5 years since the Paris Agreement: Time is running out

Written by Carmen Critelli, Hannah Holste and Anna Terporten
Posted on 11.12.2020

On the 19th September, the New York’ sky was lead-grey as if it foreboded the hopeless future that humanity is going to face if no actions will be taken to avoid a climate tragedy. On that same day, in Union Square in Manhattan a message was displayed on the Metronome clock: “the Earth has a deadline”, then a sequence of numbers appears, 7:103:15:40:07. These numbers refer to time left until the Earth’s carbon budget will be used up according to the Paris Agreement statement. From that moment on, the clock is running, counting the years, the days, the hours, and seconds left until that deadline. But what are we doing to avoid this dark scenario? Are countries working together to tackle the climate crisis?

The Paris Agreement is the answer to both questions. On 12 December 2015, at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, parties of the United Nations Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached an agreement which ambition was to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, by enhancing adequate support to assist countries to comply with the pact. Its main goal was to keep the global temperature rise under 2° degrees. Its second goal was to lower the net GHG emissions to zero in the second half of the century (see above mentioned sources). To that end, firstly, in order to support the most vulnerable countries, finance, technology, and capacity-building aid was provided on a national level. Secondly, other key elements settled in the agreement on which the 196 states signed on the 4th November 2016, were transparency on the states’ implementation, establishment of long-term temperature goals, peaking of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), market- and non-market-based approaches. Fourthly, a global goal was to strengthen national adaptation effort, educate people on climate change consequences. Lastly, an examination process was considered to be crucial in order to evaluate to what extent the goals established were achieved. Indeed, in 2018, a facilitative dialogue took place, analysing the status of implementation and the collective progress towards the long-term emission reduction goal of Art 4.

One of the major characteristics that differentiate the Paris agreement from the other international pacts on climate change is that the accord allows the states to voluntarily and nationally determine the targets. The Paris accord put the emphasis on consensus-building and not legally bound. Therefore, the climate consequences are in the hands of the nations, which are the ones to fully comply with Paris’s goals.

(source: ednh news)
Do the Netherlands fulfill the Paris Agreement?

The Netherlands are one of the countries most affected by climate change, since a large share of their territory lies below the sea level. This makes it particularly important for them to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In order to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, countries have set up so-called NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions). These plans define the country’s proposed measures to combat climate change.

In 2019, the Netherlands adopted two main acts to fight against climate change. First, the Climate Act (Klimaatakkoord) sets out the goals the Netherlands wish to achieve. Second, the National Climate Agreement specifies the measures taken to achieve the goals set out in the Climate Act. The Climate Agreement, moreover, is part of the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP). The European Commission demands every EU Member State to formulate a NECP for their country, laying down the strategies how they are dealing with the topics of energy efficiency, renewable energies, GHG emission reduction, interconnections and research/innovation for the years 2020 until 2030.

The Paris Agreement demands a 25% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by the year 2020 compared to the GHG level in 1990. The Netherlands did not achieve this goal. By the end of 2018, a reduction of only 15% was reached.

According to the National Climate Agreement, the Netherlands plan to reduce GHG emissions by 49% by the year 2030. This, however, will not contribute to achieve the goals set for 2020 in the Paris Agreement. According to current calculations by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, this goal is likely to not be met either if there is no drastic change in existing policies.

The following table compares the current Dutch policies with the targets the government has set for the future and whether they meet the Paris targets. It is clearly visible that the Netherlands fail to meet several of the points agreed upon in the Paris Agreement.

(source: Sterl, Höhne & Kuramochi, 2016)
Reasons for non-compliance of the Netherlands

The reasons for the non-compliance of the Paris Agreement by the Netherlands are multiple, going from a dominating transport sector to livestock farming and the Dutch economy being heavily dependent on fossil fuels. As a consequence of that, the Netherlands have to face consequences such as increasing loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution, global warming, and overexploitation of natural resources.

But, talking in particular about reasons for the Dutch’s refusal to comply with the Paris Agreement, we must have a look at the main sources of environmental damage in the Netherlands. Here, the traffic and transport sector is the leading source of environmental harm. Nitrogen oxide or NO2 which causes a range of harmful effects on the lungs and is responsible for more than two-thirds of the damage evoked by this sector. Due to nitrogen oxide air pollution, the year 2015 recorded 1,900 premature deaths.

The Agricultural sector is the second source to blame for. Every year the Dutch government has to pay around 6.5 billion euros of damage per year. In particular, half of the damage is caused by ammonia and about 40% from methane and nitrous oxide which goes back to the consequences of livestock farming.

Furthermore, the energy sector plays a significant role when it comes to climate change and environmental harm. The carbon dioxide produced by the nonrenewable energy sources absorbs and radiates heat in the atmosphere and leads to global warming. By 2014, the Netherlands produced only 5.5 percent of its total energy from renewable sources. With that, the Netherlands had one of the lowest percentages within the EU. Even though the use of renewable sources has been increased, the Netherlands still produces its majority from gas and coal. However, that can definitely be improved.

Any hope for the future?

Having talked about the reasons for the Netherlands’ failure to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, the question arises “Can we actually look into a brighter future or just stare at the Metronome clock at the Times Square and wait for our remaining time to pass?”

As the article has analysed, we need systemic changes and institutional reforms towards a green economy to combat the environmental challenges of the 21st century and to gain any sense of achievement with The Paris Agreement. However, blaming authorities and the government are not solutions to solve the sustainable future puzzle. What we need are critical and energetic citizens, willing to take up responsibility in a conscious society and calling for action in order to tackle the climate crisis – because we have not forgotten the Paris Agreement.

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