Paris Climate Agreement: Greatest Successes and Challenges Experienced by Participating Countries

This article takes a look into the world’s progress on our greatest environmental goal, the Paris Climate Agreement, and highlights 3 successes and challenges faced by various countries working toward climate action.

Today, June 5th, is World Environment Day. This annual celebration is one of the largest events put on by the United Nations to remind us of the substantial importance that nature and greenery have on our planet. This is a day to bring awareness for nature and display the respect and value these natural systems play in each and every one of our lives. This year’s theme is “Ecosystem Restoration ”, a topic that for the 194 states signed on to the Paris Agreement is of utmost importance. In the bigger picture, the Paris Agreement is a large ecosystem restoration project as the world comes together to cut emissions to avoid monumental negative impacts of climate change. Though restoration may not be the perfect word to describe the Paris Agreement, World Environment Day does seem like a good time  to check on the global progress of our environmental goals as stated in the accord. This article will highlight three successes, and three challenges that various countries and entities are facing in the journey toward their Paris Agreement goals.

What is The Paris Agreement

Before I jump into the successes and challenges, it’s important to first lay foundational knowledge of what exactly the Paris Accord is. This treaty was originally signed in 2015 at COP 21 in Paris by 196 parties. The main goal of the agreement is to limit global average temperature rise to below 2℃, and as close to 1.5℃ compared to pre industrial levels by the year 2100. This is a legally binding agreement, but national determined contributions (NDC’s) are not legally binding. NDC’s are the submissions each party makes declaring actions they will take to achieve their climate goals. This means submissions can change, and if not upheld have no legal repercussions. Every five years all countries involved must submit progress and new NDC’s, with the mindset of contributing more ambitious goals than the last submission. Check out this Global Climate Tracker to see which countries are on pace, lacking, or not close to achieving their Paris Agreement goals.

Successes

1. Morocco Leading by Example

Figure 1 – Noor Ouarzazate Complex, solar farm.

To kick off the successes of the Paris Climate Accord, we will highlight one of only two countries in the world who have a plan to reduce their CO2 emissions to a level consistent with 1.5℃ warming. This country is Morocco, sharing its place as a climate leader with The Gambia who also has plans to reduce CO2 emissions to a level consistent with 1.5℃ warming. Morocco’s National Energy Strategy calls for 52% of electric energy production to be renewable by 2030. Already, 35% of its electric energy production is renewable in large part due to the Noor Ouarzazate Complex which is the world’s largest concentrated solar farm, measuring a whopping 3,500 football fields. The complex generates enough power to run two large cities. Morocco is a very impressive case as few countries, let alone developing countries, are rated as “compatible” for being on track and committing their fair sure to reaching a 1.5℃ warming limit.

2. Norway’s Electric Car Usage

Figure 2 – Chart of electric car usage by country in 2020.

Though Norway is not a global leader when it comes to achieving climate action, they have made some positive and necessary strides in contributing to the Paris Agreement. Most notably, Norway is head and shoulders above the rest of the world in electric car usage per capita. They sell 80,000 electric vehicles per year, which is 148 per 10,000, an astounding 261% more than any other country. A positive complement to this electric car usage is the fact that 98% of Norway’s electricity production comes from renewables, with 96% from hydropower and 2% from wind farms. Considering the average passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tonnes of CO2 per year and the goal of the Paris Agreement is to cut emissions, this is a big step in the right direction for Norway. Norway’s government has implemented ambitious goals adopting legislative commitments to reduce emissions by 80-95% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. Though still possible, Norway will have to ramp up their efforts as they are currently on pace to reduce emissions by 7% through 2030.

3. Leadership From Government and Activists

At the end of the day, the Paris Agreement is a team effort as no one country’s actions can be the sole reason for achieving its goals. It takes contributions from all parties to reach these targets, with some countries facing much harder challenges than others based on their economy and location. Countries that have the ability to help others that are struggling will most likely be necessary if climate goals are to be achieved. A great example of this is Norway’s generous contribution to the restoration of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Between 2008 and 2018, Norway worked closely with Brazil paying $1.2 billion into the Amazon fund. The Amazon fund pays Brazil to prevent and combat deforestation. Norway recognized that saving this forest is necessary for climate goals to be reached around the world and because they are in a position to help, they stepped up for the greater good.

