Earth Day Network

How Prepared Are the Western Powers for the Paris Agreement?

Australia, the UK and the US may be lagging behind the pack

The climate won a significant victory when 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions ratified the Paris agreement, following a European Union vote earlier this month. The agreement is now set to come into force on November 4. In signing the Paris Agreement, each country put forth goals on what they would do to help reach the goal of keeping the temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, with the date of ratification so close, there is doubt about whether some major countries can meet the goals that they proposed.

Australia is one country that has recently come under fire from the international community. A recent review from the United Nations found emissions rising in Australia, accompanied by unclear plans on how the country will meet its goals. Countries such as the U.S. have raised questions to Australia asking them to explain their rising emissions and to clarify their methods for calculating emissions. This controversy is exacerbated by the fact that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is quoted saying a massive power outage in South Australia was worsened by the state’s “extremely aggressive and extremely unrealistic” renewable energy plan. Statements like this put into question how much of a priority the Paris Agreement is for the Australian government.

The United Kingdom is experiencing issues as well. The UK’s current long term plan is to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. However, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change published a report saying that current policies would meet around half of this target at best. Some criticize the government for not doing enough to meet their climate goals and instead prioritizing fracking, constructing new airplane runways, and opening new coal mines, as opposed to focusing on the deployment of renewable energies. The UK also laid out three phases to make a low-carbon transformation, and while the first phase—making electricity low-carbon—is on track, adequate preparation for the next two phases appears to be lacking.

Environmental politics has created gridlock in the U.S. as well, which has caused many environmental policies in line with the Paris accord to stall. The United States has a plan to cut emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025. A recent study found that current U.S. policies will not only fail to reach these levels, but will not even come close. The next presidential election, which will happen just 4 days after the Paris agreement takes effect, will likely hold great significance for the future of the climate accord. This is because the two frontrunners have very different views on whether or not the U.S should prioritize or even be a part of the climate agreement.

The Paris Climate Agreement calls on developed countries to take the lead on mitigating climate change; however, with the agreement to take effect in a few weeks, these findings indicate that some major developed countries are struggling to take on this leadership role.
Daniel Klein, Intern