In the ongoing discourse surrounding climate change and its implications, it’s essential to grasp the fundamentals. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the key concepts and the pressing need for action.
Kyoto Protocol (1997)
The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, was the first major international treaty to address climate change. It set legally binding emission reduction targets for developed countries, also known as Annex I countries, with the goal of reducing their emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels during the first commitment period, which lasted from 2008 to 2012. Each Annex I country had its own specific target.
The Kyoto Protocol had a top-down approach, with targets assigned to individual countries based on historical emissions and economic capacity. It also established a market-based mechanism called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI), which allowed developed countries to invest in emission reduction projects in other countries to meet their own targets.
However, the Kyoto Protocol had limitations. It did not include binding commitments for developing countries, which were rapidly increasing their emissions. Additionally, several key countries, including the United States, did not ratify the treaty, which limited its global impact.
Paris Agreement (2015)
The Paris Agreement stands as a legally binding international treaty aimed at addressing the critical issue of climate change. It marked a pivotal moment when 196 Parties gathered at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, France, on December 12, 2015, to unanimously adopt it. Subsequently, the agreement took effect on November 4, 2016.
The Agreement establishes overarching objectives for all nations:
- Significantly decrease worldwide greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of constraining the global temperature rise in this century to 2 degrees Celsius, with continued endeavors to further restrict the increase to 1.5 degrees.
- Periodically assess the commitments made by countries every five years.
- Allocate financial support to developing nations to help them address climate change, bolster their capacity to withstand its effects, and enhance their adaptability to climate impacts.
This historic accord emerged as a culmination of decades of global efforts to address the pressing issue of climate change. Its background can be traced back to the UNFCCC’s establishment in 1992, which laid the foundation for international cooperation on climate change.
Over the years, negotiations took place in various COP meetings and the Paris Agreement marked a significant turning point in climate diplomacy, as it aimed to unite nations in the shared goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration to limit it to 1.5 degrees.
It introduced a flexible and bottom-up approach, where each country put forth its own voluntary climate action plan, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The accord’s adoption signified a global commitment to combating climate change and fostering a sustainable future for our planet.
What are NDCs?
Nationally Determined Contributions, commonly referred to as NDCs, stand as individualized climate commitments made by nations within the framework of the Paris Agreement. These commitments outline a country’s specific actions and strategies aimed at contributing to the collective endeavor of limiting global warming to the targeted 1.5°C, while simultaneously addressing the imperative of adapting to climate-related challenges and securing the necessary financial support for these endeavors. NDCs encompass plans that span the near to mid-term, and they are mandated to undergo periodic updates every five years, with an emphasis on progressively elevating the level of ambition, contingent upon the unique capabilities and resources of each participating nation.
How is Progress tracked?
Within the framework of the Paris Agreement, nations have instituted an enhanced transparency framework (ETF). Beginning in 2024, this ETF mandates countries to provide comprehensive reports on their actions and advancements concerning climate change mitigation, adaptation strategies, and the support they offer or receive. It also establishes international procedures for reviewing these submitted reports.
The data collected through the ETF will contribute to the Global Stocktake, which evaluates collective progress towards the long-term climate objectives. This assessment will subsequently offer recommendations to countries for setting more ambitious plans in the next phase.
The Paris Agreement effectively succeeded the Kyoto Protocol, as the latter’s first commitment period ended in 2012. The Kyoto Protocol continues to exist, but its relevance has diminished. Many of its mechanisms, such as the CDM and JI, are no longer active, and its primary focus was on developed countries. The Paris Agreement built on the lessons learned from the Kyoto Protocol. It addressed the need for a more inclusive and flexible approach, involving all countries in the fight against climate change. It recognized the evolving nature of the global economy and the increased contributions from emerging economies. The agreement also sought to enhance transparency, tracking, and reporting of emissions and actions, which was a weak point in the Kyoto Protocol.
In summary, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are both international climate treaties, but they differ significantly in their approach. The Kyoto Protocol imposed legally binding targets on developed countries, while the Paris Agreement allows countries to voluntarily set their own goals. The Paris Agreement reflects a more contemporary and inclusive approach to address climate change, aiming to create a global consensus to combat this critical issue while learning from the strengths and limitations of its predecessor.