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.
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.