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Obstacles to the Implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 4803 words Published: 23rd Feb 2021

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Part of: Climate Change

Obstacles to the Implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement and Coordination of Substantial International Action Regarding Climate Change Issues

The phenomenon of “global weirding” represents unforeseeable weather patterns and extreme weather events influenced by climate change which affect the whole world.[1] As a result, unpredictability is perhaps the most important dimension of climate change, transcending economic, political, and social differences that divide the globe today. However, to fully understand the dangers climate change poses to the world, it is first important to examine its dimensions in the different communities that share one planet: developing countries, developed countries, and on a more systematic level, governments.

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In developing countries, the dimensions of climate change affect people’s quality of life and the living conditions they face. Food security is one of the major dimensions, since agriculture-dependent economies, common in developing countries, are heavily affected by climate change-related extreme weather events which destroy crops and harvests. In fact, “droughts and heat waves typically cut a country’s cereal production by 10%,” a stark figure for developing countries which often have large numbers of subsistence farmers who rely on bountiful harvests to survive through non-growing seasons.[2] Furthermore, climate change causes a loss of biodiversity within ecosystems, which has implications for populations that rely on hunting and gathering their food such as artisanal fishers or individuals in rural areas.[3] Access to clean and drinking water is another dimension of climate change threatening individuals in developing countries. Frequent floods and droughts are both implications of climate change which can lead to contamination of water sources or force people in rural communities to have to travel farther in dangerous conditions to collect water. Access to water also has stability implications for developing countries. Over 25 years, “some 28,000 Chinese rivers have disappeared” and water sharing has caused nearly violent conflicts in India, Pakistan, as well as several African countries surrounding the Nile.[4] In developing countries, climate change has had serious effects on public health in terms of air pollution and epidemics of disease. With regards to air pollution, “98% of urban areas in low and middle income countries with populations of more than 100,000 fall shy of the [WHO’s] air quality standards,” signifying that air pollution is an issue that majorly affects developing countries and therefore poses grave threats to the respiratory health of the individuals in these countries.[5] Changing seasons as a result of global warming affect and expand risk seasons for certain diseases making epidemics longer and more severe. In the case of malaria, “warmth accelerates the biting rate of mosquitoes and speeds up the maturation process of the parasites they carry,” contributing to an acceleration of the mosquito lifecycle and more resilient species that can potentially spread malaria to new areas.[6] Developed countries, those that often have the potential to combat climate change through multilateral actions are blind to their abilities and instead choose to continue on paths that exacerbate climate change but are more convenient. While there is not such an imminent threat to quality of life for people in developed countries, these countries are not immune to the extreme weather patterns that come with climate change, and therefore they are often found scrambling to react to disastrous events rather than taking proactive measures. In both the United States and Europe, rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns due to climate change have disastrous implications.  Wildfires such as those in California happened because of changing seasons and an unexpected dry spell, both of which reflect the unpredictability of climate change. On the opposite side of the spectrum are extreme weather events, and “when it does rain, too often it is all at once as happened in Houston with Hurricane Harvey.”[7] Rising sea levels exacerbate “normal high-tide events” and cause disastrous flooding that proves destructive to coastal communities and “necessitates the installation of storm water pumping systems at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars,” as was proven to the United States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the densely populated states of New York and New Jersey.[8] In Europe, the abnormally hot summer of 2018 was a result of climate change and is set to “become the norm for summers by 2060.”[9] By that point, “heat-related deaths could reach about 200,000,” demonstrating the impending mortality threat imposed by climate change.[10] Recent droughts have wreaked havoc in Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands, destroying coastal infrastructure in the Netherlands, harming saplings and trees in Germany that work to sequester carbon, and causing water shortages in the Swiss Alps which depleted hay stocks and left livestock without water.[11]This last point brings into concern the food security of developed nations, as the impacts of climate change on agriculture are “8-11% more severe in developed countries.”[12] Developed countries are most affected by climate change in terms of food security because of different farming cultures that focus on “maximizing profit with big monoculture farms.”[13] This is important because many developing countries rely on developed countries for imports of basic staple crops, so affected harvests in developed countries can potentially cause instability in developing countries which will be further discussed in the dimensions of climate change for governments.

