The Paris Agreement, signed at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015, aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while striving to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, countries agreed to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which they would review and update every five years.
In 2016, countries submitted their first Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), outlining their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. These NDCs formed the basis of the Paris Agreement, and were intended to reflect each country`s „highest possible ambition.“
Overall, the targets set by countries in 2016 fell short of what is needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, let alone the more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global carbon dioxide emissions would need to reach net-zero by around 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, some countries did set more ambitious targets than others. For example, the European Union pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, China pledged to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its primary energy consumption to around 20% by the same year.
Other countries, such as the United States, pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but did not set particularly ambitious targets. The Obama administration pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, which was widely seen as insufficient.
Since 2016, countries have been updating their NDCs, with a deadline of 2020 for submitting new and updated targets. Some countries, such as the United States, have indicated that they will either not submit new targets or will submit less ambitious ones. However, other countries, such as the European Union and China, have pledged to increase their ambition. The UK, for example, has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% below 1990 levels by 2030, and to aim for net-zero emissions by 2050.
Overall, the 2016 Paris Agreement targets were seen as a step in the right direction, but not sufficient to address the scale of the climate crisis. The updated NDCs submitted over the coming years will show whether countries are willing to take the action needed to limit global warming to a safe level.