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The first report card on the Paris Agreement – Expert Reaction

A major UN report has taken stock of how the world is tracking with its Paris Agreement goals.

The Synthesis Report is part of the first “Global Stocktake” under the 2015 Paris Agreement, which will form the basis of COP28 negotiations set to take place in Dubai in November and December.

The SMC asked local experts to comment on the report.

Professor Bronwyn Hayward, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of Canterbury, comments:

“When 196 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, they committed to working together to promote effective adaptation and reduce heat trapping gases, to try and keep the world’s temperatures well below 2 degrees of warming and preferably to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

“The Paris Agreement is voluntary, so making it work rests on countries all committing to reduce their emissions and to work hard to keep increasing their contribution to this global effort.

“This stocktake is the first report card on our progress and before we talk about the huge task ahead, it’s important to notice that countries have made a difference already, modelling suggest our global emissions are reducing faster than they would have without this agreement.

“But, we are entering a very difficult time in international politics and many countries are arguing for their own national interests, or claiming that they are too small to make a difference alone. This is precisely why we have a ‘global’ stocktake, to consider the collective impact of all our efforts and to ensure that these actions are transparently reported, and that they are undertaken in inclusive and fair ways. The first report card is a major step in maintaining global diplomatic pressure on all countries to play their part.”

No conflict of interest.

Ralph E. H. Sims, Professor Emeritus, Sustainable Energy and Climate Mitigation, Massey University, comments:

“This latest UN report on climate change assesses the progress made (or rather lack of it) by the global community in attempting to reduce our annual greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is not surprising that the report confirms the world is well behind achieving the target of staying below the 1.5oC temperature rise.

“To be on the pathway to achieve this means reducing global greenhouse gases by 43% below the 2019 level in the next seven years.

“New Zealand’s target to reduce our gross emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 matches that global target but achieving this in practice will be a huge challenge. Any relaxing of existing climate policies after the election would be a retrograde step given that far more stringent measures are needed to reduce both carbon dioxide from using oil, coal and gas as well as agricultural emissions. The global food supply sector currently produces around one quarter of total emissions so cannot be exempted.

“The UN report also acknowledges that adaptation to climate impacts is also critical – as clearly evidenced by the recent floods, droughts, forest fires and high temperature records being reported. Sea level rise continues to be a growing concern for small island states in the Pacific and elsewhere and coastal communities in New Zealand. Who pays for the damage to infrastructure and dwellings and for managed retreat is under debate and large increases in rates and insurance policies are inevitable.

“The good news is that the report confirms around 20 countries have peaked their annual emissions that are now trending downwards. New Zealand may have finally started on a downward trend but this will only be confirmed in the next year or two.

“The report also confirms the solutions are largely well understood but need political will to urgently increase their uptake. This involves individuals, families, businesses, local governments etc significantly reducing their carbon footprints however they can. This is not yet happening in New Zealand.

“The report gives a key finding that ‘while action is proceeding, much more is needed now on all fronts’. It can only be hoped that rigorous policies that support this key message emanate from all political parties over the next few weeks. We cannot afford to go backwards.”

No conflicts of interest.

Dr. Dalila Gharbaoui, Political scientist, Postdoctoral Climate Crisis Research Fellow, University of Canterbury, Pacific Ocean Climate Crisis Assessment (POCCA), comments:

“The global stocktake report is important as it reaffirms the urgency of the climate crisis and that more ambitious mitigation, and adaptation targets are urgently needed in NDCs and NAPs as current political climate action is still insufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“One major key finding of the report acknowledges that ‘governments need to support systems transformations that mainstream climate resilience’ and highlights the urgent need to ‘accelerate development of policies and measures that promote climate resilience’. It is now becoming critical to hear and meaningfully integrate voices from Indigenous Peoples and local communities on effective adaptation supporting greater resilience gains and reducing vulnerability of communities exposed to the adverse impacts of climate change. Pacific Peoples have centuries of Indigenous knowledge production on resilience mechanisms placing at their core equity, wellbeing, collective action, and value systems.

“The report highlights the need to ‘meaningfully engage Indigenous Peoples and local communities and their knowledge systems’; it is now urgent to start implementing support and promote credible pathways on how Indigenous knowledge can work in harmony and complementarity alongside western sciences. This reaffirms the need for courageous political will to shift towards people-centred approaches where human agency, social capital mechanisms, reciprocity, relational networks are explored as drivers of system transformation to ensure the process of decarbonisation is equitable and empowering for all including the most vulnerable communities.”

No conflict of interest.


Dr. Kevin E Trenberth, Distinguished Scholar, National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA, and Honorary Academic, Department of Physics, University of Auckland, comments:

“This is a useful summary of the situation with regard to emissions reductions and adaptation to human-induced climate change. It shows that while many countries have made commitments, they are not yet delivering on requisite climate action. However, the report is bland and does not praise nor point fingers. Although, as the report states, emissions reductions are severely lagging the targets in the Paris Agreement, many countries (including New Zealand) have reduced emissions at least somewhat, but those reductions are overwhelmed by increases in emissions from China and India. Russia has also increased emissions. War is extremely bad for the environment and the attacks on Ukraine by Russia have led to huge resources being diverted away from climate change efforts. The report assumes a global community that does not exist.

