The Paris climate agreement is now in force

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Can the world live up to the ambitions of the Paris climate agreement? @bberwyn photo.

Now the hard work begins …

Staff Report

As the Paris climate agreement goes into effect, it’s important to remember that, so far, there’s been a lot more talk than action by the global community. Plans are one thing, action is another, and unless there are significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the next few years, there’s almost no chance to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Here are some sobering facts to show why immediate action is needed, starting with the latest annual greenhouse gas bulletin from the World Meteorological Organization.

Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide all reached new record high concentrations in the atmosphere in 2015. According to the analysis, CO2 levels are not 144 percent higher than in pre-industrial times; methane is 256 percent higher, and nitrous oxide is 121 percent higher. It’s likely that CO2 concentrations, as measured at Mauna Loa, will stay above 400 parts per million for all of 2016. The increase of methane from 2014 to 2015 was larger than that observed from 2013 to 2014 and that averaged over the last decade.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration annual greenhouse gas Index shows that, from 1990 to 2015, radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 37 percent, with CO2 accounting for about 80 percent of this increase.

At this rate, the world’s average temperature will climb between 2.9 and 3.4 degrees Celsius this century, even with the pledges put on the table for last year’s Paris conference. Emissions in 2030 will be  be 12 to 14 gigatonnes above levels needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Meeting the goal will require shaving another 25 percent of emissions by 2030 to have a chance at minimizing dangerous global warming impacts,  UN Environment last week as it released its annual Emissions Gap report.

Made public the day before the Paris Agreement comes into force, the report finds that 2030 emissions are expected to reach 54 to 56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – far above the level of 42 needed to have a chance of limiting global warming to 2℃ this century. One gigatonne is roughly equivalent to the emissions generated by transport in the European Union (including aviation) over a year.

Scientists agree that limiting global warming to under 2℃ this century (compared to pre-industrial levels), will reduce the likelihood of more-intense storms, longer droughts, sea-level rise and other severe climate impacts. Even hitting the lower target of 1.5 ℃ will only reduce, rather than eliminate, impacts.

“We are moving in the right direction: the Paris Agreement will slow climate change, as will the recent Kigali Amendment to reduce HFCs,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “They both show strong commitment, but it’s still not good enough if we are to stand a chance of avoiding serious climate change.

“If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy. The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster.”

The need for urgent action has been reinforced by the fact that 2015 was the hottest year since modern record keeping began. The trend is continuing, with the first six months of 2016 all being the warmest ever recorded. Yet emissions continue to increase, the report says.

The emissions gap report presents an assessment of the technologies and opportunities to find the further cuts required, including through non-state actors, energy efficiency acceleration and crossover with the sustainable development goals.

Non-state actors (the private sector, cities, regions and other subnational actors like citizen groups) can cut several gigatonnes off the gap by 2030 in areas such as agriculture and transport, provided the many initiatives meet their goals and do not replace other action.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is another area where investment could bring bigger gains. Investments in energy efficiency increased by 6 per cent to US$221 billion in 2015, indicating that action is already happening. Studies show that for an investment of between 20 and 100 US$ per tonne of carbon dioxide, energy efficiency emissions reduction potentials (in gigatonnes) by 2030 are 5.9 for buildings, 4.1 for industry and 2.1 for transport.

But the Paris climate agreement is at least a reminder that the world has agreed to make climate action a priority, said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The Paris Agreement’s ambitious and essential goals are now a live reality for every government. From today, ever-increasing climate action becomes an accepted responsibility and a central part of the sustainable development plans of all countries,” Espinosa said. “Climate action – faster, smarter, bigger and better – reduces the greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change and at the same time catalyzes the clean power economies and climate-resilient societies which are the foundation on which the future health, wealth and well-being of all people now depend.”

Marrakech Conference

The timetable is pressing. The Paris Agreement’s primary goal – to limit global warming to well below 2°C and as close to 1.5°C as possible to prevent dangerous tipping points in the climate system – means that global emissions must peak soon then be driven down very rapidly.

Yet greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and global average temperatures continue rising, underlining the urgent task in front of the two-week COP 22 conference in Marrakech, beginning Monday, 7 November.

The Agreement’s early entry into force has focused minds on completing the fundamental work and confirming the key requirements that will allow countries together to implement Paris’s goals at the required scale and speed. In Marrakech, that includes several important issues.

Marrakech will host the first meeting of the Paris Agreement’s governing body, known as the CMA. This is a moment of celebration but also a moment of reflection on the task ahead and a point where governments recommit to the new agenda of rapid implementation, not least in pressing forward with adequate support for vulnerable countries to take their own action.

Meanwhile, work will continue in Marrakech to complete the details of a transparent global regime, or rulebook, which will account for, review and underpin greater action by all sides.

It is the completed rulebook that will make the Paris Agreement work smoothly over the years and decades to come. The early entry into force of the Agreement calls for a speedy completion of the rulebook, ideally by 2018.

Marrakech also gives developed countries the opportunity to present their roadmap to mobilize the pledged 100 billion dollars in annual support to developing countries by 2020.

Governments will also be looking to increase clarity for adaptation finance and for a mechanism to strengthen capacity building, which supports developing countries to build up their internal skills and institutional strengths to build their own clean energy, sustainable futures.

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