Prove Paris was more than paper promises
Beyond US President Donald Trump’s decision in June to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, a more profound challenge to the global climate pact is emerging. No major advanced industrialized country is on track to meet its pledges to control the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change.
Wishful thinking and bravado are eclipsing reality. Countries in the European Union are struggling to increase energy efficiency and renewable power to the levels that they claimed they would. Japan promised cuts in emissions to match those of its peers, but meeting the goals will cost more than the country is willing to pay. Even without Trump’s attempts to roll back federal climate policy, the United States is shifting its economy to clean energy too slowly.
The Paris agreement offered, in theory, to reboot climate diplomacy by giving countries the flexibility to set their own commitments. As of July 2017, 153 countries have ratified the agreement — 147 of which have submitted pledges to reduce emissions, also known as nationally determined contributions. The idea is that as each country implements its own pledge, others can learn what is feasible, and that collaborative global climate protection will emerge. That logic, however, threatens to unravel because national governments are making promises that they are unable to honour.
Advanced industrialized nations are the key to getting the Paris agreement on track. These countries, conventionally the leaders on climate policy, have made pledges that will cost the most to deliver. They have the deepest pockets and are responsible for most of the emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Developing countries are of course vital to driving the deep worldwide reduction in emissions that is needed to stop global warming. But so far, such countries have set targets that will be much easier to achieve. Their policy priorities are closer to home, focusing on pressing problems such as cutting local air pollution and improving energy security.
We call on governments that want the Paris agreement to work to revisit their pledges now — well ahead of when the formal review process begins around 2020 — and to be honest about what they can and really will do. They should open up their pledges for voluntary peer review by other nations and by scientists. Only with greater transparency, anchored in reality, can bottom-up climate diplomacy yield true cooperation. Ambition is no substitute for action.