After almost two weeks of negotiations in Paris, representatives of 195 nations finally reached agreement on a landmark accord to curb greenhouse gas emissions. A historic attempt to stave off the most dangerous, planet-warming effects of climate change, the 31-page Paris Agreement is promising, especially in light of the distressing failure of the 2009 climate change talks in Denmark The fact that 195 countries agreed on this plan represents a step forward for our world, both in our perception of climate change and in our potential capacity to tackle its effects as a unified front. As president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, put it, “It was a wonderful surprise…this never happens.”
The agreed-upon text aims to limit global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. The Paris deal calls upon all countries, wealthy or poor, to take part in some way to address their carbon emissions. Further, the agreement encourages rich countries to help finance poorer nations in their switch to cleaner energy sources. Each country will put forth its own plan to reduce greenhouse gases, and each will be legally required to monitor and report on their emissions levels. While there is no legal requirement as to how or how much countries should cut emissions, the nations will reconvene every five years with updated plans and even deeper emissions cuts.
An ambitious temperature target paired with a requirement to strengthen improvements over time publically signals a much-needed shift from an economy dominated by Big Oil to a market trending toward a low-carbon future. The beginnings of this shift are already evident in the U.S. The rapidly growing fight to prevent offshore drilling in the Atlantic and to promote offshore wind as a cleaner alternative is an example of a movement geared toward changing America’s approach to energy. The Paris deal is expected to spur investments in renewable energy industries like offshore wind and solar. If the U.S. is on board with this deal, it follows that we need to start de-carbonizing our own economy. We must take proactive steps like leaving the Atlantic Ocean’s oil and gas reserves deep below the ocean floor instead of increasing our current, dangerous level of fossil fuel extraction.
The Paris agreement sends a powerful message that the world is committed to a low-carbon future, but it’s only the start. Some activists and scientists feel the deal falls too short to save our planet. They point to weak language regarding monitoring emission reductions, and the lack of a definite timescale for phasing out fossil fuels. The Paris Accord created a framework for the world to come together on climate change at last, but whether or not this agreement will be turning point in history – whether or not it will save our civilization from rising seas and catastrophic weather patterns – depends entirely upon how seriously each nation follows through on their commitments.