Climate change has implications for national security in both developed and developing nations, the governments of which are tasked with its dimensions in spurring intra-state conflict, potential inter-state aggression, and massive human displacement.  In developing countries such as Syria, prior to the Arab Spring, droughts and fires ruined the Russian wheat crop and forced Russia to cease exports to Syria which was highly dependent on Russian wheat for food supply. “Then, a four-year drought in Syria caused crop failures there, leading to massive internal migration and social unrest.”[14] Terrorists were able to capitalize on this instability, dealing a massive blow to Syrian national security. Although it can be argued that Arab Spring happened as a result of mass uprisings, the root cause of the social unrest was people’s suffering from climate-related events. As for developed countries, rising sea levels threaten coastal Naval bases in the United States, where “fifty-six naval installations across the country could be affected by a sea-level rise of at least 1 meter,” and Naval bases experience floods 10 times every year.[15] This poses a threat to US national security because of weakened defense capabilities and diminishing space to store ships since they can only be kept on the coastlines. Since “the Arctic is warming at a rate approximately twice as fast as the global average,” in recent years it has become an important dimension of climate change for governments and national security. With “Russia [planning] to open or reopen six Arctic military facilities,” Russian military presence in the Arctic could pose a threat to other governments both in terms of defense and economy, with worries that Russia is making “efforts to take control of shipping lanes at the top of the globe.”[16] Finally, climate change causes increased rates of human migration, which then exacerbate the negative effects it has on the environment and surrounding ecosystems, not limited to “vast changes in land use, physical modification of rivers or water withdrawal from rivers”[17] This has implications for national security because large numbers of displaced people and constantly shifting populations affect government ability to regulate resources and ensure that there is enough being allocated for all people. Additionally, migration due to climate events can also cause instability and ethnic tensions between different intra-state groups that share the territory of that state.

In addition to dimensions of climate change for developing countries, developed countries, and their governments, they also face a variety of obstacles to progress that prevent each one of them from taking action to reduce the effects of climate change. Developing countries are arguably the most affected by the implications of climate change, but in terms of obstacles to progress, there are not that many simply because of the limited actions developing countries are able to take to curb climate change, as well as the exclusion these countries face from the rest of the global community. In developing countries, it is largely their internal conditions that create the greatest obstacles to progressing with climate change adaptation policy. “More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa,” a continent dominated by developing countries.[18] Rapid population growth causes increasing difficulty in managing already scarce resources in developing countries. Furthermore, dependence on unsustainable economic and energy practices such as deforestation in Brazil and coal and fossil fuel burning in India, Turkey, and Indonesia present an obstacle to progress simply because the fragile economies of developing countries cannot withstand a drastic change to their status quo.[19] In addition, the wording of the Paris agreement states that “developed countries “shall” report on support provided; developing countries “should” report on support received.”[20] In this manner, developed countries are portrayed as less significant and needier in the scopes of international agreements such as the Paris accords. This creates a stigma that they are incapable of helping and must only be dependent on developed countries for aid. While this is true to some extent, it provides no motivation for developing countries to join the overall global effort to cut back on emissions or set and meet goals.  Moreover, “the bottom 100 countries on the emissions list account for only 3.5% of overall global emissions,” and these are all developing countries.[21] The Paris agreement “requires approval by at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” which is a stipulation targeted at developed and rapidly industrializing countries that make up the list of top emitters, and delegitimizes the voice of developing nations in negotiating and enforcing the Paris agreement.[22]

