’s plea to world leaders is simple: “respect the people, respect the deal.”

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