Climate agreements after Paris: countries, payments, and the climate emergency

A report reviewing climate commitments under the Paris Agreement by country has been released during the UN climate conference in Poland. It shows that the only way to succeed in the face of climate change is for each country to do its fair share.
  Published:  06 Dec 2018    |      3 minute read

The independent review ("After Paris: inequality, fair shares, and the climate emergency") is supported by social movements, environmental and development NGOs, trade unions, faith and other civil society groups from the world over and measures the ‘fair share’ that each country should shoulder in terms of historical responsibility and capability to reverse climate change.

With the talks reaching consensus that the world is at a crossroads, this critical report finds:

  • The EU and the US are falling far short of doing their fair shares of the necessary global action based on how much a country previously emitted and their capacity to respond to the climate crisis now
  • Many poorer countries are pledging action, but without support it will not be enough
  • Countries’ current pledges don’t come close to a future consistent with a 1.5°C pathway. We need fair share pledges that are designed to support a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel consumption and production across the globe
  • The Paris Agreement is not delivering the radically scaled-up action needed; it’s not enough for pledges to be science-based, they must also be fair because equity is not a moral luxury, it’s central to a successful global deal

The report demonstrates when the poorest half of the world receives less than one-tenth of the global total income, many surviving on less than $2 per day and generating almost no emissions, it follows that they cannot be equally asked to shoulder the burden of climate action. In contrast, the richest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for over 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

A rapid climate transition is needed, but because of global inequality between and within countries, it must be a "just transition" that begins with support for the most vulnerable and include fossil-dependent workers and communities. This is especially relevant given host country Poland’s reliance on coal.

Rachel Kennerley, international climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said:

"The restaurant is about to close, the bill needs prompt paying and while most of the table had a starter, pudding, and wine, a couple of people just had salad. Do you seriously offer to divide the bill equally? We are at a point where we know what needs to be done to reverse climate chaos and it boils down to this simple principle: wealthier countries, who emit more now and historically, can and should pay more.”

The current combined climate pledges that countries have made under the Paris Agreement add up to over 3 degrees of global warming, which is species ending. At 2 degrees of warming, coral reefs - a vital food source for many - would disappear. 1.5 degrees, which is the temperature aim in the Paris Agreement, is only achievable if equity is prioritised.

The Paris Agreement aims to stop dangerous levels of climate change and prevent lives being destroyed by extreme weather. It’s also known as the Paris Climate Accord, Paris Climate Agreement and Paris Climate Deal.

World leaders shook on the text during the Paris climate talks in December 2015. The signing was an historic moment, with 195 countries agreeing for the first time to take collective action to combat climate change.

It officially came into force on 4 November 2016.

Signatories agreed to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C – and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°: the temperature that gives us the best chance of limiting impacts to levels that people and nature can cope with. We’ve already hit over 1° of warming, leading to melting sea-ice, 50° heatwaves and flooding.

The Agreement also compels nations to address the loss and damage caused by climate impacts. And it commits finance to help developing countries tackle and adapt to climate change.

Today’s report says all high emitters, predominantly the US and the EU, will have to do more to close the emissions gap. But they must also assist poorer countries to meet their goals through finance and technology access. This could, for example, mean sharing patent-free renewable technology. Equity is not a moral luxury, it is a practical necessity in meeting the Paris goals, but climate discussions in Poland this week have so far sidestepped it.

Co-director of EcoEquity Tom Athanasiou, one of the report authors, said:

“This report really is something new. It takes on the science and equity challenge, but in a way that's meaningful both within the negotiations this week and in the real world. We need to talk about fair shares of the global effort: inequity between countries, and inequality within them, in the explicit context of the 1.5C temperature target. If we're going to have any chance of achieving that target, we're going to have to take the issue of fairness seriously."

Brandon Wu, ActionAid USA's Director of Policy and Campaigns, said:

"Who wants to go back home and tell their voters that they got a raw deal for their country from the UN climate change process? Especially at a time when the vast inequality between the world’s richest people and everyone else is driving us deeper into crisis. That's exactly what rich nations are trying to get developing countries to do. Unless there is a fair deal that accounts for the legacy of climate change caused by industrialised developed countries, we will never have a sustainable global strategy.

“We have to get some trust back into the process, and that starts with rich countries making much stronger commitments to fix the climate crisis that they, and their wealthiest elites, are largely responsible for creating.”

The report’s broad finding is clear: countries must do all that is necessary to achieve the 1.5°C goal, and this can only be done if the equity challenge is met. Those with more, must do more.

Rachel Kennerley concluded: “The cost of climate transition must ultimately be paid by the people who have the money, this is true both within countries and between them, or billions will suffer. We have one planet, we can act together now to save it, or be the generation that passively allowed species destruction on a truly terrifying scale. We all have a voice, we need to use it, and we need to pay our fair share to reverse climate chaos and protect the one home we have.”