For developed countries, obstacles revolve more around political unwillingness to adopt climate change adaptation measures. One of the main obstacles thus far has been the withdrawal bid of the United States from the Paris Agreement. This issue obviously brings up problems of burden-sharing across the remaining countries in the agreement. The U.S. is the second top-emitter in the world and is responsible for 14.36% of global greenhouse gas emissions.[23] U.S. withdrawal places more responsibility on the rest of the countries in the agreement to reduce emissions and fill the gap created by the U.S. decision to cede responsibility for its emissions-reduction efforts. While this is beneficial to other high-emissions countries such as China since they are given the opportunity to take initiative on such a pertinent issue and “fill a leadership vacuum” in the field of climate change policymaking, this hardly seems compliant with the development trajectories of rapidly industrializing and growing countries such as China.[24] Lack of willingness or ambition to switch to renewable sources of energy and concerns over “political feasibility and acceptance of adaptation policies” are another obstacle to progress for developed countries.[25] Given the partisan nature of the US government, Trump’s withdrawal from Paris and rollback of Obama era Clean Power Plan has made climate change into a political perspective, with action to prevent it being based on party platforms rather than factual information or willingness to cooperate internationally.[26] With “many Republicans [being] openly hostile to the idea of the state responding to climate change,” it is difficult to portray climate change as a bipartisan issue in the United States, and this is further complicated by President Trump’s controversial yet influential views on the issue further delegitimizing it.[27] In Switzerland, similar to the United States, adaptation is not seen as a vital interest that will “be important for the Swiss economy or for the energy supply.”[28] As a result, Switzerland is struggling to pass legitimate legislation regarding climate change policymaking, and is falling behind the rest of Europe in terms of making progress towards not only its Paris goals, but towards adapting to the dimensions of climate change that have wreaked havoc on Switzerland’s agricultural industry and water accessibility. Similarly, in Germany, emissions are rising despite ambitious goals to switch to 80% renewable energy and cut emissions by 40%.[29] Germany has the most ambitious plan in the entire EU, which is also falling behind on its goals. These statistics present obstacles to progress because they show that the Paris agreement has not encouraged developed countries to think seriously about the long-term dangers of climate change, and as a result this has not prompted countries to take immediate action to reduce their own contributions to climate change.

The main obstacle faced by governments is the weakness of the Paris agreement as a legitimate, multilateral accord that actually commits all of its parties to taking substantial action to prevent the effects of climate change from deteriorating. At its core, the Paris agreement simply “endorsed the policy of most countries to proceed on their pre-existing emissions trajectories.”[30] However, its fundamental flaw is that the system of pledges by which the Paris agreement operates creates a lack of ambition and rigor in the pledges that countries actually make. Being purely voluntary implies that there are no concrete requirements in the agreement, only general goals that it hopes to achieve, the most important being to limit the global temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees Celsius.”[31] The agreement also creates multiple dichotomies between developed and developing countries which affects its legitimacy by creating an imbalance in expectations based on countries’ economic status. One of these dichotomies is regarding transparency and accountability. Essentially, developing countries wished to report less frequently on progress, whereas developed countries wanted more stringent requirements. As a consequence of this conflict, accountability measures defined in the Paris agreement “are less detailed and exacting in their reporting requirements,” thus eliminating any urgency or need for commitment on behalf of signatories to the agreement. Another dichotomy regarded finances. At Paris, developed countries went into negotiations “calling for [financial] contributions [to climate funding] from all countries that were in a position to do so.”[32] However, developing countries viewed this as too strict of a requirement, and the final agreement ended up stipulating only “voluntary contributions” which does not set any goals, nor does it serve to relieve the financial burden of funding technology advancements and compensating countries with infrastructures affected by climate change-influenced weather events. Finally, there have been a variety of non-state actors such as individual cities, NGOs, billionaires, and businesses which have taken it upon themselves to contribute financially to climate change adaptation, or which have promised to contribute to the global emissions-reductions challenge by first reducing their own emissions and committing to the use of renewable energy.[33] While this is helpful in the overall global effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change, the involvement of non-state actors takes responsibility away from the states themselves and reduces already low levels of ambition in state governments, shifting the burden instead to non-state actors who are limited both in scope and resources.This also leads to a general sense of disorganization in the global effort to cope with climate change, since non-state actors do not share interests with states, nor are they fully addressed within the Paris agreement. The increased action of non-state actors ultimately serves to delegitimize the Paris agreement and is an obstacle to progress because non-state actors were not present in the negotiations of the agreement and yet they are doing more to meet its goals than the actual states who signed it are.

