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The Paris Agreement: A New Kyoto?

By October 5, 2018 No Comments


Source: MoneyControl


Emmanuel Macron was impassioned in his address to the UN General Assembly last week stating that “we are late,” and that “those who deny [climate change]… only make themselves more vulnerable.” He even urged member states to not trade with countries that are not a part of the Paris agreement.

While Macron continues to jet around the globe, pleading for the world to do something, back  in France it is evident that his administration has not taken concrete measures to contribute to the fight against climate change. In fact, emissions are on the rise and his Environment Minister resigned recently saying that “I don’t want to create the illusion that we’re facing up to [the challenges of climate change]”.

While all major emitters, with the exception of the United States, are a part of the Paris Agreement, very few are taking significant action to combat the issue of global warming.

Australia, the country with the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, recently repealed its carbon tax legislation. And whilst China, the largest emitter of GHG, has plans to phase out planned coal plants, analysts say that it is “exporting its pollution,” through the Belt and Road Initiative.

Even Canada’s carbon tax is on a lifeline, thwarted by provincial governments, including the left-leaning NDP party in Alberta. And if the federal government decides to impose a price on carbon, there is a possibility that it may not have a concrete effect on reducing emissions.

In light of America’s lenient environmental legislation, the Canadian government has decided to relax the carbon tax requirements and to give heavy emitters rebates of up to 70% to ensure they do not relocate to the United States. This is just one example of how a lack of initiative south of the border can have global impacts.

Three years after the Paris conference, it is becoming more evident that the Paris Accord is no longer relevant, following the path of its predecessor, Kyoto. COP21 banked on having buy-in from the US, China and India who cumulatively contribute 55% of global emissions. With the USA’s withdrawal and a lack of initiative on the part of other major contributors, COP21 has fallen to the same dreadful fate that bound Kyoto from the start.  

The Kyoto Protocol was a binding agreement with fines and penalties, a first of its kind, that sought to reduce emissions by 5%. Kyoto was considered a failure because, among many other reasons, major emitters like the United States, China and India were not in the agreement.

With COP21, nothing seems to have changed. Yes, large emitters like China, India, and France are part of the Accord but there is a lack of concrete action, guaranteeing that smaller countries will do the same. And the United States withdrawal just about guarantees that.

What is more troubling is that under the most ideal scenario, in which enough countries implement a concrete plan to reduce emissions, it would not be enough. Scientists have pointed out that by the time the deal comes into force, huge amounts of additional CO2 will have been pumped into the atmosphere. The signatories claim this makes it impossible to limit global warming to 2C, let alone 1.5C.

Even the UN has stated that the “current climate commitments are insufficient to reduce emissions by the amounts needed to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.” Additional research has shown that reaching the goals set out in the Paris Accord now means accepting a melted North Pole and a rise in sea levels by several meters as the best case scenario.

The planet is warming and while countries are setting hopeful targets, the truth is that few countries are willing to act alone. Without global buy in, the Paris Accord is obsolete.

From the start, the Accord was nothing more than an exercise of wishful thinking. It was never going to work then and it won’t now.


Sam Yacob, [not Jacob], is a second year EurAm student in the UBC Dual Degree Program. He was born in Asmara and raised in Toronto. He is interested in Canadian politics and the Horn of Africa.

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