Carbon-neutral Paris Agreement considerations: Where we stand today

Is net-zero in our near future? This report explains what’s been happening and what’s next in our quest to be carbon neutral.

Laura Voikar

by Laura Voikar

Depending on how you look at it, the COVID-19 pandemic has either sped up or slowed down many things in our collective life. The virus’s impact created a surge in rapidly adopted regulations to protect workers and the general public, while it curbed operations – even bringing many facilities to a full halt. For the negative toll the virus has taken on our lives – and livelihoods – the lockdowns seemed to bring one helpful contribution amongst its hindrances: a decrease in global carbon emissions.  However, looking ahead to the goal set by the Paris Agreement (and behind at the commitments the participating countries made), we still have a long way to go to be carbon neutral. 

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement on climate change commits countries to make the net-zero transition. China, France and (once again) the United States are of the 190 countries who are parties to the Agreement. Together, these nations have agreed to various commitments that will help keep the global temperature well below 2° Celsius (35.6° Fahrenheit), and preferably below 1.5° Celsius (34.7° Fahrenheit)   

Where are we today with carbon-neutral commitments?

Due to the worldwide lockdowns induced by COVID-19, the drop in global emissions in 2020 was 7%. However, the nations are far from achieving the agreed goals to reduce global warming. In fact, to achieve the Paris Agreement’s target, the emissions would have to maintain the same momentum – dropping by 7% every year for the next decade. 

In December 2020, after the Climate Ambition Summit, over 100 countries (together representing over 63% of global emissions) announced their net-zero targets.  Another vast development for climate change was China’s announcement that it aims to be carbon-neutral by 2060. (Read more about this region’s evolving emissions regulations in our whitepaper “China’s Blue Sky War: an effort to control air pollution). The EU, Japan, and South Korea along with an estimation of 110 countries have agreed to be carbon neutral by 2050. 

On 19 February 2021, the Paris Agreement re-entered into force in the United States. It remains to be seen what the nation’s new nationally determined contribution for 2030 targets and climate finance will be.   

While these ambitious plans and promising commitments are encouraging, the agreed upon carbon-neutral initiative also involves the continual expansion of reduction efforts. The Paris Agreement requires countries to reduce their emissions and increase their targets every 5 years. However, at the end of 2020, only 73 countries proposed revised goals. Of those countries, 69 – including the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom, Canada, Columbia, and Peru – submitted more ambitious emission reduction targets.  

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Keep an eye on these key dates in 2021

2021 is a crucial year in the fight against climate change. For the UN, the main objective is to build a Global Coalition for carbon neutrality.  

  • Q2 & Q4 policy revisions through “Fit for 55”: Part of the European Green Deal’s goal is to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 with the “Fit for 55” package. It includes a 2030 emissions reduction target of net 55% compared to 1990 levels, an increase to the policy’s current goal to reduce emissions by 40%. During Q2 and Q4 of this year, the package will revise many essential climate and energy policies such as the Effort Sharing Regulation, the EU Emissions Trading System, and the Renewable Energy and the Energy Efficiency Directives. 
  • 30 April 2021 recovery plan deadline: Currently, EU Member States are preparing recovery plans to manage the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while building a more sustainable and resilient economy. The plans must be aligned with the European Green Deal by ensuring that 37% of investments contribute to the green transition. The final plans must be submitted to the European Commission by the end of April this year. 
  • May, June, & July 2021 UN Regional Climate Weeks: The UN has announced Regional Climate Weeks throughout 2021 and 2022, including 11-13 May for Latin America and the Caribbean, 15-18 June in Africa, and 6-9 July for Asia-Pacific. These sessions will focus on implementation, climate risk management and next steps for seizing transformation opportunities. (A Regional Climate Week for the Middle East and North Africa is planned for 2-3 March 2022.) 
  • November 2021 COP26: Later this year, world leaders will gather in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26) – poised to be the most critical climate summit since the Paris Agreement came together at COP21 in 2015. At the event, the countries will discuss their efforts and actions towards cutting carbon, reviewing their Paris Agreement commitments, which were due to be implemented during 2020. The conference was initially set to take place in 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19. 

The quest for a carbon-neutral collective

Net-zero by 2050 – that’s the goal. In 2021, the EU will reform its policies to enable its efforts towards this target for climate neutrality. 

Companies understand that climate neutrality requires replacing polluting coal, gas, and oil-fired power stations with renewable energy sources. However, the challenge isn’t necessarily in identifying what needs to be done but instead how to accomplish it. While renewable energy is more affordable than fossil fuels, these reduced-emissions energy sources are still not as widely available. The key will be for countries to incentivize not only businesses but also private citizens to make the switch.  

As we continue to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a clear understanding that the recovery from it must lead to a green and sustainable economy, which will create jobs and prosperity, reduce emissions as well as build resilience. 

If all countries, cities, and companies adopt ambitious plans, transitioning to net-zero emissions becomes possible – and even realistic. To achieve whole-economy transformation, cities, regions, and private sectors will need to work together, combining their skills, abilities, and resources to achieve these breakthroughs. 


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