The European commissioner for international cooperation and development says we are in “challenging times” and that “The global commitment to the sustainable development goals – to climate action, to solidarity – this seems to be wavering globally.”
But EU member states signed a new development consensus last week that reaffirms their commitment and agrees a direction and structure for the development goals going forward.
With the United States withdrawing their support from the Paris Agreement and other threats to strategic and unified action on climate change the “wavering” description of global commitment does seem accurate.
The Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2016 and appears to have been widely misunderstood. Each country sets its own targets relating to action on climate change – these are known as “nationally determined contributions”. These should contribute to the overall goal of capping global warming at 2C above pre-industrial levels. The targets are due to start in 2020 and there is nothing legal or binding about the undertakings and no repercussions if they are not met.
So the agreement relies strongly on international co-operation and a shared understanding of the importance of limiting climate change. An international “peer pressure” of public opinion is also important. Ordinary citizens can help to keep the Paris Agreement on the agenda of politicians and policymakers by sharing their concerns and reminding representatives that this is an issue people care about.
These threats to the agreement, and against global action on climate change, may well renew interest among the public and resolve among governments – as this new EU consensus shows. It also shows that the initial agreement, though long-debated, is only the beginning. The Paris Agreement needs support from governments, voluntary organisations and the public if it is to achieve its essential aims.