Monday, April 25, 2016

Paris Climate Accord Signed on Earth Day.

from NASA

Earth Day was Friday. Leaders from more than 175 countries gathered at the United Nations in New York City on Friday to sign the Paris Climate Accord. If you recall, last December at a meeting in Le Bourget in north-east Paris at the 21st Conference of the Parties called COP-21 Delegates from 196 countries reached an agreement that puts the nations on a course to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel.

Though many were disappointed that the Paris Climate Accord was not strong enough, even if every nation met their pledge, it lacks any clear path on how the nations will maintain global temperatures within 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. That limit is based on what scientists think will prevent the eventual drowning of many coastal cities, the disruption of agricultural climates and reductions in drinking water availability; but the Island nations had pushed for a lower limit believing that a temperature rise of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels would doom them. Thus, an aspirational goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels was included in the agreement. However, the carbon reductions committed to under the agreement are inadequate to meet either goal.

Nonetheless, Friday’s ceremony at the United Nations when 175 nations signed the agreement was a reminder that the Paris Climate Accord was indeed historic- 196 countries are party to the agreement and never before have representatives from 175 nations gathered at the United Nations to sign an agreement in a single day. Leonardo DiCaprio the actor and environmental campaigner was one of the speakers who addressed the gathering at the United Nations saying, "The world is now watching.". The Paris Climate Accord is the first milestone in the battle to keep Earth a planet that is hospitable to human life.

The key points of the agreement are:
  • The new climate treaty will run from 2020-2030. 
  • The nations embrace the aim of keeping temperatures “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and aims to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. 
  • Each nation will declare their “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC) instead of the U.N. mandating cuts, but the emissions cuts pledges made so far still leave the world on track for at least 2.7 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures this century. 
  • For the agreement to work, countries will have to pledge to deeper emissions cuts in future. The agreement includes a review of goals and progress towards the goals every five years with the first happening in 2023. 
  • The developed countries are obliged to continue to 'mobilize' at least $100 billion (US) a year of public and private finance to help developing countries to address the financial losses vulnerable countries face from climate impacts such as extreme weather but does not provide for any liability compensation. 
So far the global temperature rise has been about 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times and last year was reported to be the warmest year on record. The agreement lacks any clear path on how the nations will maintain the 2 °C rise limit let alone the 1.5 °C above pre-industrial temperature limit. The carbon reductions committed to under the agreement are inadequate to meet that goal, and neither China nor India representing about a third of world greenhouse gas emissions have committed to reductions. Instead they are projecting when their greenhouse gas emissions will peak.The agreement now becomes effective when 55 countries responsible for 55% of the carbon emissions ratify the agreement.

In the United States new treaties must be ratified by the Senate, but the Administration will be instead ratifying the agreement through executive action because the greenhouse gas reduction limits are not binding. In 1992 the U.S. Senate ratified the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Climate Change that re­quired its parties set national strategies to reduce green­house-gas emissions and cooperate in future talks to prepare for the impacts of climate change. The George H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion said at the time that any “protocol or amendment” that set binding greenhouse-gas-reduction targets would have to go through the Sen­ate. The Paris agreement greenhouse gas reductions are not binding.

Though the climate agreement is not really a treaty and  is far from perfect and the way that the U.S. is joining it far from optimal, It is a beginning that encompasses most of the planet. Earth Day 2016, a time of hope.

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