You may have noticed that The Paris Climate Agreement is getting a lot of press lately. Here’s a brief look at what this deal is and why it is such an important topic:
The Paris Climate Agreement was adopted in 2015 at the Paris climate conference, AKA COP21 (check out this amazing artwork linking virtual trees, tree projection, human heartbeats and tree planting initiatives that was exhibited during the conference). This deal was considered legally binging in some aspects and 195 countries, including the United States, adopted it. The main goal is, of course, to fight and slow climate change and its negative effects on the earth, primarily by keeping the rise in global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. Keeping the increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius is another initial stated goal, as is hitting the peak of global emissions ASAP, so that the decline can begin. Once the peak is reached, the European Commission explains, members of the accord will undertake “rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science.”
Scott Barrett of Columbia University served on the U.N.’s Climate Panel and told Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) that while he thinks the 2 degree target was chosen for somewhat arbitrary and political reasons, rather than a specific scientific reason, it was selected because a unified global goal among countries was important and, it was hoped it “would mobilize the action needed to get the whole world to act together.”
William Brangham of PBS NewsHour explains in the same report that the increasing carbon sits in the atmosphere, traps radiation from the sun, and warms the Earth. One 2016 study stated that Earth is perilously close to reaching a climate tipping point, which would start a dangerous warming feedback cycle through which warm soil triggers organisms in the soil to become more active, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere, and warming the planet further.
A key defining factor of the Paris Climate Deal is that countries are empowered to come up with their own ways to fulfill the agreement. This respects lessons learned in past negotiations, such as the failed climate change meetings in 2009, and the significant diversity of the participating countries. Before the conference and during it, the countries each shared national climate action plans, which would, when combined, not slow the temperature rise to the desired 2 degrees but are a strong start. The governments also agreed to meet every five years to set new, updated targets, to share their progress with each other and the public at large, and to practice accountability and transparency.
The role of non-party stakeholders, such as private sector organizations, cities, regional authorities within nations, and individual citizens around the globe, are also recognized within the deal as crucial. The deal invites them to reduce emissions and promotes cooperation toward the shared goals of the deal.
Protecting ecosystems and using land in environmentally friendly ways are central aspects of this deal, according to Duncan Marsh, the Nature Conservancy’s director of international climate policy; he says the deal “promotes sustainable management of land, which can range from conserving and restoring forests to improving agriculture.”
The EU and other countries considered developed also made a commitment to support climate change reduction and resilience in countries considered to be emerging or developing, with fewer resources to contribute to this goal. They established a plan of raising and directing $100 billion to this goal by the year 2025, with another similar goal to be made thereafter. In 2016, the U.S. gave two $500 million contributions to the U.N. fund that is dedicated to helping developing countries fight climate change and move forward with green energy initiatives, called the Green Climate Fund.
In April 2016, the Paris Climate Agreement was opened for signatures under the condition that it would only pass if a minimum of 55 countries, which had to represent 55 percent of global emissions, ratified it. The Paris Agreement entered into force in November 2016. The Nature Conservancy explains that some of the aspects of this agreement are considered binding, including the requirement to report on emission-lowering progress. The setting of country-specific targets, however, is non-binding.
The countries which signed the Paris Climate Accord:
Lately, there’s plenty of buzz about the present and future state of U.S environmental policy. And, the Paris Climate Agreement will be a big part of if it, one way or another.