 There are three main concerns for the future in terms of progressing with climate change policymaking: one for developing countries, one for developed countries, and one for governments. Together, these concerns point out the main flaws in the Paris agreement. First, the greatest concern for developing countries is the lack of representation within international efforts to combat climate change. This ultimately alienates developing countries based on their economic status and fragments the international community into those who can help with climate change and those who cannot. The stigma that results from such a fragmentation essentially strips developing countries of any motivation or ambition to join international efforts, and if it continues, these efforts will devolve into gridlock. Furthermore, for developed countries, a substantial concern is the fact that climate change is not a politically bipartisan issue. Domestic politics have prevented developed countries from meeting the commitments they made at Paris. Unless states make an active effort to detach their political views from an issue that affects the whole planet, any international efforts to cooperate on issues of climate change policymaking will ultimately be undermined by states’ own interests. Finally, a concern for governments is their lack of understanding regarding what constitutes an effective multilateral agreement. As seen at Paris, governments often resort to solutions that please everyone because of inherent conflicts between negotiating parties. However, the issue is that such compromises are rarely specific enough to merit being taken seriously. In turn, there is a great deal of ambiguity that results in a lack of action on behalf of states, which portrays the agreement and therefore its negotiating governments as weak. 

In order for the world to be able to make progress towards mitigating the disastrous effects of climate change, as well as adapting to the damage it has already inflicted on the planet, unification is needed across all affected parties. It is vital to the survival of international agreements such as the Paris accord to eliminate societal, cultural, economic, and political barriers between people and countries of the world, and to not think of the world simply in terms of developed or developing countries. Adopting this mindset will facilitate negotiations which are inclusive and transcend state borders into a discussion that incorporates all voices, since climate change does, indeed, affect everyone. As discussed earlier, issues such as food security, access to water, and dependence on unsustainable energy sources are dimensions of climate change in both developing and developed countries. International agreements should not differentiate between countries which are facing fundamentally the same issues, because ultimately, it is their people that suffer most. A widely accepted notion is that countries’ abilities to contribute financially or implement renewable energy differ due to economic development. Therefore, multilateral agreements should focus less on establishing requirements and suggested contributions, and more on establishing more specific solutions and goals for the community to work towards. Such an approach will first instate climate change policymaking as a common goal of the global community. Once a goal is presented and all parties are made aware of it, rather than inviting the creation of individual pledges and goals, negotiating parties should agree upon common solutions which are accessible and attainable. This will in turn create a framework for action rather than establishing a series of vague goals which will not be followed up on, as is the case with the current agreement. However, it remains crucially important to consider the substantial financial cost of implementing potential solutions. A pledge system would be optimal for financial contributions on behalf of both state and non-state actors, as it is not so imposing that economically disadvantaged states feel threatened, and it allows for a degree of freedom that encourages openness and burden-sharing rather than restrictions and requirements. Overall, the Paris agreement currently lacks a sense of inclusion, and if this is introduced in further negotiations, progress in climate change policymaking has the potential to become an attainable goal before the effects of climate change become irreversible.


[1] Busby, 2018, 50

[2] McDonnell, 2016, 2

[3] Women, Gender Equality, and Climate Change: Fact Sheet, 2009, 2

[4] Busby, 2018, 53

[5] Dennis/Mooney, 2016, 1

[6] Women, Gender Equality, and Climate Change: Fact Sheet, 2009, 4

 [7] Busby, 2018, 50

 [8] Ibid.

 [9] Rubin, 2018, 2

[10] Impacts of Climate Change, 2014, 1

[11] Rubin, 2018, 4

[12] McDonnell, 2016, 2

[13] Ibid.

[14] Wanlund, 2017, 1

[15] Ibid., 6

[16] Ibid., 3

[17] Women, Gender Equality, and Climate Change: Fact Sheet, 2009, 4

[18] Population, 2015, 1

[19] Dennis/Mooney, 2018, 3

[20] Outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, 2015, 4

[21] Friedrich/Ge/Pickens, 2017, 1

[22] Outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, 2015, 5

[23] Friedrich/Ge/Pickens, 2017, 1

[24] Wanlund, 2018, 6

[25] Dupuis, 2011, 3

[26] Sivaram, 2017, 11

[27] Dupuis, 2011, 4; Gillis, 2017, 2

[28] Dupuis, 2011, 3

[29] Dennis/Mooney, 2018, 3

[30] Cass, 2017, 4

[31] Florini/Florini, 2017, 27

[32] Busby, 2016, 7

[33] Florini/Florini, 2017, 28


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Climate change describes large changes in global or local weather patterns and global warming generally considered to be largely caused by an international increase in the use of fossil fuels from the mid-20th century onwards.

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