Over the past two weeks, leaders and delegates from 195 world nations have been formulating a global agreement on the reduction of climate change at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. They've now reached this agreement, and governments are expected to follow through with their various commitments to make it happen.
The final draft of the agreement was released to the public over the weekend, and outlines the various measures that need to be made to limit the rise in average global temperature to well below 2°C, with 1.5°C being the ideal benchmark. The attendees called the agreement, "The single most important collective action for addressing climate change ever agreed upon."
First off, the agreement recognised two fundamental facts:
- "That climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries."
- "That deep reductions in global emissions will be required in order to achieve the ultimate objective of the Convention and emphasising the need for urgency in addressing climate change."
The most important thing for the global community to do is to keep things below that 2-degree mark, the conference delegates agreed, to ward off the most severe effect of global warming. As Justin Gillis reports for The New York Times, while we don't know the exact temperature at which the entire Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will melt, staying below 2°C to avoid this is a good bet. And 1.5°C is an even better bet.
To meet this goal, we need to stop burning fossil fuels and limit the CO2 we've been releasing into the atmosphere, and the richest nations at the conference have agreed to raise enough funds that by 2020, US$100 billion a year will be made available to developing nations to help them achieve this.
As it was noted - developed nations have essentially gotten away with using fossil fuels to build themselves up, and can now afford to invest in renewable energy sources, whereas developing nations never got that chance.
To ensure progress and to enforce the individual goals set for each country, delegates are legally required to meet up again in 2023, and then every five years following, with new reduction targets for emissions to be evaluated by committee.
"So the individual countries' plans are voluntary, but the legal requirements that they publicly monitor, verify, and report what they are doing, as well as publicly put forth updated plans, are designed to create a 'name-and-shame' system of global peer pressure, in hopes that countries will not want to be seen as international laggards," The New York Times reports.
You can read up on the individual commitments of each country in the final draft.
While President Obama called the deal "the best chance to save the one planet we have", critics have pointed out that, at this stage, the commitments laid out in the agreement are simply not enough.
"For example," says Sarah Perkins from Australia's Climate Change Research Centre, "current pledges in greenhouse gas reductions will only limit warming to 2.7 to 3°C by 2100".
She adds that to reach a target below 2°C, "dramatic, and quick reductions in fossilised energy sources are required, as well as removal of atmospheric carbon", but the problem here is that everything is going to be set to a five-year timeline from 2023, which isn't exactly the pace we need to make a meaningful change.
Others have criticised the vagueness of the agreement, as Morgan Clendaniel notes over at Fast Company:
"[T]he agreement is largely free of specific emission numbers, targets, monetary commitments, and penalties for non-compliance. Even the temperature increase threshold is left up in the air, somewhere below 2 degrees if possible. This will help the Obama administration, which doesn't want anything in the agreement that would require Senate approval (which they very likely wouldn't get), but makes the agreement seem largely toothless to many climate activists."
And George Monibot over at The Guardian says:
"While earlier drafts specified dates and percentages, the final text aims only to 'reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible'. Which could mean anything and nothing."
We will have to wait and see what will come of this historic agreement, but the one thing to be excited about is that it exists, and that's a pretty huge shift from the recent past, where governments could get away with denying that human-caused climate change even existed. You can access the full agreement online here.