Are International Requirements for Addressing Climate Change Being Met?

by Soleil Ozols

“The more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. But, it does not have to be that way… Let’s join a race to the top, a race where there are only winners.”[1] – Secretary-General António Guterres

Climate change is a global phenomenon created predominantly by burning fossil fuels. This leads to increasing global temperatures, sea level rise, mass amounts of melted ice in the North and South Pole, as well as extreme weather events. Even in the last 650,000 years, the Earth’s climate has gone through multitudes of cycles, with the last cycle ending about 7,000 years ago, marking the beginning of the modern climate era which grants human civilization the ability to thrive.[2] The current warming trend that Earth is experiencing is significant because data reveals that the primary driving force behind this trend is modern industrial human activity. According to research conducted by NASA, the effect of carbon dioxide (as well as other greenhouse gases), due to its heat-trapping nature, has undoubtedly caused the Earth to warm. Paleoclimate evidence sourced from ice cores, tree rights, coral reefs and sedimentary rocks reveal that the current warming trend is occurring at a rate of ten times what has been found in previous warming ages.[3] Climate change can be observed by the shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, rising sea levels that increase the risk of flooding, as well as other unprecedented global impacts. The Data Distribution Centre (DDC) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is responsible for monitoring the climate impact, socio-economic impact and environmental impact of climate change. Unless there are efforts to combat climate change, this rapid increase of global temperatures will ultimately lead to run away climate change, where the effects of global warming thus far are unable to slow down or reverse, ultimately leading to disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain humanity.

In an effort to combat the global temperature rise, the United Nations fostered multinational agreements to curtail the amounts of pollutants that countries give off. The most current agreement thus far, the Paris Agreement of 2018, aims “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius, [as well as] enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework.”[4] As of May 2019, 194 states and the European Union have signed and ratified the Paris Agreement, and 11 states have signed, but not ratified, the Paris Agreement. Since its adoption, the agreement has attracted a record-holding investment of $329 billion in 2015, signifying the massive drive to utilize clean energy.[5] Even with the massive drive to further renewable technologies, large strides towards sustainability are imperative. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a special report of the global effects of a global warming limit of 1.5°C (as was set by the Paris Agreement) in comparison to a limit of 2°C. According to the report, to limit global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. These changes would include transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities. According to the report, “[g]lobal net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050…. Any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.”[6] Overall, a 1.5°C maximum increase would ensure a more sustainable and equitable society in comparison to a 2°C increase, but there would still be many adverse effects to a rise of 1.5°C. For example, at a 1.5°C increase, the likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would happen once per century, while a 2°C increase would lead to this occurrence at least once a decade.[7] Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 perfect with global warming of 1.5°C, while 2°C would lead to a loss of 100% of all coral reefs.[8] The aspirations of the Paris Agreement require a drastic change in environmental regulations and daily life choices; however, many countries are not living up to their commitments as expressed in the Paris Agreement.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, countries are listed in a scope of successfulness (or lack thereof) from “critically insufficient” to “role model”. To be deemed critically insufficient, a country’s emissions fall well outside the fair share range, to the point that if all government targets were in this range, warming would exceed 4°C. Taking into account that the Paris Agreement’s limit of warming is 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the countries that are exceeding 4°C are severely not in accordance with the Paris Agreement. As of 2019, the countries in this “critically insufficient” mode include the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States.[9] Only two countries, Morocco and the Gambia, fall in line with the 1.5°C temperature goal, while most countries fall greater than 2°C, making most countries incompatible with the Paris Agreement. The lack of recent initiative towards higher sustainability is most often correlated with unwilling political leaders that reverse environmental policies, such as Brazil, the United States, and China.[10] President Bolsonaro of Brazil has continued to reverse environmental policies, making way for drastic levels of deforestation. As China leads the world in producing emissions, the lifting of the coal power plant construction ban had a major effect on the emissions the country gives off. For the United States and China to reject initiatives to become more sustainable requires that the entire world will suffer for their decisions, considering those two countries give off approximately 45 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.[11] Combined, China and the United States have approximately 23 percent of the world population but gives off 45 percent of the world’s pollution. In the past couple of years China has made strong headway towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and as of 2018, was expected to exceed their key targets early. The United States, on the other hand, is not only refusing to take the proper strides towards reducing emissions, but in 2017 President Donald Trump announced to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, further evidencing the fact that the president has no interest in investing in planet-saving measures. The United States will not be formally removed from the Paris Agreement for another couple years due to Article 28 of the agreement that states that “[a]t any time after three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Agreement by giving written notification to the Depositary. Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal, or on such later date as may be specified in the notification of withdrawal.”[12] As the United States entered the agreement on November 4, 2016 under the Obama administration, the earliest that the United States could formally withdraw from the Agreement is in November 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election, meaning that the new administration could rescind the letter of expressed withdrawal and stay a part of the Paris Agreement.

