Revisiting Paris Agreement

INTRODUCTION
The Paris Agreement 1 , a global environmental treaty signed by 195 2 nations in 2015, gave a new
course in the effort to combat global climate change. The Agreement aims to strengthen the
global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and
efforts to eradicate poverty. This Agreement implements the objectives of the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 3 , adopted in New York on May 9, 1992.
It brings together the signatory nations on a global level to hold the increase in the global
average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue
efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The
Agreement has significantly recognized the need for an effective and progressive response to the
urgent threat of climate change, since experts have warned that any rise in global temperatures of
more than 2 degrees Celsius would be an unacceptable risk.
Now, what constitute the core or heart of the Paris Agreement are the Nationally Determined
Contributions (NDCs) of the signatory nations. Article 4, paragraph 2 of the Paris Agreement 4
requires each Party to prepare, communicate and maintain successive NDCs that it intends to
achieve. NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the
impacts of climate change, and outline and communicate their post-2020 climate actions. 
Here comes the point, the ‘year 2020’. Since the Paris agreement, the annual gathering COP26,
which was to take place in November 2020 in Glasgow, has been seeking to further the
international commitment to limit global temperature rises. It had to be postponed due to the
pandemic. Without it, there would be very little progress and with minds heavily focused on

1 The Paris Agreement, United Nations Climate Change (adopted 12 December 2015, entered into force 6 November
2016) <https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement&gt;
2 Paris Agreement, Status of Ratification, United Nations Climate Change <https://unfccc.int/process/the-paris-
agreement/status-of-ratification>
3 ‘What is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?, United Nations Climate Change (entered
into force on 21 March 1994) <https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-convention/what-is-the-united-nations-
framework-convention-on-climate-change>
4 The Paris Agreement, United Nations Climate Change (adopted 12 December 2015, entered into force 6 November
2016) <https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement&gt;

tackling Covid-19 the climate crisis has taken a bit of a back seat. As COP26 President Alok
Sharma rightly said, “While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the coronavirus,
we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change.” 5 Though, leaders around the
world are talking about ‘green recovery’ 6 , whether we would be able to plan and execute
economic recovery ensuring minimum possible damage to the climate or not definitely is a moot
point.
THE PANDEMIC & CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change is an international concern just like COVID-19. But, when the world grapples
with a pandemic, attention and resources shift. Due to lockdowns around the world, and the
resulting decreased use of transportation and other emission producing activities, projections for
2020 7 , range from 4% to 7% reduction in carbon emissions. But, the head of the UN
Environment Programme (UNEP) 8 , Inger Andersen, has cautioned against viewing this as a boon
for the environment 9 , since CO 2  levels don’t fluctuate based on short-term events like that. So, the
long-term effect on climate change is expected to be trivially small owing to the fact that many
large economies are rebounding fairly quickly.
In a new study 10 led by the University of Leeds’ Piers Forster and his daughter Harriet concludes
that the global temperature signal due to the short-term dynamics of the pandemic is likely to be
small. These results highlight that without underlying long-term, system-wide de-carbonization
of economies, even massive shifts in behavior only lead to modest reductions in the rate of
warming. Hence, pursuing a green stimulus recovery out of the post-COVID-19 economic crisis
5 Patricia Espinosa, ‘New dates agreed for COP26’ (UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021, 29 May
2020) <https://www.ukcop26.org/new-dates-agreed-for-cop26-united-nations-climate-change-conference/> accessed
6 September 2020
6 Scott Bocskay, ‘What is a Green Recovery?’ (Sustainable Fund Australia, 16 May
2020) <https://sustainableaustraliafund.com.au/what-is-a-green-recovery/> accessed 6 September 2020
7 C,RB,MW Le quéré, jackson, jones, ‘Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19
forced confinement’ (Nature Climate Change, 19 May 2020) <https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-
x> accessed 5 September 2020
8 UN Environment Programme <https://www.unenvironment.org/&gt;
9 UN News, ‘First Person: COVID-19 is not a silver lining for the climate, says UN Environment chief’ (Global
Perspective Human Stories, 5 April 2020) <https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061082> accessed 5 September
2020
10 PM,HI,MJ Forster, forster, evans, ‘Current and future global climate impacts resulting from COVID-19’ (Nature
Climate Change, 7 August 2020) <https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0883-0> accessed 7 September
2020

can set the world on track for keeping the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement
within sight. 11
Temporary halt in the economic activities doesn’t help. The Scripps Institute of Oceanography
has highlighted that fossil fuel use would have to decline by about 10 percent around the world,
and would need to be sustained for a year to show up clearly in carbon dioxide levels. 12 Policies
of most of the high emitter nations like India and China seem to be on track with the goal of
reducing carbon emissions in the long term (2050 and beyond), but none of them are ambitious
enough to have a significant impact on climate change in the short term. 13 Here is the gap which
needs to be addressed in the enhanced NDCs considering COVID-19 as well.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has resulted in a very large cut in foreign trade as a result of
falling global demand for both consumption as well as investments. 14 So, when the economies
will be back on tracks with full potential after bidding adieu to the virus, the tremendous pace at
which economic activities will be carried out would be a greater cause of concern. Attempt to
restart economy on the cost of climate, is what we are going to see in the coming days. So, the
current crisis is an opportunity for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that
works for both people and the planet. 15
CONCERNS BEING IGNORED
Governments around the world are trying their level best to fight the pandemic and economic
slowdown as well. But, still there are some concerns which are being ignored. One of the

