The 2015 Climate Agreement was a stimulus for reversing negative climate change, but achieving this requires even more effort and ambition. However, the result wil definitely be worth it. This was the conclusion reached by the participants of the webinar organized by EURACTIV.pl and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The negotiations took many years, but on December 12th 2015, at the conclusion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21), the first such broad, universal and legally binding document was signed on climate issues in the world’s, which replaced the Kyoto Protocol from 1997.
After the Paris Agreement was ratified by the first 55 countries, which together account for 55% of greenhouse gas emissions, it could enter into force in November 2016.
Under the new UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, its signatories have committed themselves to limit the average increase in the Earth’s temperature to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to strive towards climate neutrality by 2050.
To achieve this goal, voluntary greenhouse gas reduction targets are announced from 2020 that will be reviewed (and possibly revised) every five years.
However, a serious test for the future of the agreement was the decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to begin in August 2017 the formal process of withdrawing his country from this international agreement.
Trump considered the accord negotiated and ratified during the previous presidential administration led by Barack Obama as unfavorable for his country. But returning to it is legally possible and the hope for such a scenario rises with the recent electoral victory in the USA of Democrat Joe Biden, who strongly emphasizes the need to take action to protect the climate.
5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement
Five years have passed since the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement and the first deadline for reviewing national emission reduction targets. That is why on December 12th a virtual Climate Ambition Summit took place, an idea proposed by the UK.
The summit was attended by 78 world leaders, and among them were six of the ten largest emitters of greenhouse gases into the world’s atmosphere: China, the EU, India, Japan and Canada. The United States was represented by the Climate Governors of Michigan and Massachusetts.
Those absent included the leading emitters of harmful substances into the atmosphere, which have not announced plans to achieve climate neutrality: Australia, Brazil and Indonesia. The conference also lacked a representative of Poland.
Still, at the December EU summit, Warsaw supported raising the EU goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 2030 from 40% to at least 55% compared to 1990 levels.
On the other hand, Poland was only ranked 48th in the ranking of 58 countries in the implementation of the climate policy principles agreed five years ago, i.e. Climate Change Performance Index 2021, which covers 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In each of the four categories of this report, Poland was rated „low” or „very low”.
What is more, although the European Union member states were at the absolute top of the above ranking, Poland was ranked very low. It took one of the last places among the EU countries.
What is interesting, the first three places of the ranking remained symbolically unoccupied to show that none of the countries are on exactly the path towards reducing emissions that they should have been five years after the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Polish Energy Policy 2040 Plan
Polish Minister of Climate and Environment Michał Kurtyka said during the webinar that the implementation of the Paris 2015 Agreement is a long and complicated process, which was further refined at subsequent climate conferences, including the one in Katowice in December 2018 (COP24).
He also reminded that in recent weeks we saw many declarations from the world’s largest CO2 emitters concerning the increased reduction of these emissions. „These are the declarations that show that they find the implementation of the declarations from Paris as their priority. I mean Japan declaring to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. A similar declaration was made by South Korea. China, on the other hand, is going to reach climate neutrality by 2060. The world leader, the EU, announced its plan to achieve climate neutrality by mid-21st at the summit on December 2019. These declarations would not have been possible without the COP24 in Katowice”, said the Polish minister.
He added that Joe Biden’s announcements about the return of the USA to the Paris Agreement also arouse a lot of optimism. “Soon we will have declarations of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 by countries emitting 65% of all CO2 and covering 70% of the world economy. On 1 January 2021, the operational framework developed in Katowice will replace the Kyoto Protocol,” he stressed.
The minister underlined that Poland’s transformation plan remains in accordance with the guidelines developed thanks to COP24, but pointed to the numerous challenges the country faces in this process.
„First of all, in 1989 as much as 97 percent of the Polish energy mix was coal energy. This was a unique level even for our region, where we were the only coal monoculture. The reform was also difficult because most of this infrastructure was created in the 1970s and 1980s, so it was relatively new,” he stressed.
Moreover, Kurtyka mentioned the high dependence on gas supplies from one importer only, that is Russia, as well as the social conditions. “Unfortunately, Poles pay twice as much for energy, if prices and wages are taken into account, in comparison to the citizens of Western European countries. Polish households spend about 10 percent of their income on energy, compared to 5 percent in Germany. The room to raise energy prices is therefore much smaller in Poland,” the minister said.
He assured, however, that the government takes measures aimed at changing this situation inherited from the communist times. “The energy green transition is accelerating in Poland. The inclusion of households has also a great significance for that process. In this difficult year, marked by the pandemic, more than 150,000 households had solar panels installed on their roofs. At the end of 2020, we will have 350.000 prosumers in our system. We want to reach 1 million by 2030, announced the minister.
Describing the government’s steps towards the transition he also pointed to the thermal modernization of residential buildings and the draft of Poland’s energy policy until 2040 that includes a lot of low- and zero-emission solutions.
Greenpeace: Poland must set a time goal of coal exclusion
The adoption of the Climate Agreement five years ago was welcomed by environmental organisations It was widely recognized as a great opportunity to reverse the negative trends in climate change. However, Greenpeace Poland’s spokeswoman Katarzyna Guzek argued that it is much more difficult today to maintain the hope for a good change to happen.
“The researchers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) proved that the pace of average temperature rise is growing. There is no time for planning. We have to act immediately. We already have declarations on climate neutrality by 2050 by the richer countries, but it is still Poland that refuses to support this goal in the EU. We are afraid that such an approach will negatively affect the Polish energy transition process,” she said.
