196 countries gathered in Paris to map out a better future for the planet
“This is the only planet with chocolate, so we’ve got to save it.” —David Wolfe
Future history students will have to memorize Dec. 12, 2015. That date marks the beginning of the era when essentially all the countries of the world began slowing the rate of climate change and easing its impacts.
Despite wailings from climate deniers and the fossil fuel and nuclear industries, the transition to healthier alternative energy now begins in earnest. We will start to leave fossil fuels in the ground. The Paris Agreement has been adopted!
Tennesseans present during negotiations included your Shades of Green columnist and her 17-year-old granddaughter. As part of the Sierra Student Coalition and Sierra Club, we exchanged thoughts and ideas with international visitors at exhibit booths, participated in public photo shoots and festivals, interviewed influential people for video postings, attended strategy meetings and informative scientific and art sessions, and heard daily delegate reports about negotiations.
Paris rolled out the carpet for COP21, projecting pro-climate action messages nightly on the Eiffel Tower. Narrow streets, small shops and an extensive mass transit system characterize bike-friendly Paris. We enjoyed crepes and pastries, but unfortunately, hamburger-and-French-fries fast food has invaded France.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Paris Agreement is that it happened at all! Think of it. Representatives from 196 countries came to a collective agreement in two weeks. What was wanted was a fair and equitable agreement for those suffering impacts emanating from high-emissions countries, of which the U.S. and China are tops.
Surprisingly, the Agreement set an ambitious goal: to limit and slow earth’s rise in temperature, capping it at well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, with an aspiration of maintaining it at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
Many indigenous people attended. “One point five to stay alive,” chanted attendees from African nations. A lower temperature rise should save many low-lying coastlines and small islands that would be underwater at 2 degrees.
The Agreement itself is over 20 pages long. Here’s a brief overview:
Meeting the goal
1. Mitigation and Adaptation: A frontload reduction of emissions will be sought to achieve the goal while strengthening the ability of countries to deal with climate impacts. A $100-billion fund supports transition to low-carbon growth. A Mission Innovation fund seeks new energy technologies.
2. A transparency system and global stocktaking will account for climate actions. Each country submits a plan for assessment every five years, with plans ratcheted up over time. The official Paris Agreement starts in 2020 but countries will now work on current plans, with a “facilitative dialogue” to take place in 2018.
3. Loss and damage/strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts: Climate disruption from catastrophic weather, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, warming temperatures, destroyed agriculture and loss of biodiversity will result in massive refugee numbers. Prevention measures and risk protection are advised as a moral responsibility.
4. Financing nations to build resilient futures: Twenty countries are doubling research and development investments.
This Agreement sets an emphatic, if imperfect, framework for implementation. It sends a strong economic signal with business certainty. No, it doesn’t take away our freedoms, because each country is responsible for its own plan. Neither is it a ploy to steal money from taxpayers’ pockets, but instead a wonderful green business, educational and economic opportunity.
While not legally binding, it contains built-in monitoring, assessment and transparency. What is true is that we cannot continue to destroy Earth’s support systems. Urgent action is required, much of that occurring at city and community levels.
In Tennessee, we must save forests; reduce energy use; eat more local vegetables; stop fracking, coal mining and nuclear plants; prepare for refugees; support the Clean Power Plan; and advocate for a strong U.S. climate plan.
It’s time to share our resources! Our youth deserve it. Let 2016 begin with global resolve.
Sandra Kurtz is an environmental community activist and is presently working through the Urban Century Institute. You can visit her website to learn more at enviroedu.net