Five frequently asked questions about the Paris Agreement on climate

Chris Simoens & Ulrik Lenaerts
30 January 2017

1. Are we on the right track to curb global warming?

The Paris Agreement on climate stipulated that global warming had to be limited to well below 2°C compared with the pre-industrial level. If at all possible, even below 1.5°C. We can currently only limit global warming to around 3°C if we combine all the efforts of individual countries. That is therefore not enough.

The Paris Agreement envisages that an analysis is made every 5 years to assess the global state of play in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. This makes it possible to adjust the efforts made, based on technological progress among other things. The first analysis will take place in 2023. A dialogue is already planned for 2018, during which the progress of national contributions will be scrutinised. In the same year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will draw up a report on how we can limit global warming to 1.5°C. The possibilities therefore exist to go further than what is currently on the table.

A lot will depend on economic patterns. For example, solar panels are already currently so cheap that India has largely exceeded its climate promises. Renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) is often already cheaper than energy from fossil fuels such as oil and gas. Technology will also play an important role. For example, the technology is already available - including in Belgium - to use CO2 as a raw material for products such as building materials, chemical products and fuels. This limits CO2 emissions.

Of course, the challenges are still enormous. Just think of all the houses which in principle need to be climate neutral by 2050. Climate sceptics who are in power, including Donald Trump, cannot immediately reverse the trend. But a lot depends on how long these people remain in power, and how many allies they can muster.


2. What is the European Union doing?

The EU has stated that it intends to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. By 2020, the target is 20%, by 2040 it is 60%, and by 2050, it is at least 80%. As such, the EU is more or less on track with what is proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: that rich countries need to reduce their emissions by 80-95% by 2050, to limit global warming to 2°C. In addition, the EU is incorporating a broad range of initiatives to help developing countries achieve their climate promises. This could increase the 80% by a few percentage points. That is the agreement at least.

The EU intends to achieve the 40% reduction by 2030 in three areas:

  • Industry: 43% fewer emissions compared to 2005. Industry receives 2.2% fewer emissions rights every year.
  • Non-industry related activities (housing, agriculture, transport, etc.): 30% fewer emissions compared to 2005, whereby a specific objective is imposed on every Member State. For Belgium, the figure is 35%, which is a very high target.
  • Supporting elements such as energy and fuels


3. Is 100 billion dollars a year enough for developing countries?

To achieve a climate-neutral world by 2050 - in other words one which does not cause any further global warming - the entire world economy needs to be transformed! The climate pledges made by India and China each require more than 100 billion dollars in themselves. China estimates that 6.5 trillion dollars will be necessary in order to fulfil their climate pledges by 2030 (investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and suchlike). The transition to a climate-resilient, low-carbon society will also cost trillions of dollars. And yet, the additional costs are limited in comparison with the anticipated damage. The promised 100 billion dollars for developing countries represents an important lever, even though much larger additional private investment will be required.


4. Why are development funds used for climate projects?

Critics find it objectionable to allocate funds for development cooperation as climate funds. It is true that a proportion of development funds are used to make developing countries more resilient in the face of climate change. These funds are included in the calculation of the 100 billion dollars, and are simultaneously recognised as Official Development Assistance (ODA).

It is logical that support for developing countries is considered as ODA. In addition, development projects need to take account of climate change, otherwise the results of these will be cancelled out over time. In practice, it would seem to be impossible to separate climate projects from development cooperation. For example, investing in renewable energy can both fight poverty and create employment.

The question can be put differently: can't development funds be increased so that more projects for climate resilience can be taken into account? Some European countries achieve 0.7% or more of Gross Domestic Product in aid, but Belgium has not managed this level due to budget austerity.

Belgium has pledged €50 million per year in climate funds for developing countries, including €25 million from the Federal government. In 2016, this €25 million came entirely from the development cooperation budget.


5. Why are there voluntary national climate pledges?

Some people believe that the Paris Agreement is flawed, because individual countries can choose themselves how they want to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases. It would be better to impose tough, top-down objectives. But this is not feasible in practice: many countries would rather decide for themselves. The Paris Agreement does however stipulate that countries need to work towards achieving maximum effort. Moreover, these are reviewed every 5 years, taking account of scientific progress.

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About the same theme - Article 14 /13 The Paris Agreement on climate is irreversible