The response to climate change

The response to climate change


The 2015 Paris Agreement

  • This is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance.
  • The goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C, by reducing emissions as soon as possible.
  • Adopted by 196 state parties 12 December 2015, and signed by 189 by February 2020. The US has announced it will withdraw.

Aims and processes

Under the Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. These contributions are known as known as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The aim is to reach peak global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and to thereafter rapidly reduce emissions based on the best available science. To do so means reaching net zero emissions during the second half of this century.

Each climate plan reflects each country’s ambition for reducing emissions, taking into account its domestic circumstances and capabilities. This because some countries will be able to achieve this sooner than others based on their sustainable development goals and efforts to eradicate poverty, as these are critical development priorities for many developing countries.

However, it’s a non-binding agreement. That is, there are no mechanisms to forces any country to set a specific emissions target by a specific date.

In June 2017, US President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States, one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, from the agreement. However, the earliest effective date the US can withdraw is November 2020, shortly before the end of President Trump’s first term in office.

In December 2019, the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act was passed to support New Zealand’s goals under the Paris Agreement.

New Zealand

International targets: 

  • 5% reduction below 1990 gross emissions for the period 2013-2020
  • 30% reduction below 2005 (or 11% below 1990) gross emissions for the period 2021-2030.

Domestic targets:

  • net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases other than biogenic methane by 2050
  •  24-47%  reduction below 2017 biogenic methane emissions by 2050, including 10% reduction below 2017 biogenic methane emissions by 2030.

Are we doing enough?

No.  Neither globally nor in New Zealand:

“New Zealand’s Paris Agreement target is inconsistent with the Government’s goal of keeping the average temperature increase to within 1.5°C, officials have told ministers. The advice from the Ministry for the Environment was given to Climate Change Minister James Shaw in February and obtained by Stuff under the Official Information Act.

“Shaw was told the target allows some 85 million tonnes more emissions between 2021 and 2030 than would be compatible with a 1.5°C goal – putting the country over budget by about one year’s current emissions.” – Stuff July 2020

Fig. 1: Projected temperature increases under current policies
Fig. 2: New Zealand’s commitments to reduce net emissions (see ‘Explainer’) are insufficient to stay within what the IPCC deemed as ‘safe’ temperature increase of 1.5°C above pre-Industrial levels. We also exceed the ‘dangerous’ 2°C levels.


Net emissions:

Net emissions means gross greenhouse gas emissions from all industrial activities, burning fossil fuels for energy, and agriculture, minus carbon sinks from forestry, changing agricultural to improve soils, and regenerating natural ecosystems. However, instead of declining, global emissions continue to increase each year. Due to reduced transport, Covid-19 has meant a temporary respite of carbon dioxide emissions. However, that has not reduced agriculture emissions in New Zealand and elsewhere. Manufacturing in China has also resurged. Moreover, dangerous tipping points are being breached, which means natural carbon sinks are now becoming sources of methane and carbon dioxide.

See how emissions are calculated for dairy farms and forestry as examples in New Zealand (this website).