She also indicated that the Polish coal mining industry has brought 3.3 billion zlotys in losses this year. “We are not yet approaching a fair transformation. Also, there is no time goal for the departure from coal. Apart from Poland, only a few EU member states have not yet made such a declaration. “Scientific research shows that Poland should exclude coal by 2030. And when we hear declarations made by the Polish authorities to miners that mining will continue in 2049, we have the impression that the government is not aware of the reality, the climate crisis and the catastrophe we are heading towards,” said the representative of Greenpeace Poland. She added that despite the ratification of the Climate Agreement, the level of Polish CO2 emissions is still rising.
EU wants to remain the world’s leader on climate policy
The European Union is now a global leader in pro-climate actions. Elina Bardram from the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA) reminded that this was also the case before 2015. “We were already going to Paris as a world leader. But since then, we have taken into account the position of the scientific world and have made our climate goals even more ambitious. Hence the even greater reductions in emissions approved at the last EU summit”, said the representative of the European Commission.
She emphasized that the reduction of emissions and the pursuit of climate neutrality is also a part of the European Green Deal policy. However, as she pointed, “this project is not just about climate policy or ecology, but about modernising the European economic paradigm”. “The world economy will change and we want the European Union to be the leader of this change. We want to take a benefit from this situation in terms of our competitiveness or innovation. Still, it is extremely important for us that no one in the EU is left behind. We want the changes to be acceptable for the societies of countries with high-carbon economies. That is why more sustainable solutions have to be applied in such areas as transport or construction. Also, there is a need to create workplaces and business opportunities on the continuously changing marked, underlined Berdram.
According to her, the recent Climate Ambition Summit has shown that the EU not only retains its leading position on climate policy but can also effectively act to promote such an attitude. “We conduct effective climate diplomacy in all the forums in which we are present, like the G7 or G20,” she noted.
The experts: It is good that the EU leads an example again
The climate expert and co-founder of the NewClimate Institute Niklas Höhne argued that the Paris Climate Agreement was an important step forward, but the world still has a lot of work to do. “It was the first time that the issue of climate neutrality appeared in an international document of this weight. Since then, many declarations have been announced on climate neutrality and dates for the coal, oil and gas exit. We have calculated that if all the countries stick to these declarations, the temperature increase would have been 1.2 degrees Celsius, which means that the assumptions made in Paris would have been fulfilled”, he said.
He pointed out, however, that although long-term plans and ambitions are very much needed, they cannot be realized without short-term actions. “The lack of such actions can be observed now. Consequently, in spite of various declarations, global greenhouse gas emissions will increase until 2030. Perhaps the EU’s declarations helped to slow down that process, but it still proceeds. We must reduce emissions, not let it grow. In the next decade, the emission has to be reduced at least by half. However, I am glad that the EU has again set an example that you can raise your own ambitions. So far only a few smaller countries have revised their 2015 commitments. They must be joined by the bigger ones, just like the EU or China. The EU’s declaration previses a reduction of more than half. This is a good goal, but from the global point of view this it is not enough. Yet, each country must decide for itself what it does,” stressed the expert.
Hafida Lahiouel, Legal Director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) pointed out the Paris Climate Agreement is not only the first such universal document but also legally binding for its signatories.
“It came into force very soon after the signature. This is unique, giving into account the reality in the UN. It shows the hope that is hung on this agreement. But it is also important that the Paris Agreement is a normative solution based on mutual trust. This will only work if we act together and report honestly about our actions. Practically no one has questioned this form. We also agreed on exactly how to implement these activities. The need for them is undisputable,” said the UN expert.
She added, however, that many signatories are still struggling with their ambitions, although scientific reports show that we need to be even more ambitious. She also pointed out that the year 2020, dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, showed that we have certain limitations, and the subsidies for projects based on fossil fuels may undermine this mutual trust.
“Therefore, in addition to increasing our ambitions, we must also act more decisively, because this is an emergency situation. We need to make better use of technology and innovation and rebuild our infrastructure. We should also support the law-making process to make it work,” said Hafida Lahiouel.
Support in action
However, there are solutions that can support countries in their efforts to achieve climate neutrality. Romeo Bertolini, Deputy Director for Country Engagement in the NDC Partnership Support Unit, stressed that there is still a need for education about climate action.
“After an agreement was reached in Paris, the entire NDC (National Dedicated Contributions) system had to be explained. To achieve these goals, collaboration is necessary between different ministries and government institutions, as well the private sector and social organizations. Providing help in those actions was at the heart of the NDC Partnership. We started in 2005, and after just four years 186 countries from around the world were involved, including 94 developing countries. And it is not just a question of having some kind of supporting secretariat, but of creating some synergy between all those who want to get involved. This is particularly crucial for the Southern countries of the South, which still have to catch up in terms of development,” said the expert.
The director of the Warsaw UNEP-GRID Center, Maria Andrzejewska, pointed to the impact of the pandemic on the fight against climate change. “This pandemic is a kind of warning that nature gives us. There are many threats and we must take care not only of the climate but also of environmental cleanliness and biodiversity. However, various programmes on post-pandemic recovery and the inclusion of green solutions into those plans help us to increase our emission reduction goals for 2030 by even 25 percent,” she explained.
She added that we focus mainly on introducing zero-emission solutions, reducing fossil fuel consumption and introducing their eco-friendly substitutes, as well as closing down coal-fired power plants. Nonetheless in her opinion we must also promote nature-based solutions. “The idea is to make good use of forests, mangroves or seagrass even more to absorb carbon dioxide. According to the UN calculations, every dollar invested in rebuilding natural land areas will pay back as $10 in social gain. This is a great profit,” said Maria Andrzejewska.
In short, the signatories of the Climate Agreement has still a lot to do in the area of climate change, but the potential achievements are bigger than the necessary effort.