When the Paris climate agreement was originally reached and announced in December 2015, the entire world praised it for the obvious progress it represented for humanity. For those who understand the implications of our industrial activity on the delicate climate of the planet we inhabit, many considered this agreement to be the last opportunity we’ll have to have to put a stop to decades of increasingly polluting our way into self-destruction.
There was a special significance in the final moment of the session. As the sound of the gavel echoed through the room, history had been made: the first comprehensive pledge to save our climate by mitigating greenhouse gas emissions between essentially every nation on the planet. If you read any of the headlines in the media at the time, you might think that the world had just been saved.
However, the United States have recently pulled out of the agreement – a coherently disastrous move by the POTUS, given his long-standing scepticism regarding climate change. But other than one of the biggest polluters in the world withdrawing their pledge from a worldwide effort to reduce our impact on the environment, what else is there to the Paris Agreement?
15. The United States withdrawal from the climate accord might not have the desired effect
Pulling out might prove inconsequential to President Trump, as several companies such as Walmart, Bank of America and Phillip Morris International have already announced their intention to honour the general purpose of the agreement in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emission levels.
The US government may believe the agreement to be against their economic interests but it will be the private sector that will ultimately determine how to approach this issue. Given the scientific consensus and the educated population’s public perception of the importance of this agreement, most companies who truly value their customers will do their best to respect the agreement and curtail their emissions and carbon footprint.
14. What do Syria, Nicaragua, and the Vatican have in common with America?
In addition to being populated by a mix of humans, fauna and flora, these countries have not subscribed to the Paris climate accord.
Nicaraguan’s representative Paul Oquist was quite vocal in his criticism of the agreement, stating that Nicaragua doesn’t believe the agreement does enough to protect our climate, as it fails to punish nations who refuse to follow it.
Vatican can’t subscribe to the arrangement because it is not currently a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Syria’s current Civil War stops it from making any pledges to curtail emissions. It’s important to note none of these nations signal any sort of disagreement with the science behind why we need to revert the effects of climate change.
13. The power to make it work rests in the hands of a couple of nations
Even with the full weight of another 192 nations behind this historic accord, China and India have a combined population of 2.66 billion.
China has the highest emissions in the world and, up until very recently, it didn’t show signs of slowing down. However, since the US dropped the responsibility to lead the world away from the dark ages of coal and fuel into the future of renewable energy, China have gladly taken up the mantle.
India’s fast rate of development raises some concerns in terms of its ability to meet its targets, although it appears to be committed to them.
12. One woman tasked with saving the world
Christiana Figueres is the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC and the mastermind behind the logistical arrangement that made this deal possible. Without her action in the lead up to the Paris conference as well as during the event, none of this would have been possible.
Christiana bridged the significant gaps between the 196 countries, in a true diplomatic tour de force. From the planning of the event to its execution, it is incredibly fair to say that without this woman’s tireless efforts, this historic accord to save our planet would not have been possible. She has rightly become the most indispensable environmentalist in the world.
11. An agreement where nothing happens if you don’t fulfil it
The most negative aspect surrounding the result of the deal negotiated by representatives of 196 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris is the fact that the agreement isn’t binding.
From 2020, subscribing countries will need to provide increasingly demanding, realistic five-year plans which will have to be updated to lay out how they’re progressing. However,
no countries will be penalized for failing to reach those targets.
10. The Growing Divide Between Developed and Developing Countries
Yet again, the unfairness of the division of the world into developed and developing nations rears its ugly head. Developed nations have been almost exclusively responsible for us having already burned two-thirds of the carbon needed to increase global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius.
This unfortunate reality renders the Paris agreement virtually ineffective. Even so, it’s important we push for a change in practices in the vain hope our science might be wrong and we might still be on time to save our planet.
However, this is unfair on developing nations who struggle to grow and still rely heavily on fossil fuels to catch up with the developed countries. The accord recognizes this difficulty but the split is still present.
