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Paris Agreement: which countries are honoring their pledges?

Much of the world’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rely on the critical success of the 2015 Paris Agreement. A new study is the first to assess how effective governments will be at implementing their commitments.

The findings reveal that countries with the boldest pledges are also the most likely to achieve their goals. For example, Europe has both the strongest commitments that are also the most credible. While findings suggest the U.S., with a less ambitious commitment, is not expected to meet its goal.

The study from the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy surveyed registrants of the Conference of Parties (COP), consisting of more than 800 diplomatic and scientific experts who have participated in climate policy debates. This expert group includes those who are “in the room” when key policy decisions are made and can evaluate what will likely be achieved. 

The participants rated member nation’s “ambition” –  how much each country has pledged to do in comparison to what they possibly could do to avert a climate crisis. The experts were also asked to evaluate which nations have pledges that are credible.  

“The pledges outlined in the accords are legally non-binding, thus the success of the agreement centers around confidence in the system that when governments make promises, they are going to live up those promises,” said study lead author David Victor, professor of industrial innovation at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy.

“Our results indicate that the framework of the agreement is working pretty well. The Paris Agreement is getting countries to make ambitious pledges; last year nearly all countries updated those pledges and made them even more ambitious. What’s needed next is better systems for checking to see whether countries are actually delivering what they promise.”

Overall, Europe’s goals were rated as the most ambitious and credible, followed by China, Australia, South Africa and India. The U.S. and Brazil come in last place in the credibility category and second to last, after Saudi Arabia, in terms of ambition.

Experts from North American countries were the most pessimistic about their pledges – both in their drive and ability to achieve climate goals in the agreement.

“The benefit of this data set is that diplomatic and scientific experts have the best working knowledge about political and administrative realities of their home country,” Victor said. “It is difficult to get empirical information on national laws and regulations and climate change policy in particular is highly complex. To truly gauge the success of the Paris Agreement, you need to incorporate the judgement, intuition and expertise from those with real-world experience negotiating these policies.”

“From all the responses, it’s clear the U.S. is clearly in trouble – even with the recent Inflation Reduction Act being signed into law, which happened after our study ended. While the legislation is a big step in the right direction, it doesn’t deliver the same investment many other counties have already committed. I think the major questions our study raises are ‘how does the U.S. boost its credibility’ and ‘why is credibility a problem.’”

The researchers also found that nations with stable governments are more likely to have bold pledges that are highly credible.  

China and other non-democracies are expected to comply with their pledges because they have administrative and political systems that make it easier to implement complex national policies to align with international commitments. China is also on track to achieve its goals due to the country’s economic downturn.

The rationale behind why countries have honored their pledges varies. Wealthy countries are driven to address climate change, while developing countries that are most vulnerable are driven by the immediate need to address pollution and grow their economies through climate action. 

The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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