When it comes to the Paris Agreement, there are many different paths that countries have taken to lead to the ultimate goal of keeping global warming at 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, but all of these steps are out of each country’s own volition to make changes. For example, China spent $83.3 billion on mainly hydroelectric, wind, and solar power, and plans on continuing their investments in clean energy as they aim to invest $360 billion into renewable energy by 2020.[13] Even with these efforts, China continues to be the world’s largest consumer of coal. Other countries, such as Denmark and Indonesia are planting trees and reducing deforestation in addition to their plans to promote green energy.[14] Some countries that lack efficiency in quickly developing programs to combat global warming are in developing countries where proper funds are not easily accessible to put towards sustainability. Sustainability is not an easy task, particularly as governments try to go against powerful non-sustainable companies (such as oil and gas companies) that have ingrained themselves in people’s daily lives. However, these obstacles do not stop many countries, as one can see in Brazil, countries are promoting sustainability through recycling programs where people can bring in recyclables for bus tickets, food, or books. The Paris Agreement allows for all of its signatories to take their own approach to a cleaner world because of its emphasis on consensus-building that allows for voluntary and nationally determined targets. Rather than having a legally binding commitment (like with the Kyoto Protocol of 1992), countries are responsible for holding themselves, and each other, accountable to battle climate change. As climate change affects all countries, world leaders must take it upon themselves to set precedents to make every process more ecologically sustainable.

The Paris Agreement was created with the intention that countries would hold themselves and each other responsible for developing greener nations, all leading to a catalyst of green tech development. This catalyst would overall lead to a lower cost of green tech, which would in turn allow not-as-wealthy countries to benefit from the plethora of new technology in the name of a cleaner earth. But one country can also set the precedent to halt (or to severely slow) efforts to develop green technologies. In the instance of President Trump filing to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement, a precedent concerning global warming efforts have been curbed by the President’s decision as President Trump rolled back environmental regulations that were burdensome to the fossil fuel industry, increasing the attractiveness of investing in fossil fuels.[15] As a result of these actions by the Trump Administration, efforts to make the United States a greener nation have been unprioritized, curtailing major developments in green tech that could have been of great importance to the United States, as well as to the rest of the world. However, other major signatories of the Paris Agreement, such as China, India and the European Union, continue to commit themselves to achieving their pledges. Despite there being no legal ramifications for the inability to perform to achieve the pledges of each individual country, there are social ramifications, such as tensions between countries and lashing back from citizens of those countries. After President Trump announced that he would like to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, Americans vocalized their disapprobation with the President’s actions. One case in which American citizens were discontented with current environmental policy and decided to take matters into their own hands was in Juliana v. United States. On August 12, 2015, 21 kids filed a lawsuit against the government of the United States on the basis that the United States government had a legal obligation to protect the atmosphere as a part of their First Amendment right to life and liberty. With the idea that a clean environment is a fundamental right, the case has not been dismissed like many others before it. This case further evidences the fact that people will rally for the environment when the current administrations don’t do enough to curtail global warming.

António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nation, attests that “[i]t is plain we are way off course…We are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.”[16] Currently, many countries are significantly improving their abilities to lower their carbon emissions, but a collective effort among all nations is critical to inhibit a global temperature increase of over 1.5°C. Although there is no legal consequence for not adhering to the proposed conservation efforts expressed in the Paris Agreement, there are environmental consequences that at one point will no longer be reversible. Citizens of nations worldwide have started movements to emphasize to their governments, as well as to other governments, that climate change is an issue of crucial importance.

Soleil Ozols is an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama.

[1] António Guterres, Remarks at Austrian World Summit (May 15, 2018).

[2] Climate Change: How Do We Know?, NASA (last visited July 12, 2019, 4:00 PM),

[3] Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (Jun 3, 2010),

[4] The Paris Agreement, Climate Change, UNITED NATIONS (Oct. 22, 2018), available at

[5] The Paris Effect: How the Paris Agreement is Driving Climate Action, CLIMATE NEXUS (last visited July 15, 2019),

[6] IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.

[7] IPCC, supra 6.

[8] Climate Crisis Demands More Government Action As Emissions Rise, CLIMATE ACTION TRACKER (June 2019),

[9] Climate Crisis Demands More Government Action As Emissions Rise, CLIMATE ACTION TRACKER (June 2019),

[10] Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions by Nation, U.S. Dept. of Energy (Sept. 26, 2017),

[11] U.S. Dept. of Energy, supra 10.

[12] Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nov. 4, 2016, 54113 U.N.T.C. 7.d.

[13] 54113 U.N.T.C 7 7.d.

[14] How Countries Around the World Are Dealing With Climate Change, NBCDFW (Apr. 23, 2019, 7:06 AM),–508812931.html.

[15] NBCDFW, supra 14.

[16] António Guterres, Remarks at the Opening of the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Dec. 3, 2018).