“The inability of the G20 to make progress on limiting fossil fuel use does not augur well for the larger UN parties in the Paris Agreement. It also means that efforts by small countries, such as New Zealand, can easily get lost. Rather this should encourage more efforts at building resilience and adaptation to the new extremes of weather and climate associated with climate change, but too often adaptation versus mitigation is not linked. Increasing demands for food and water as populations expand has placed far too many people in vulnerable locations such as flood plains, and countries have an obligation to address this issue as a key part of adaptation.

“A comprehensive approach to addressing climate change in NZ would put adaptation and building resilience right next to reducing emissions, but all too often we only hear about ETS and emissions reductions. For New Zealand that makes no sense since we have no control over the emissions from the rest of the world, but we do have control over planning for the consequences.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Sebastian Gehricke, Director of Climate and Energy Finance Group and Senior Lecturer, University of Otago, comments:

“This technical dialogue shows that we have made some progress and that all parties to the Paris Agreement are taking action, but it is not enough. There are a lot of intentions, but not enough action. Even the current global Nationally Determined Contributions are not enough as the gap to a 1.5 o C pathway is still over 20 gigatons of CO2 equivalent emissions.

“Some key themes of the dialogue were around credibility, accountability and transparency, are the key issues that need to be addressed in order to move from intention to action and to do so equitably. This requires our governments to build capacity and continue to evolve policies and regulations to combat greenwashing and align incentives of our economy with a low-carbon climate resilient future. In New Zealand we are making progress, but we should not delay action any further.

“More specifically, New Zealand must be a leader on climate change. We need to stay committed to our NDCs and the net-zero carbon act, enact agricultural emission pricing before 2025 (without creating arbitrage opportunities), evolve sustainability reporting regulations, resolve the issues within the Emissions Trading Scheme, collaborate with the EU on further regulations such as a Green Taxonomy and have strong oversight and enforcement against greenwashing in any industry.

“One of the key findings was around the halting and reversing of deforestation and improving agricultural practices and a different key recommendation around diversification of economies. These align with a New Zealand push for indigenous reforestation and regenerative agriculture, which both create many co-benefits beyond the additional carbon sequestration.

“The dialogue calls for international collaboration, which for New Zealand means making sure our regulations and practices are in line with the expectations of our trade partners and that the climate finance we provide to developing nations is credible. We have just signed a free trade agreement with the European Union, the first ever with Paris Climate Agreement and core labour rights conditions, with enforceable trade sanctions as a last resort. So far, we have provided over $240 Million (USD) in Climate Finance to mostly Pacific and Asian developing nations. We are planning to meet a significant portion of our NDCs through international carbon offsetting, which need to be of high quality and absolute credibility. The Article 6 of the Paris agreement is the key international ruleset on international carbon trading which we need to follow and contribute to the evolution of.

“As an extremely wealthy country and supposed leader in the global community, we know what we need to do, the solutions are in front of us, but there is no easy path and so we require real leadership and political willpower. It is possible but the longer kick the can down the road the more costly this challenge becomes.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Nick Cradock-Henry, Principal Scientist, GNS Science, comments:

“There is strong evidence from climate science regarding the need to limit global warming to well below 2°C and preferably 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. As the UNFCCC Synthesis report on the global stocktake shows, however: global emissions are tracking higher than what is required to avoid the most severe loss and damages; transformational adaptation with social justice and equity at its centre, is lagging; and the most effective financial mechanisms to enable this comprehensive, systemic response in developing countries – is underutilised.

‘It is clear the ambitious transition to net zero by 2050, will require a linked-up, wide-ranging and fundamentally transformative effort across all nations, with substantial investments in education and health, strategic economic growth, supported by well-functioning national and international institutions, focussed on an increasing shift towards sustainability.

“These changes will be disruptive – but following from record heat-waves in Europe, America and China, record ocean temperature and extensive melting of Antarctic sea ice, and increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather here in Aotearoa – leadership is fundamental to catalysing the broad social acceptance of the urgent need for action.

“With some degree of climate change already locked in, and the window closing for us to avoid multiple climate tipping points, the report provides strong scientific evidence for urgent action to mitigate climate change, to adapt today for tomorrow’s impacts, and to support a collective effort, to ensure no nation is left behind.”

No conflict of interest.

Dave Frame, Professor of Physics, University of Canterbury, comments:

“The value of the stocktake is in looking at how countries are actually going in terms of their progress on emissions. The world is not on course to meet its climate goals. This is not a surprise. But what is increasingly evident is the central role of the large developing countries – not yet rich, but part of the global middle class. The choices these countries – whose populations sum to billions – make in the next few decades will largely determine the overall warming we experience this century. The figure here shows global CO2 emissions partitioned between OECD countries and non-OECD countries. For warming to stop, emissions from both groups have to get to (net) zero. This is some way off.

“I think the stocktake’s greatest value is in being able to compare performance and actual policies. It would be a missed opportunity if it becomes more about making ever more stringent promises about the future. Grand promises of future success are ‘cheap talk’ in the game theoretic sense: communication between players that does not affect outcomes or incentives, and which is costless to produce. Countries – and New Zealand is a shining example – find it easy to make big commitments when the bill comes due after their time in government. It’s hard to make these commitments credible, but they matter for things such as the emissions gap, where we see a difference between what has been committed to by countries and what is required to satisfy agreed collective climate goals. This gap is one facet of the stocktake that will no doubt get people concerned; but what matters much more is not future commitments but current actual performance.

“Focusing on actual emissions records and actual policies seems the best use of the opportunities afforded by the stocktake.”

No conflict of interest.