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There are some scary facts about climate change that we all chose to ignore. Perhaps the scariest is that, despite being the first agreement to create radical and legally binding climate change targets, meeting the emissions goals set out in the Paris Agreement is no guarantee that global temperature increases will be limited to less than two degrees.

The Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement was a culmination of years of work by the UNFCCC. In 2013, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) created a framework for the submission of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in the run up to the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21) in 2015. These INDCs were intended to be climate change plans focussed both on reducing emissions and adapting to increases in temperature, climate variability, sea level and other phenomenon associated with the inevitable rise in global temperature.

Countries were given a lot of freedom in approaching their INDCs, as different countries have different capacities for mitigation and different needs for adaptation. Nepal, for example, has very different adaptation needs to the Netherlands, while the UK has more capacity to decrease emissions- and can decrease emissions in more ways without severely increasing poverty and other key indications- than Uzbekistan. As such, the INDCs eventually submitted provided firm commitments to reducing emissions from all nations, and especially for adaptation for developing nations. In many cases, developing country INDCs were submitted with documents detailing the amount of climate finance necessary to reach those goals.

Climate finance is now there for many projects. After a sluggish start, the Green Climate Fund finally began making funding decisions in 2015, and along with other funds provides billions of dollars in grants and loans. These funds are largely built on the pledges of developed countries.

When the Paris Agreement entered into force in November 2016- early, due to the sooner than expected ratification of the Agreement in key countries- these INDCs became Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) unless another NEC was submitted simultaneously. Countries are legally bound to report on their progress towards their NDCs, even if there are no processes to ensure adherance to their targets, and give the world the best chance yet of ensuring that the global temperature rises by less than two degrees.

The best chance doesn’t mean it will be enough. The combined total of these NDCs, and the INDCs of countries that have not yet ratified the Paris Agreement, still puts us on the cusp of global warming greater than two degrees. In fact, some models suggest these commitments still may see global temperature rise by three degrees. The UNFCCC's synthesis report on the aggregate effect of intended nationally determined contributions suggests that the commitments made as part of the Paris Agreement will almost be enough, suggesting the renewal of more ambitious NDCs in 2020 will be. There’s a fine balance regardless and- even if more work is needed- the Paris Agreement is the first global climate agreement with legally binding targets. The successes of Paris can be built on. Its success is vital.

The Political Risk

The political worry now is twofold. As the global populist surge continues, there is a significant amount of risk that certain countries will not uphold their climate commitments. There is also a serious risk that the funding mechanisms, designed to help finance vital climate projects in the developing world, will fall apart.

COP22, in Marrakech, focussed largely on how to implement and mainstream the Paris Agreement. Half way through the two-week programme, the conference was rocked by the election of Donald Trump. These risks were brought quite violently to the fore.

Trump's election shook the Marrakesh climate conference

The USA

Trump has denied climate change and previously talked about backing away from the Paris Agreement. There is also a significant fear that President Trump will defund key US climate institutions, stop US funding for international climate institutions and reduce the USAID budget for climate and development related projects.

It is vital that America’s political clout is on the side of the Paris Agreement. The USA the world's second biggest polluter, but has a far greater role to play than simply reducing emissions. The rest of the free world usually follows the US. When American leaders help shape comprehensive international agreements for the common good, the floodgates usually open as other world leaders clamour to join them on the right side of history. The President has the power to get out of the Paris Agreement, as it was ratified through an Executive Order by his predecessor. So far, beyond the odd off-the-cuff remark, there is no firm commitment that he is going to do so.


It is also vital that the new President does not severely reduce funding for international aid climate finance. If the finance is not available, adaptation projects in developing countries- often included in developing country NDCs with the proviso that funding will be available- may simply not be completed. This plants the seeds for humanitarian disaster as developing nations struggle to cope with climate related crises and ongoing environmental changes, and may face long term developmental issues. Funding will continue to be available without American money, but at a lower level.

 
 
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The UK

The US is not alone in causing concern. Weeks after Brexit we heard about Clegxit- a movement for the UK to leave all climate related agreements and scrap all climate related laws. Theoretically figure headed by people like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage, there is little risk of this movement making its way to number 10, but there is a risk of it becoming mainstream grassroots thinking within the Conservatives.

This comes as another initiative launched by the populist right in British politics- scrapping international aid funding- rises to the fore. At the moment DFID spends 0.7% of GDP on international aid. This was a 2015 Tory manifesto commitment, and is in line with international norms. This aid is spent on a wide array of projects, including climate projects, adaptation projects, and climate compatible development projects.  

In terms of soft power and building the potential for trading relationships in developing regions alone, international aid provides a lot of value for money. However, on the humanitarian, developmental, and environmental side it is invaluable. There are currently no government plans to scrap this aid.

Europe

The future might see other climate change deniers or isolationists achieve power in some of the biggest economies in the world. The French and Dutch elections are later this year, and there may be Italian elections too. In all of those, there is some level of risk that either an isolationist or a climate change denier could win the election.

If a climate change sceptic or an isolationist leads any of these three nations, there is a significant risk to climate finance. As the Green Climate Fund is reliant on global pledges, and raises significantly less than its $100bn a year 2020 target, these political pressures could have a devastating impact on future climate finance compounding the effect of Trump’s presidency.

As it always does, a populist victory in one of these countries would cause others to react; should one of Europe’s founding members elect a climate change sceptic or isolationist, funding for many international institutions- especially those regarding foreign aid- will suffer across Europe. It is not clear that climate finance institutions have the excess capacity to withstand such a drop in finance and still meet global targets.

 

Is this enough?

The Paris Agreement is in good health as things stand. The NDC commitments made are now binding, and the mechanisms to aid and ensure international mitigation and adaptation have been operationalised and (at least partly) funded.

If the rise of populism damages international climate finance institutions, significant progress will still be made. Countries across the world are on the path to green growth, and mitigation and adaptation would continue regardless. Where developing country adaptation may not reach target levels in the worst case scenarios, there is enough funding and will to push the agenda on and at least improve the capacity of developing nations to cope with the environmental and risk impacts of climate change.

The big problem lies with the ambition of those NDCs and INDCs. Alone, they may not be enough. Certainly, should international streams of climate finance dry up and nations that have not yet ratified the Paris Agreement fail to do so (or, in the USA’s case, overturn the ratification), they will not be. The Paris Agreement needs to be a stepping stone to greater efforts to reduce emissions, which are unlikely to proceed this decade.

Editor in Chief, Great British Politics.
Political commentator. Ba (Hons) Modern History and Politics. Spent a lot of time on the campaign trail, for various parties. Spent a lot of time working for charities and NGOs. In search of a new picture.

- Adam Hyde
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