The Paris Agreement turns Climate Ambitions into Climate Action
Big changes are being initiated by the Paris Agreement to take action against anthropogenic climate change. Scientists have reached a consensus that recent changes in the earth’s climate are not solely due to natural climate cycles, but are also due to human activity that releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. These gasses are primarily produced by the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use. Before the Industrial Revolution, around 1750, climate change was attributed solely to natural climate cycles, but new industrial practices across the globe have altered these cycles.1
The Paris Agreement was made by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) at the 21st Conference of Parties, with an aim to limit the rise of global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius. It is a legally binding agreement, requiring participating parties to report greenhouse gas inventories every 2 years and to report their progress towards emission reduction targets. The Paris Agreement deepens commitments for reducing emissions, establishes minimum targets, and creates an accountability system for committed parties.2
On November 4th, 2016, those involved in the Paris Agreement were required to submit action plans outline their next steps towards the Paris Agreement goals. The wheels of the first global response to climate change have now been put in motion. Years of ambitions on anthropogenic climate change abatement are being turned into action.3
UN Chief, Ban Ki-moon reached out to all sectors of society to contribute to the goals of this agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He hopes this collaborative effort will limit the rise of global temperatures and “build resilience to incoming change.”4 In response to recruitment efforts for the Paris Agreement, on October 5th, the required 55 parties, accounting for at least 55% of the estimated global greenhouse gas emissions, ratified the Paris agreement.5 Meeting this threshold allowed for its entry into force 30 days later on November 4th, and the agreement has now been ratified by 112 of the 197 parties in the UNFCC.5
The UNFCC was created in 1992 to create a framework for future planning that would achieve the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, but did not enforce action from the 197 parties that joined the convention.6 Plans for action were made at the Marrakech Climate Change Conference at a meeting for the UNFCC from November 7th-18th. At the Marrakech Climate Change Conference, decisions were made on, but not limited to: how to finance long-term climate efforts, the procedures for assessing the progress of participating parties, enhancing climate technology development, implementation of a global observing system for climate, implementation of the framework for capacity-building in developing countries under Kyoto protocol (which allocates more responsibility for climate action on developed nations),7 rules for conferences between participating parties of the Paris Agreement, and dates and venues for future meetings.8
The swift implementation of the Paris Agreement is a relief to advocates of environmental protection, and a concern to business leaders. The Paris Agreement is finally bringing about the action on climate change that environmentalists have been working towards for years. Many business leaders, on the other hand, are concerned about what the end of the fossil fuel era could do to industry and financial markets. Government action is anticipated to encourage investors away from fossil fuels, and towards renewable energy.8 Some economists believe the Paris Agreement will actually make billions of dollars available as humans reap “the benefits of cleaner air, greater security and avoiding the worst effects of climate change.” This money would be made available as reactive spending for the repercussions of climate change decreases, for example, through reductions in healthcare bills as people live healthier lives on a cleaner earth.9
Supporters of the Paris Agreement have been concerned about US President elect Donald Trump, due to his commitment to further investing in domestic fossil fuels and his expressed belief that climate change is a “Chinese hoax.”10,12 The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, and therefore its serious participation is very important to the goals of the Paris Agreement, with 17.89% of the total greenhouse gasses emitted globally, and China being the largest emitter at 20%.11 A recent interview between the New York Times and Donald Trump has indicated a slight change in Trump’s opinions on the Paris Agreement and climate change. Trump admits that he believes there is “some connectivity” between human activities and climate change, and that he will have an “open mind” regarding the Paris Agreement. He appears to center its concerns primarily with business leaders. President elect Trump worries about how much the efforts of the Paris Agreement will cost United States companies, stating, “You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.”12 Only time will tell what the role of the United States will truly be in the Paris Agreement.
"Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change." Climate Change 2013 - The Physical Science Basis: 96. doi:10.1017/cbo9781107415324.021.
Chen, Han. "The Paris Agreement on Climate Change." NRDC. November 10, 2016. Accessed November 24, 2016. https://www.nrdc.org/resources/paris-agreement-climate-change.
"The Paris Agreement Enters into Force – Now What!" Climaterealityproject.org. October 5, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2016. https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/paris-agreement-enters-force.
"United Nations and Climate Change." UN News Center. Accessed November 22, 2016. http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/climatechange/.
Itkonen, Anna-Kaisa, and Nicole Bockstaller. "Paris Agreement to Enter into Force as EU Agrees Ratification." Europe.eu. October 4, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2016. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-3284_en.htm.
"United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change." Legal.un.org. Accessed November 22, 2016. http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/ccc/ccc.html.
"Kyoto Protocol." Unfccc.int. Accessed November 22, 2016. http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php.
"Marrakech Climate Change Conference." Unfccc.int. November 2016. Accessed November 22, 2016. https://euccnews.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/cop-22-final-outcomes-and-decisions/.
Vidal, John, and Adam Vaughan. "Paris Climate Agreement 'may Signal End of Fossil Fuel Era'" The Guardian. December 12, 2015. Accessed November 22, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-agreement-signal-end-of-fossil-fuel-era.
Adam McGibbon, "Trump Is a Threat to the Paris Agreement. Can States like California Defend It?," The Guardian, November 21, 2016, , accessed November 22, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/21/trump-threat-paris-agreement-california-climate-change.
"Report of the Conference of the Parties on Its Twenty-first Session, Held in Paris from 30 November to 13 December 2015." 30-34. Accessed November 22, 2016. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/10.pdf#page=30.
"Donald Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript." The New York Times. November 23, 2016. Accessed November 24, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/trump-new-york-times-interview-transcript.html.