9. Developing nations will have access to funding
The document stating the terms of the agreement addresses the split between developed countries and developing countries by tasking the developed nations with providing funding of $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries. In addition, when they meet again in 2025 there’s a standing promise to review these numbers with a view to increasing the investment.
Having said this, this promise is conveniently located in the introduction, the part of the document that isn’t legally binding. This one of the most criticized aspects of the Paris agreement also, partly because the amount wouldn’t be enough to address climate change or to significantly compensate the poorest nations for their longer path to adoption of sustainable energy policies.
8. Environmentalists are displeased with the agreement
As the world celebrates the historic pledge, environmentalists lament how reduced in scope and intensity it is and brand it a classic example of ‘too little, too late’.
Although a few decades too late, this accord is still better than nothing. Could it do more? Certainly. Would this number of nations have pledged to demand more of themselves every year year in terms of reducing emissions? Perhaps not.
This deal is a starting point. It could have gone further but it would have surely lost its overwhelming uptake if it had done so. Now there’s a platform on which to build, we can push for more progress.
7. A provision for Carbon-neutrality
The commitment also emphatically states a global responsibility to achieve the goal of carbon-neutrality “by the second half of the century”. A different way of saying this would be nations have pledged not to release any more carbon into the atmosphere than what can be offset.
It’s historic to have such a comprehensive agreement between so many nations to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels and to fully embrace sustainable renewable energy. However, there is something slightly discouraging in the chosen words “by the second half of the century”. It’s fair to say this is particularly vague and doesn’t help set a clear path to progress.
6. A Daunting negotiating Process
Can you imagine how complicated it must have been to negotiate a deal between representatives of 196 nations, with all the cultural, linguistic and social implications that must have been addressed in every single one of those cases?
It’s staggering to think about and it required a careful negotiation methodology called Indaba. This basically meant negotiating by having each party present their red lines – the limits that shall not be crossed.
5. One joint target to be achieved through different paths
The joint aim of the Paris agreement are mainly about “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” in recognition of the ability of this effort to significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
Although these goals obviously pertain to the whole world, nations are encouraged to pursue their own paths in order to achieve this global target. They will be kept in line by their peers and must update them regularly with feasible plans on how to continuously strive to achieve the stated objective.
4. Reporting is mandatory
This requirement seems slightly inconsequential when one takes into account the simple fact there are no penalties for companies that don’t abide by the aims set out in the Paris UN conference.
Having said this, all nations must report on their progress with the five-year updates in which they must also commit to doing more than they’ve committed to in the past. The reasoning behind this is that it’ll incentivize countries to push for reform that favours renewable energy sources over fossil fuels.
3. Are there other aims to the Paris climate accord?
Everyone will have focused on the main targets of limiting the increases in temperature but there were other pledges made in the conference.
All 196 countries initially committed to “increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development” while bearing in mind that food production must not be threatened.
In addition, all nations pledged to ensure consistent financing “towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development”. These are more difficult to measure but provide a contextual methodology to change the way nations think about their own development.
2. From when is the agreement valid?
After the document was ratified by the European Union and its member states, it satisfied the main condition it had to become fully effective – 55 countries that produce at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions had to ratify, accept, approve or accede to the agreement.
Its plan will come into full effect from 2020, but subscribing nations are encouraged to start implementing their plans of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance well in advance of that deadline given the urgency of what the accord aims to achieve.
1. Trees are an important part of the Paris climate accord
While achieving a historic joint compromise between 196 countries, this agreement also recognizes includes the significance of trees when it comes to offsetting the levels of carbon in the atmosphere, finally addressing the issue of deforestation.
The negative feedback loop of unsustainable levels of industrialization results in increased greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, delivering a double blow to the environment. On one hand, the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases goes up, and on the other, there are fewer trees around to turn some of that CO2 back into oxygen.
This part of the pledge aims to fight the loss of forests, in the hope nations will be financially motivated to preserve trees.
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