11 ScottK Johnson, ‘COVID-19 won’t impact climate much, but economic recovery could’ (Ars Technica, 8 August
2020) <https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/08/covid-19-wont-impact-climate-much-but-economic-recovery-
could/> accessed 5 September 2020
12 UN News, ‘First Person: COVID-19 is not a silver lining for the climate, says UN Environment chief’ (Global
Perspective Human Stories, 5 April 2020) <https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061082> accessed 5 September
2020
13 Emilee,Nasos Hyde, mihalakas, ‘PARIS AGREEMENT: COMMITMENTS AMID COVID-19 AND THE ROAD
TO 2050′ (Diplomatic Courier, 20 August 2020) <https://www.diplomaticourier.com/posts/paris-agreement-
commitments-amid-covid-19-and-the-road-to-2050> accessed 7 September 2020
14 Organisation for economic co-operation and development, ‘COVID-19 and international trade: Issues and
actions’ (OECD Policy Responses, 12 June 2020) <http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/covid-19-and-
international-trade-issues-and-actions-494da2fa/> accessed 7 September 2020
15 UN News, ‘First Person: COVID-19 is not a silver lining for the climate, says UN Environment chief’ (Global
Perspective Human Stories, 5 April 2020) <https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061082> accessed 5 September
2020

concerns is that the pandemic will result in an increase in the amounts of medical and hazardous
wastes generated. The littering of these items is not only an environmental hazard but a source of
infection also. This is no one’s model of environmental response.
The pandemic has hugely impacted our life styles and consumption habits. We have become
habitual of the social distancing norms, wearing masks, and sanitizing our hands every now and
then. These practices were already advised to be safe from air pollution and various other
contagious diseases. But, it took us a pandemic, claiming millions of lives, to actually start
adhering to these practices. We cannot wait for a disastrous climate change to start realizing our
responsibility on individual levels in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. Since, not only
policies, but individual actions bring the required change. Any positive environmental impact in
the wake of this abhorrent pandemic must therefore be in our changing our production and
consumption habits towards cleaner and greener. Because, only long-term systemic shifts will
change the trajectory of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. So, in the aftermath of the
crisis, when economic stimulus packages composed of infrastructure are designed, there is a real
opportunity to meet that demand with green packages of renewable energy investments, smart
buildings, green and public transport, etc. 
Another major concern is that the outbreak may supplant climate concerns in the minds of the
public, weakening political will at a key moment. “Everybody’s going to be putting safety first
right now,” says Matthew McKinnon, an advisor to a group of countries especially vulnerable to
climate change. “And whether or not safety first aligns with climate first is going to vary from
place to place.” 16 This ‘safety’ can be construed as physical safety and economic safety as well.
There may be nations badly struck by recession. For them, climate action may not be the priority
at all. Hence, there is a dire necessity to revisit the Paris agreement and review NDCs for post
2020 climate actions.
Another concern is that of the United States (U.S.). The U.S. is the world’s second largest
emitter of greenhouse gases. If it does not reduce its emissions, it could seriously jeopardize the
world’s objective of keeping the global temperature rise to within 2 degrees Celsius from pre-

16 Justin Worland, ‘How Coronavirus Could Set Back the Fight Against Climate Change’ (Time, 10 March
2020) <https://time.com/5795150/coronavirus-climate-change/> accessed 8 September 2020

industrial times. But, the U.S. is set to exit the Paris Agreement on November 4, 2020. While
exiting the Paris Agreement does not automatically mean the abandonment of this target or of
any future action by the United States on climate change, it would no longer be committed to
these actions. U.S. President Trump has also emphasized the expansion of U.S. fossil fuel
production in his “America First Energy Plan 17 ”. But the biggest impact of the exit of the U.S.
from the Agreement might be on the financial flows to enable climate actions. Ultimately, it
would weaken enforcement measures of the Agreement and undermine the resolve of other
countries to make their own tough cuts.

CONCLUSION
The pandemic has given us new ideas and has also shown people’s potential in adhering to a
certain practice. With COVID-19 widely affecting the global economy and having a tangible
impact on global production-trade-consumption, the time is perfect for reevaluation of policies
and goals and reorienting them in way that the aims of the Paris Agreement are met before 2030.
Fighting climate change could be a possible avenue to alleviate the negative economic effects of
the pandemic, and therefore climate change policies should be considered while governments are rebuilding their economies. For this to happen, nations need to go back to the Paris Agreement
and recall their commitments and importance of the engagements of all levels of government and
various actors, for applying the best available science to reduce the emission levels. We have to
accept the new lifestyle but we should not break our promise towards climate change.

Author- Harshita Yadav

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