The Paris Agreement: Collective climate control

Lauren Savana, Centurion Staff

On November 2015, in Le Bourget, France, the Paris Climate Conference, officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) was held. Despite it being the 21st conference, it was the first time 150 world leaders attended this annual conference with a focus on climate change and a shared sense of urgency to save the planet.
Over the course of 11 days, every world leader was allotted three minutes to speak. According to an article in the New York Times, written shortly after the conference was held, one of the most important items discussed was, “the atmospheric temperature rising to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. (Since 1880, the temperature has already risen by nearly half that) and the fact that most countries agreed on this broad principle.
However, countries such as, Tuvalu, Kirbati and Micronesia, which could be submerged by rising sea levels in a just a few decades, say the goal should be 2.7 degree’s Farhenheit or less.”
Countries that represent 90 percent of the world’s carbon emissions submitted the plan dedicated to reducing emissions, known as “Nationally Determined Contributions.” Unfortunately, several studies have shown that those plans would still allow for a rise of as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit according to New York Times
A majority of leaders at the conference wanted something that would be “legally binding” for all the countries. The several countries that have been attending this conference since the first meeting in 1979, when it was only the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, were part of creating the Kyoto Protocol, the first step toward international emission reduction.
“The Kyoto Protocol was a beautifully written, watertight, fully legally binding international treaty, but it never met its objectives, because it wasn’t ratified by the U.S (during George Bush’s presidency), and not by Russia until it was too late. And none of the countries that failed to meet their commitments under Kyoto have been sanctioned,” Fiona Harvey, a reporter for The Guardian, discussed.
Out of fear that any treaty agreed upon at the 2015 conference would end up with a similar fate as the Kyoto Protocol, countries wanted legal documents to be put into place.
The new deal that was agreed upon is titled the Paris Climate Deal. “The text of the climate pact establishes a commitment by 195 countries to take concrete measures to reel in planet-warming carbon emissions,” Coral Davenport, of the New York Times, reported.
A climate science reporter, Justin Gillis, explains that this agreement tackles the limit of keeping the temperature well below the global average. “If that were to be actually achieved, it would likely ward off some of the most severe effects of climate change.
For example, though we don’t know the exact temperature, there is a trigger point at which the whole Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet will melt.” With serious dedication to this part of the document, the world could avoid that trigger point.
Another long overdue specific provision included in the Paris Climate Deal is, “policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests.”
This is the first time that world leaders are acknowledging, “the role forests play in offsetting human actions. It is a political signal that countries should enact policies that have been developed over the last decade to save the world’s remaining intact forests,” Gillis reported. This deal gives
incentives to tropical countries, which will be paid with public and private money if they successfully reduce or limit forest destruction.
Another significant issue discussed was greenhouse gas emissions. Coral Davenport, an environmental policy expert reported, “Advocates say this wording sends a clear message to the fossil fuel industry that much of the world’s remaining reserves of coal, oil and gas must stay in the ground and cannot be burned.” Despite this recognition, the agreement did not state “reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century” as a goal like it did in previous conferences. The language suggested that some fossil fuels can still be burned, as long as the greenhouse gas emissions are absorbed by “greenhouse sinks,” such as new forests.
One of the disappointing contributions to this deal was the fact that no specific number was given for how much money would be provided to poorer countries. This makes it impossible for them to keep up with the rest of the world in moving towards more renewable energy.
There was a goal of at least $100 billion a year from richer countries, but this was not legally binding. “Developing nations maintain that even that sum would not be enough to help them…or cheaply enough based on renewable energy sources rather than coal or oil,” reported Melissa Eddy, a Berlin correspondent that attended the conference.
Although smaller islands were dissatisfied with the outcome of public funds given to their countries, they were acknowledged for their suffering from the effects of climate change due to the leading contributors of the problem. “Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change,” the Paris Climate Deal states. This is a major step towards acknowledging and holding countries accountable for the damage from the rising global temperatures.
In conclusion of the Paris Agreement, all countries are legally required to come back to the conference, “every five years with new reduction targets for emissions that will be evaluated.” Sewell Chan, international news editor, explained that “five-year limits constitutes a tightening of the accord, as some countries, India in particular, had demanded 10-year cycles.”
So now, four months after the Paris Climate Conference, which countries have shown their dedication to honor the agreement?
According to Climate Change News’ website, a total of 188 countries have submitted their climate plans. Anyone has access to look at each countries specific plan and by what percent they each plan to generate renewable energy, increase forest carbon stocks, cut emissions, etc.
April 22 is the first day the United Nations accord will be open for government signatures. The Paris Agreement will only enter into legal force when enough countries have signed. Collectively the signatures have to make up 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
On March 31, the New York Times reported that President Obama and President Xi, China, announced together they would be signing the Paris Agreement on April 22. They are making a statement of joint resolve as the world’s two largest greenhouse gas polluters.
There are doubts that the U.S will be able to hold up their end of the Paris Agreement due to a recent Supreme Court ruling against President Obama’s climate policy for the U.S. The Supreme Court ruled that, “the regulation curbing greenhouse gas emissions will not be put in place until legal challenges by 29 states and several business organizations have been resolved, which is unlikely to happen before next year,” Coral Davenport, New York Times reporter stated during Obama’s and Xi’s meeting in Washington. If Obama’s regulation were to be put into place, the U.S could cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent, from the 2005 levels, by the time we reach 2025.
Besides the Supreme Court having doubts in the U.S holding up their agreement, here at Bucks, biology professors, like Caryn Babaian, are also apprehensive about the progress the U.S is making towards a better environment.
“There seems to be a trend of ‘change without change,’” Babaian discusses.
In Babaian’s opinion, the only people that are really committed to making a change are the ones that are seeing the repercussions up close. “When people are distanced from the problem or don’t make the connections between the planet’s health and their own, they tend to postpone any change. If you’re a beekeeper than you see up front the idea of colony collapse.
Likewise, if you’re an islander you experience sea level rising. It all comes down to how well the people drafting the laws and voting understand the dynamic, interconnectedness of planetary life, including their own and their grandchildren’s.”
If there are significant strides made towards curbing the rise of the world’s temperature the results would be substantial. “Reducing carbon emissions would be beneficial for human health, disease rates would drop, air quality would dramatically improve, so it is a win-win situation but no one can predict how the earth will react, and in what way to our continued actions,” Babian explains the biological aspect.
She continued, “We can estimate some of these things but there are far too many moving variables, and such enormous complexities that are far beyond our scope of understanding. We cannot even predict what our actions will do to our health or to future generations and their health.”
Ultimately the fate for the role of the U.S in the fight against climate change will fall to the next president.
Candidate Hilary Clinton has pledged to take part in the Paris Agreement, while Republican candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, have openly denied the science of climate change. Trump outwardly denounced the Paris Agreement as a whole.
The following months are detrimental not only for the fate of the U.S., but also for the entire world’s environment. Will we join the collective fight against climate change, or continue to ignore the scientific evidence of the world’s rising temperatures?