A new paper just published online asks a timely and poignant question as the U.S. Presidential election splatters the headlines this week: What does the Paris Agreement actually do? The author succinctly answers his own question, concluding that the Paris Agreement allows countries like China and India “permission to emit as much [CO2] as they see fit,” and therefore the international pact “makes the policy of mitigation of global warming impossible.”
What does the Paris Agreement actually do?
“Though very widely believed to be inadequate in the target it sets, the Paris Agreement is commonly thought actually to set a binding target of reducing global CO2e emissions so as to limit global warming to 2℃. Proper legal interpretation of the Agreement shows it to set no such target. It rather gives the newly industrialising countries such as China and India a permission to emit as much as they see fit. These countries have been principally responsible for the huge growth in emissions since 1990 and they will be responsible for their continued huge growth until 2030. The Paris Agreement therefore makes the policy of mitigation of global warming impossible. However, this policy has been impossible over the whole of the now more than a quarter century of international climate change policy.”
To expand on this point, consider that global-scale CO2 emissions were still only 6.5 gigatons per year (GtC/yr) in the year 1999, but they grew to 7.5 GtC/yr by 2005, 8.5 GtC/yr by 2008, and 10.1 GtC/yr by 2014. Here’s what that explosive growth in CO2 emissions looks like:
Notice the exponential expansion in climate change mitigation laws and policies from 1997, 2009, and 2014, and how they are negatively correlated with global-scale CO2 emissions growth (source: London School of Economics). In other words, the more laws are passed that attempt to mitigate the growth in CO2 emissions, the sharper the growth in CO2 emissions.
Three-quarters of the world’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases are now limited by national targets
“53 countries, including the 28 Member States of the European Union, have national targets that set either absolute or relative limits on annual emissions of greenhouse gases across their economies. … 98 countries and the European Union together had 804 climate laws and policies at the end of 2014, compared with 426 in 2009, when a previous attempt was made in Copenhagen, Denmark, to reach an international agreement. In 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, these countries had just 54 climate laws and policies between them. … 47 countries, including the 28 Member States of the European Union, have introduced carbon pricing through either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.”
According to an analysis by the Washington Post, Gigawatt-hours (GWh) from fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) grew from 5.8 GWh in 1980 to 15.4 GWh in 2012. Gigawatt-hours from renewables rose from 1.8 GWh in 1980 to 4.8 GWh in 2012. This means that total consumption of fossil fuel energies grew more than 3 times faster than renewables did (9.6 GWh vs. 3 GWh) between 1980 and 2012.