In December 2015, at COP21, the Paris Agreement was agreed upon in a united attempt to tackle climate change. Under the Paris Agreement, countries must take action to limit global temperature rise to less than 2⁰C and preferably to 1.5⁰C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. In addition, it also makes provision for financial support to developing countries most affected by climate change. In order to achieve these goals, a global ambition for reaching 'Net Zero' was established.
The central feature of the Paris Agreement is the requirement for each country to produce NDCs. These NDCs, which countries must update every five years, should contain each party's most ambitious plans, and detail proposed actions for reducing emissions and building resilience against the impacts of global warming. COP26 presents a crucial opportunity to identify what progress has been made since 2015 and set comprehensive plans to reach the Paris Agreement targets. Critically, the postponement of COP26 by one year delayed the revision of existing NDCs. The initial UNFCCC NDC Synthesis Report provides an overview of the 48 NDCs submitted by 31 December 2020, representing 75 parties. The report was published in February 2021 and revealed that the impact of countries' NDCs currently falls short of the 2⁰C target, and is far from the desired 1.5⁰C.
COP26 is therefore expected to drive more ambitious targets, some of which have already been announced by countries over the past months, such as revised emissions reduction targets by the US and the UK in March.
While the Paris Agreement created the foundation of a near global climate initiative, the US has had a turbulent relationship with the Agreement to date. In 2019, multilateral co-operation was threatened by the US' decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which was formalised one year later on 4 November 2020.
However, the new administration reinstated the US to the Paris Agreement in 2021, and pledged to cut the US' carbon emissions by 50-52% by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels) in its NDC submitted in April 2021. As the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the US' cooperation in realising the objectives of the Paris Agreement is vital. Equally, the US' withdrawal threatened to undermine the universality of the Agreement, raising concerns of an adverse impact on the readiness of remaining signatory countries to invest in emissions reductions.
The US' renewed commitment to the Paris Agreement was therefore a welcome development on the global stage, both in terms of contributing to emissions reductions and re-legitimising the Paris Agreement as a global initiative.