The history of climate politics is the history of an eternal trade-off: the more ambitious the mitigation goals of an international climate agreement are, the less states are willing to ratify it. The different approaches of the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Agreement (2015) are proof of this. Having learned from the failure of the ambitious Kyoto Protocol to rally UN parties behind it – key states such as the United States (US) never ratified it and others like Canada and Russia later withdrew – the Paris Agreement put forward less ambitious mechanisms in order to be more inclusive. The Glasgow Climate Pact from last year’s COP26 was also shaped by trying to walk this fine line. Although some reports highlighted the advances made in Glasgow, a vast number of negotiators and commentators expressed disappointment with the lack of ambition and commitment to decisive change.
As Figure 1 shows, these reports stress the tremendous gap between the 45% emissions reductions (by 2030 and in comparison to 2010 levels) required to achieve the 1.5°C goal and the 16.3% increase that can be inferred from the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)1 communicated by the parties. Further, while some political achievements were made at COP26, such as the Global Methane Pledge, the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use and the US–China Joint Glasgow Declaration, these agreements are non-binding and lack legal force. Two decades ago they would have been remarkable, but today, with 415 ppm of CO2 ppm in the atmosphere, they are tepid promises in a burning environment.
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