A Breakthrough at the Paris Climate Change Summit

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Getty Images

This past weekend, 195 countries reached a milestone climate accord at Climate Change Summit that will require nearly every country to help fight off the most drastic effects of climate change by lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The delegates have negotiated avidly for two weeks in Le Bourget, France to discuss the ways to prevent an increase in atmospheric temperatures of least 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientific studies concluded that this is the point when the world experience natural disturbances, including rising sea levels, severe droughts and flooding, widespread food and water shortages, and destructive storms. This is the first time in two decades that nearly every country is required to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“The American People should be proud”, President Obama said from the Cabinet Room at the White House, “because it is the best chance we’ve had to save the one planet we’ve got.”

South Africa’s environment minister Bomo Edna Molewa, called the accord the “first step in a long journey that the global community needs to undertake together.”

The last time there was a conference of this kind was in 1992 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change where previous pacts required developed economies like the U.S. to reduce greenhouse emissions. However, the pacts exempted developing countries such as China and India, who are the first and third largest emitters of CO2, respectively.

The proposal might prove to be successful in the U.S. since the deal assigns no concrete reduction targets to any country. Essentially, carbon emissions deduction is voluntary. Instead, each government abides by its own individual plan to lower emissions based on each country’s domestic politics and economy. “This agreement is highly unlikely to trigger any legitimate grounds for compelling Senate ratification,” said Paul Bledsoe, a climate change official in the Bill Clinton Administration. “The language itself is sufficiently vague regarding emissions pledges.”

The accord does require “stocktaking” meetings every five years where countries will report how they are cutting their emissions compared with their targets. It also obliges countries to monitor, verify, and publicly report their emission levels (a term of the accord that was heavily deliberated on during the final drafting).

Miguel Arias Canete, the European Union’s commissioner for energy and climate action, reminded delegates that the accord is only the beginning. “Today, we celebrate,” he said. “Tomorrow, we have to act. This is what the world expects of us.”

The first stocktaking meeting will take place in 2020 where countries will return with plans for tougher policies.

Article by HEI contributor Aliyah Cole.

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