Energy Policy

Paris - Take 2


Applying Lessons Learned from Kyoto

Eiffel Tower with 1.5 degrees illuminated
Credit: Francois Mori. "1.5 DEGREES". Associated Press. December 11, 2015

Scientists and policymakers alike understood that 2015 was the year a new global climate treaty really needed to be forged in order to start aggressively addressing emissions at a level commensurate with what the science was telling us about necessary reductions to avoid catastrophic impacts. 

And believe it or not, they came together and brought us the Paris Agreement.

Key Differences Between the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement

  1. No differentiation between developed vs. developing - everyone agrees to binding commitments. Remember, this was a big sticking point for the United States going all the way back to the Kyoto Protocol. This aspect of the agreement is an important and historic step in international climate policy.
  2. Countries set their own targets - these are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).  Each country submits its INDCs for how it will help achieve the broader goals of the agreement and commits to self-reporting on their progress.  This gives nations the flexibility to choose strategies that align with other strategic priorities and opportunities.   
  3. Degrees not percentages - The Paris Agreement focuses on limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (relative to pre-industrial levels) by mid-century based on IPCC scientists collective recommendation that this is really the threshold for avoiding the more catastrophic and irreversible impacts of climate change.  It goes on to say more ambitiously that while limiting the warming to 2 degrees is good, containing it to 1.5 degrees is much better. This is further reiterated by the IPCC 2018 Special Report on 1.5 degrees. This WRI summary also explains how big of a difference just half a degree can make. Focusing the conversation around degrees instead of percentages serves to ground the policy more in the science that's guiding it than the politics of what countries think they can or cannot do. 
  4. Financial support for developing countries - establishes a minimum annual commitment of $100 billion (from developed countries) in climate finance by 2020 to assist Least Developed Countries (LDCs) develop more sustainably and adapt to the impacts they're already committed to feeling. This is an fundamental step toward helping LDCs meet their climate goals, though it is likely inadequate, and even this target has not been reached (see here for some analysis from WRI). In addition, this is significantly less than the estimated $5.9 trillion of annual subsidies to fossil fuels. Further, funding that has been provided is possibly overstated. (For example, loans that incur debt are counted in full, and the debt payments are not considered.) Note that some of the $100 billion per year is an investment, not a donation, and ironically (and sadly) has contributed to more debt for already financially-strained budgets in low-income countries.

Differentiation, Financial Support, and the Paris Climate Talks (Stowe, 2015) - this provides a nice summary of some of the key differences between Kyoto and Paris, which are really key to understanding the possibility for more extensive success.