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  • Sammy Melnick

5 years into Paris agreement, net-zero pledges are boosting optimism

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Already more than five years ago, nearly every country in the world adopted the Paris climate agreement in a planetary effort to stave off the most catastrophic impacts of global warming.

For more than a decade leading up to Paris, the road to an international climate pact had been paved with false starts and broken promises.

When the gavel finally came down on the accord in December 2015, Christiana Figueres — who marshaled the deal into existence as head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — says it took a moment to sink in.

“After so many years, after so many disappointments,” Figueres reflected this week, “it was really just astonishing at first.”

Countries signed onto the goals of limiting the global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels, thereby reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second part of the 21st century.

Five years on, those involved in the negotiations say there's still much work ahead. But there are signs of optimism, too, particularly in 2020: several countries have announced new targets to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

This year, countries were also expected to update their plans for nearer-term carbon cuts. But COP26, the annual UN climate summit slated to happen in Glasgow last month, was postponed due to the pandemic — stoking fears that action would be delayed.

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