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Mary Riddle headshot

The World Needs More Ambition to Keep the Paris Agreement Alive

By Mary Riddle
melting glaciers - paris agreement on climate change

In 2015, leaders representing almost every country in the world met in France's capital city to codify the Paris Agreement, a plan to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A critical component of the Paris Agreement are Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or national plans put in place to reduce emissions on a country-by-country basis. NDCs are key to implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement, but at the time of signing in 2015, countries' commitments were not ambitious enough to reduce emissions to a level in line with a 1.5-degrees Celsius warming pathway. Instead, countries promised that their NDCs would become more ambitious over time, and the Paris Agreement allowed for revisions to NDCs to be submitted every five years.

More than seven years later, they still have a long way to go. A new report from the World Resources Institute shows that while 80 percent of countries have submitted a revised, more ambitious NDC, the plans are still not ambitious enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Climate ambition must grow bigger, faster

The revised NDCs, if fulfilled, will cut emissions by a further 7 percent compared to the national commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, in order to keep the 1.5-degrees goal alive, emissions would need to fall 43 percent by 2030, compared to a 2019 baseline.

In other words: NDCs need to be over six times more ambitious and must accelerate rapidly in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Current emissions reduction patterns still place the world on track to a catastrophic 3 degrees Celsius of warming from pre-industrial levels.

Paris Agreement mechanisms for ratcheting up the scope and scale of participating countries’ NDCs over time have improved emissions reductions goals. But current plans are not big enough or fast enough to avoid catastrophic climate pathways. For example, only 51 countries address fossil fuel-derived energy in their NDCs, and only a small portion of those plan for a reduction in emissions from fossil fuel energy. 

All totaled, the most recent NDCs submitted in 2021 would reduce carbon emissions by an additional 5.5 gigatons compared to 2015 commitments, leaving a 28-gigaton gap in emissions reductions necessary to stay within the bounds of a 1.5-degrees Celsius warming scenario. 

Climate finance is key to the Paris Agreement

A key factor in substantially lowering emissions is climate finance, and the WRI report estimates that climate finance needs to be three to six times greater than current levels in order to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Climate finance for developing countries is already expected to be a contentious part of the annual U.N. climate talks (COP27) next month, and WRI notes that finance for climate adaptation projects in developing countries will need to increase by five to 10 times the current amount to meet global need.

Many developing countries have made NDCs that are contingent upon receiving climate financing. Over half of all NDCs include estimates of climate finance requirements, which already amount to almost $4.3 trillion, according to the report. 

The “Implementation COP” needs a better plan

Organizers of last year's COP26 climate talks called upon Paris Agreement signatories to revise and strengthen their NDCs to align with a 1.5-degrees pathway prior to November 2022 in order to create implementation strategies at COP27.

For this reason, the COP27 negotiations have been nicknamed the “Implementation COP.” However, if countries implement their NDC plans as they are currently written, the world will not be able to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. More ambitious targets and plans must be rapidly created, scaled, and implemented in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid the most catastrophic climate scenarios.

Image credit: L.W./Unsplash

Mary Riddle headshot

Mary Riddle is a writer and sustainability consultant based in Florence, Italy. As a former farmer and farm educator, she is passionate about regenerative agriculture and sustainable food systems. Currently, she and her husband also own and operate Italy in Season, a subscription box company with a mission to support small-scale Italian artisans and traditional craftsmanship. 

Read more stories by Mary Riddle