Paris Agreement and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): Pivotal for systemic change to prevent rapid climate change    

Human activities, over the past couple of centuries, are responsible for causing excessive Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, thereby influencing climate system of the planet.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in its 6th assessment report-2021 confirmed “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”.  The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres termed it “Code red for humanity”.

Stopping rapid climate change is a systemic problem which demands all-encompassing systemic change, including technology, economics, politics, culture of consumerism, and the very fabric of our modern industrial societies.

It is not only about how we devise policies and operate ourselves but essentially about a radically different way of thinking.

Currently around 80 percent of our global energy demand is met by coal, oil and natural gas; China and India being the two largest coal consuming countries. And the numbers are not likely to change for another 10-15 years, unless politicians choose to do something totally different about it.

Every single day we use 100 million barrels of oil and so far no politics or economics whatsoever have been able to reduce that figure. Evidently there are no stringent rules to stop extracting that oil out of the ground. Even if there are some, they need to be reassessed and changed in a rather fundamental way.

Nevertheless, people can make politicians think, understand and feel differently by making them realize that the voters really care and that their career or political success depends on honestly tackling GHG emissions; starting with energy, transportation, agriculture, food, forestry and waste management sectors. 

At the global level, the Paris Agreement (12 Dec 2015) at COP21 was a job well done. Hopefully the COP26 summit (31 Oct – 12 Nov 2021) in Glasgow will successfully finalize the rules and procedures for implementing the Paris Agreement which aims at limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial era. This is easier said than done; however, the agreement is also our best bet for humanity at present.

The Paris Agreement requests each country to outline and communicate their post-2020 climate actions, known as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). It also requires each country to prepare, implement, communicate and maintain successive NDCs that the country intends to achieve.

To comply with the Paris Agreement, all countries should pursue domestic climate change mitigation as well as adaptation measures to meet the objectives set by their NDCs. These climate actions (performed by individual countries) will then collectively determine whether the world will achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement or not.

Politicians must also act in the direction of changing laws, incentivizing green technologies, enforcing strict regulations, punishing non-compliers for real, investing in green innovations and reducing investment in fossil fuel productions.

Doing all that may help reduce GHG emissions, but the demand for energy will certainly exceed the supply. This may result in staggeringly high oil and gas prices followed by energy crunch; like the one currently faced by the UK and Europe.

This is because solar, wind, and other alternative sources of energy aren’t yet enough or ready to replace the fossil fuels overnight. Therefore, unless our politicians are also prepared with a robust energy transition (fossil to green) strategy, it is likely that they will again be forced to get back to the same old ways of doing things.

Both people and politicians must work together (locally as well as globally) towards climate change mitigation and adaptation activities committed by their NDCs. If we are to bring about systemic change, every world citizen must feel personally responsible to make their politicians accountable (at local, regional and global levels).

Are your politicians effectively planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating your country’s NDCs to pursue climate change mitigation and adaptation activities?

Believe me, following through on this matter is more important than you switching the lights off, turning off the tap when you brush your teeth or avoiding plastic bags when you go shopping.