Food for thought: Will the Paris Agreement make a difference in the way Environmental Law is viewed?
By Athina Sofokleous, Jurist
When international discussions failed in 2009 to address climate change, countries moved towards a better concept with a better sense of how to make a functional agreement. Using past failures as a guide, it was easily created a “bottoms up” approach in which each country set its own goals, enabling the Paris Agreement to work for everyone the best way to ensure change. The Paris Agreement, as an agreement with the UNFCCC* framework, is turning point in the road of a low-carbon economy, a road paved by continued innovation in the technology, dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation.
For the first time the Paris Agreement as a global instrument, brings all nations in the same route to undertake efforts to combat climate change and to adapt effects, providing support to developing countries to follow this environmental philosophy.The Paris Agreement has been ratified by 168 parties and climate change arrived on the top of the list of global issues that the world has agreed on a development way. The central challenge to people and states is to achieve climate change not only to developed countries, like the Kyoto Protocol’s targets, but also for developing countries. Only brilliant solutions can launch economic opportunity, innovation, and greater energy reliability goals.
The Paris Agreement provides a durable architecture, in contrast with Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009. Both Agreements have the central aim to create a continuous cycle that keeps the pressure on countries to raise their ambition over time. However, the Paris Agreement established two linked processes, each on a five-year cycle, to promote rising ambition. The first procedure is a “global stock take” to estimate collective progress towards meeting the agreement’s long-term goals. Parties will then submit new NDCs*, informed by the outcomes of the global stock take.
Essentially, the central aim of Paris Agreement as a historic institutionalized step is to strengthen the global response of climate change protection. This aim will be achieved by keeping a global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for this century and by pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to one and half degrees Celsius. Prior attempts at a climate change deal required that similar measures be adopted by all signing parties. This level of degree change has been agreed upon as being the crucial point to prevent massive effects of climate change. The fact that economies, cultures, and nations differ so greatly, a common denominator was hard to determine and, therefore, to achieve. Allowing countries which ratified, to determine the best way forward for them, individually, it is created an essential support for the agreement.
Only a few countries refused to take part in the Paris Agreement, the significant climate deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that was signed by nearly every nation. One of them, Syria, which is in ruins after six years of ongoing civil war. Another one country that refused to take part was Nicaragua which boycotted the accord to protest its unambitious initial goals Finally, Uzbekistan was firstly against, which later signed into the agreement. In June 2017, the President Donald Trump was ready to withdraw the United States, proposing that China and India will as large polluting countries, will not do anything until 2030.
There is a logic explanation and many reasons why America should keep its commitments of Paris Agreement, which is why the deal is supported by the environmental, business, military, and foreign-policy establishments. Under Paris Agreement, 21 percent of the total emissions cuts by the year 2030 are supposed to come from the United States. International businesses, for more many years, considered as a main lobbying force for more intense government controls over trade, enterprise, labor, and property in general. A part of basic elements of the agreement, such as requirements to report on progress towards lowering emissions are binding.
However, there are some elements that are non-binding, such as the setting of emission-reduction targets. The agreement also sets two long-term mitigation goals: firstly, a peaking of emissions (recognizing that it will take longer for developing countries) and secondly, a net greenhouse gas neutrality (a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks) in the second half of the century. Furthermore, the certain aim of Agreement is to strength the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. In order to reach these goals, there must be provided appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework, thus supporting action by developing countries in line with their own national objectives. Through a more powerful framework it could be exist an enhanced transparency of action and support.
Although the Agreement is considered as legally binding treaty with a set of binding procedural commitments under international law, in contrast with Copenhagen.It is also significant that the Agreement includes procedural commitments which are binding, like the requirements to maintain successive NDCs and to report on progress in implementing them. The Paris Agreement refers that a party “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition”. This step would be seen by most countries as deviating from the spirit of the Paris Agreement, even if this is not seem to legally prevent a party from reducing the ambition of NDCs. Parties after negotiations resulted to prepare, communicate and maintain NDCs to pursue domestic mitigation measures. These actions aimed to achieve their NDCs and to regularly report on their emissions and on progress in implementing their NDCs.
The Paris Agreement is considered as a content document and will need to be elaborated through decisions of the ratified states. It is well known that the great start began in Paris, when states adopting the Agreement during the conference. However, many elements of the Paris Agreement still need to be reviewed, including rules, modalities, and guidelines for the new market mechanisms, the enhanced transparency framework, and the five-year global stock-take and updating process. Will the next step of negotiations be a technical process, elaborating the political deal in Paris, or it will be lead to a conflict of interests? Whether the Paris Agreement reflects true political willingness or political differences should become apparent during these negotiations.
[*Abbreviations: NDCs: Nationally Determined Contributors, UNFCCC: United Nations Framework of Convention on Climate Change]