Paris Agreement Ambition: Stepping Up Countries' Targets

The climate talks in Poland fired the starting gun for countries to step up the ambition of their climate targets by 2020 in line with the latest sobering science on climate change. Now that the starting gun has been fired, the real sprint begins in national capitals, board rooms, and local communities the world over to win the ultimate race by averting dangerous climate change.

The recent special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered a clear message: 1.5°C of global warming is not safe, but 2°C is much worse. Though the report highlighted the dire consequences of a climate changing world, it also said that it’s not too late to avert catastrophe—but only if the world acts quickly and boldly.

Stepping Up National Climate Action by 2020: Clear Signs from COP24

Every country in the world now must seize the responsibility and opportunity presented by the IPCC report to strengthen their climate target immediately and by 2020 at the latest. The expectation coming out of COP24 is that countries must now sprint to put in place an inclusive national process—with robust participation from civil society, states, cities, businesses, and other groups—to enhance the ambition of their climate target in line with the cuts demanded by science to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

These national processes must start in earnest early in 2019 so that countries can come to a special summit convened by the UN Secretary General in September to showcase to the world how they have upped their ante and be judged by their peers—and in time by future generations—on their ability to lead boldly. The tagline of the summit—“A Race We Can Win”—illustrates how the gathering will be the next critical checkpoint in the relay race against dangerous climate change.

Some Early Signs that Countries are Focused on Stepped Up Action

Encouragingly, some countries have already jumped the starting gun and announced or started a process to strengthen their climate target (see Table 1). The Marshall Islands, one of the leading voices for strong leadership at the climate talks, and Fiji, the host of the climate talks last year, are both far ahead of the pack in announcing earlier this year that they will strengthen their climate targetsThe European Union has proposed to go to carbon neutral by 2050. Canada, whose target from the Stephen Harper government era has long been criticized as inadequate by the global community, signaled at the start of the climate talks that it will come back to the table with greater ambition by 2020—a target that must be in line with what scientists say is needed to stay below 1.5°C. And Chile, the newly announced host of next year’s climate talks, has already started a process to strengthen its target and has an opportunity to make it one of the most ambitious in the world.

Table 1: Countries that have announced or started a process to strengthen their national climate target
Marshall Islands
Costa Rica
High Ambition Coalition countries (31 countries plus the European Union and Least Developed Countries)
Alliance of Small Island States (44 countries)
Climate Vulnerable Forum (48 countries)
Least Developed Countries (47 countries)

And the leading group of countries at the climate talks, the High Ambition Coalition, issued an urgent statement emphasizing their intent to step up ambition by 2020 in line with the latest science from the IPCC report, and calling on other countries to step up as well. The coalition includes such diverse players as the European Union, small islands, African countries, and Latin American countries.

Time for Countries to Step-Up: More Action Right Now

Climate change is already hitting home and is getting worse much faster than expected. That is why the world needs to move from slow-walking to sprinting in the race to confront the climate challenge. The urgency of the challenge was highlighted at the climate talks in Poland by the UN Secretary General, who showed up on two separate occasions to spur countries to greater action. “To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal,” the UN Secretary General emphasized.

Countries must now quickly move to complete the next leg in the race against dangerous climate change by 2020. It's a race the world cannot afford to lose.

Credit: iStock

About the Authors

Brendan Guy

Director, International Climate, International Program

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