Taking the temperature of the Paris Agreement: perspectives from our community

The Paris Agreement was adopted with great celebration in December 2015. Five years later, the world is a very different place. We asked members of the ISC's community what actions are most needed to make 2021 truly a year of transformations.

This article is part of the ISC’s Transform21 series, which features resources from our network of scientists and change-makers to help inform the urgent transformations needed to achieve climate and biodiversity goals.

The Paris Agreement was adopted on the 12 of December 2015, after two weeks of intense negotiations. The goal of the Agreement is to curb warming well below 2°C, and preferably below 1.5°C. In order to meet this ambitious goal, global Greenhouse Gas emissions must peak as soon as possible.

Five years on, we’re not on track to stay under 1.5°C warming. To address this, in 2021 countries will each make new climate commitments, in the form of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that set out the actions they will take to reduce emissions.

As attention turns to action for 2021, what now needs to happen to translate the ambition of the Paris Agreement into reality?

We’ve been putting this question to members of the ISC community over the past weeks – discover what they have to say below, and then add your voice to the discussions via Twitter.

“In order to transform at the scope, scale, speed and depth needed to reach the Paris agreement, we need have actionable strategies that work across the practical, political and personal spheres. Working towards staying under 1.5°C is not just a technical challenge: we also need to bring people into the picture, and to talk about universal values, such as equity and dignity, which influence how we see the system and our role in transforming them. This is about how each one of us show up as agents of change; transformations are messy and challenging process, but until we recognize that people are the most powerful solution to climate change that exists, we are not going to get real and enduring change.”

Karen O’Brien, Professor, University of Oslo, and co-founder, cCHANGE.


Read the full piece here.

“If we are to limit global warming to the Paris accord’s target of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, governments must commit to – and fulfill – far more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). We also need to see concrete plans for a just transition to a world powered by clean energy. All climate action must fully respect human rights.

We have the frameworks; what we need now is sufficient drive and determination from the very top. We need leaders to recognize that multilateralism is the only viable path to a green, sustainable, and equitable future for all – and act accordingly.”

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, current Chair of The Elders and ISC Patron.

Read the full interview here.

“What’s important about the Paris Agreement is that it demonstrates that humanity has agreed – through a long, democratic process – that stabilizing the climate is in our common interest, and that we all have an obligation and responsibility to work towards that goal. But we can’t stop there. The Paris Agreement is meaningful and helpful, but it’s certainly not sufficient in and of itself.

The climate policies of the signatories to the Paris Agreement are not sufficient to stay well below 2°C warming. If you look at the Climate Action Tracker, only Morocco and The Gambia are on track to limit their emissions in a way that’s compatible with keeping warming under 1.5°C. The high emitters are just not doing enough.

There is no silver bullet for climate. We know what we have to do, and we’ve known for a long time: stop burning fossil fuels. That’s the biggest, most urgent thing. Fossil fuels currently make up about 3/4 of emissions, and we know that that number has to fall to zero. Putting that into practice and making all the changes needed to avoid catastrophic climate change and to start working towards climate stabilization is going to be a huge task for the rest of our lives.

I see this decade as a race between two tipping points: a positive social tipping point, and a tipping point towards catastrophic climate change. What I want to see is a social tipping point at which people are not only aware of the urgency of the climate crisis but also know what they can do and are empowered to make the necessary changes. Politicians and businesses certainly have a big role to play, but we can see that they’re not making changes anything like fast enough, and they need more of a push from civil society movements and individuals to really make it happen.”

Kim Nicholas
Director of PhD Studies and Associate Professor of Sustainability Science at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS).


This quote is taken from a longer interview to be published on our website in the coming days.

“It’s very clear that we’re not on a pathway to a 1.5°C or even a 2°C world and therefore the pledges have to be significantly strengthened, by factors of 3 and 5, and much deeper emissions reductions have to be agreed on….To get on an optimised 1.5°C pathway, we would need to reduce emissions by about 50% by 2030 relative to today. To get on a pathway to 2°C, we would need to reduce  emissions in 2030 by about 25% relative to today. Obviously the more we do now, the easier it is to get there later. If we delay action, then we really have to do more in the future, including using negative emissions technologies.

The bottom line is that the pledges next year have to be significantly strengthened. There are lots of countries that have pledges that are definitely a step in the right direction. We need to encourage them, but many of those pledges will probably not be met. First, we have to at least achieve the current pledges and then strengthen them and implement them quickly. This is a crucial issue, not only for the Convention on Climate Change, but also the Convention on Biological Diversity. As IPBES clearly pointed out, while climate change is probably only the third major direct driver of biodiversity loss, land degradation and overexploitation are currently the most important, it’s not inconceivable that in the coming decades, climate change will be at least as important – or even more important – than the other drivers, so getting to grips with the emissions of greenhouse gases is absolutely crucial for both issues.”

Bob Watson, Scientific Advisory Group Lead, UNEP Global Assessments Synthesis Report, former Chair of IPBES and former Chair of the IPCC.

Read the full interview here.

Add your voice to the debate

Five years on from the Paris Agreement, what needs to happen to translate the agreement into reality?

  • Tweet us @ISC with your perspective
  • Contribute to the ongoing blog series – contact Lizzie Sayer for more information

Photo: Image par (El Caminante) de Pixabay.

Skip to content