Figure 3 – Greta Thundberg “School Strike For Climate”.

Another success that has been a driving force for countries to act on their Paris Agreement goals and raise awareness for climate action is 18 year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thundberg. Greta is known for challenging world leaders to increase their climate action and has spoken at United Nations conferences. Greta has notably captured the attention of many people around the world, particularly the younger generation. A viral photo of Greta Thundberg with a sign that says “School Strike For Climate” caught on and inspired young people around the world to lead their own climate strikes in front of their parliaments. Her activism has brought awareness to millions of people around the world, and applied pressure on governments to act on climate policy. Greta is a living example that you are never too small to make a difference.

Challenges

1. Brazil’s Deforestation

Figure 4 – Area in Brazilian Amazon cleared and burned.

Brazil is currently ranked as “insufficient” in their progress and goals of committing their fair sure to the Paris Climate Accord. Brazil’s greatest challenge that they must overcome to achieve their Paris Agreement NDC is to drastically reduce rates of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Since 2019 Brazil has actually been moving backward in forest protection policy, causing the country’s number one source of emissions, deforestation, to increase. This is moving the country in the opposite direction of their Paris Accord goals of having zero illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030. This target is almost guaranteed to be missed as deforestation is on a steady rise after reaching record lows in 2012.

Agriculture is Brazil’s second largest contributor of greenhouse gases, which directly relates to deforestation. Large areas of land are cleared to make space for agricultural lands, which are most often livestock. The timber that’s ripped down is sold and the area is burned to make  space for cattle. Depending on the amount of cattle put in the area, the land may or may not be able to succeed. These cattle farms usually stay in one area for 3-5 years before the land is ruined and they repeat the process somewhere else. If the land has moderate amounts of cattle then it may be able to succeed, but commonly farming practices are intense and succession is not able to happen. The result is a savannah in place of what used to be thick forest. This is a sad reality that is happening daily, increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the cattle, and decreasing carbon intake by the Amazon forest.

2. Saudi Arabia Moving Backward in Climate Goals

The greatest challenge for Saudi Arabia in achieving climate action is diversifying from it’s economies strict dependence on oil. They historically, and currently, are an oil rich nation making this transition extremely hard since many parts of the world continue to want their resources. In 2016 the Saudi government released a “Vision 2030” strategy to increase the sustainability of their economy. Vision 2030 is actually less ambitious in transitioning the economy to more sustainable practices than plans that came out in 2013. The country has a get-out clause if the government decides that the Paris Agreement goals are hindering their ability to create profits from fossil fuels. In 2018 Saudi Arabia signed on to build a 200 GW solar plant, at the time the largest single solar project in the world, but 9 months later the project was cancelled. It is quite clear that Saudi Arabia seems to be moving backward in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet their Paris Accord goals.

3. Former President Donald Trump’s Withdrawal From the Agreement

Figure 5 – Map of countries in Paris Climate Agreement.

The United States of America has historically been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. They are currently the second largest GHG emitter in the world, accounting for about 13-14% of the globe’s total. In 2015 President Obama joined the Paris Agreement committing to reducing emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by the year 2025. When the new Trump administration came into office, they vowed to remove the USA from the agreement putting a major damper on the country’s climate goals. Many of the important federal regulations that were put in place to meet these goals were removed, leaving any hopes of achieving, or even reducing emissions in jeopardy. Trump left the country in the lowest ranking possible “critically insufficient”, as he continually eased environmental regulations across multiple industries. Donald Trump even tried to roll back vehicle efficiency standards to a level where vehicle manufactures actually objected. The government’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was a major setback for the country, and world. The United States is a key factor in the success of the agreement due to the amount they emit, the political power they hold, and the amount of money they have to help solve the problem.

In the last decade GHG emissions have increased by approximately 20%. The current pledges in the Paris Climate Accord, if fully implemented, will cover less than half of what is needed in global emission reductions to reach 2030 goals. Though there are some bright spots, overall there are a lot more negatives than positives when looking at the agreement’s progress. Changing our everyday actions is a great start, but government action is imperative if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. It’s not too late, but we’re cutting it dangerously close.

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