Toward a Viable Climate Target

The Paris climate agreement promises to keep global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius, but without providing viable targets to achieve that. Rather than focusing on global temperatures, the treaty should hold countries accountable for driving emissions down to zero.

BERLIN – Last December in Paris, 195 governments reached a consensus on how to curb climate change over the coming decades. But, as usual when it comes to the United Nations, the deal that was struck was big on stated ambition, but far more modest when it comes to commitments to concrete action.

The Paris climate agreement includes a pledge to keep warming “well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.” Furthermore, at the request of the world’s most vulnerable countries, language was added promising “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5º.”

The trouble is that these aspirations are not matched by the commitments called for by the treaty. Instead, the agreement’s system of voluntary mitigation pledges will allow global emissions to rise until 2030, likely leading to a warming of 3-3.5º by 2100. This looks like a prime example of inconsistency in policymaking.

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