You might remember 200 countries meeting and discussing climate change at the COP21 conference in 2015. Many diplomats and scientists considered that conference to have resulted in the most successful climate agreement in history, the Paris Agreement. Today, US president Donald Trump announced that he will not be continuing with the commitment the US made during the COP21 conference. So… What’s next?
Overview of the Agreement:
The Paris Agreement was the product of the COP21 conference. The conference was meant to address the concern that Earth’s average temperature will rise by 3.8 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. After much deliberation, over 200 countries signed a plan that, if successful, would reduce the warming of the earth to only 2.7 degrees Celsius.
The agreement was considered successful for a few reasons.
- First, it provided a worldwide goal of keeping the average temperature increase under 2 degrees Celsius by asking states to find a way to get to net zero emissions, while allowing each nation to choose what path they will take to get there.
- Second, it recognized that cutting emissions will negatively effect development. Rich nations pledged 100 Billion dollars a year in public or private investment in developing nations, to help the world reach its goal. This was justified by the fact that Europe and North America gained wealth by burning fossil fuels for cheap, which is something we are now asking developing nations not to do.
- Third, it provided accountability. Diplomats are set to meet every few years in order to discuss their progress, and explain why and how they have or have not met their country’s individual goals.
Was it Really Going to Help?
Yes and no. Former President Barack Obama claimed the Paris Agreement was the “Best chance we have to save the one planet we have.”
By the end of COP21, the final decisions still did not meet the goal of keeping the earth’s warming under 2 degrees Celsius. BUT the results were well under the 3.8 degree warming that we would be subject to had we done nothing. Additionally, diplomats are still working to implement these plans in their home countries, and it is likely that many will not be successful. The United States is a perfect example.
Without the United States
The US is currently the second largest CO2 emitter in the world, accounting for almost 16% of worldwide emissions. China is the first at 28.21%. The US agreed that by 2025 that they would cut emissions from 17% lower than what they were in 2005 to 28% lower than what they were in 2005.
Essentially, Obama and his administration increased the cutbacks and made the slope of emissions over time steeper. Another way to say it is that the administration looked at how much they had reduced emissions since 2005, and agreed to increase their reduction to achieve a greater reduction by 2025 than the US would have had before the agreement.
Here’s a graph from Business Insider that might help explain it:
Not only will the Paris Agreement lose valuable emissions cuts by the US pulling out, but President Trump has given allies a reason to leave as well. Many think climate change is hopeless, and talks and cuts will only make it harder for their private sectors to profit. Since Trump has left the agreement, the worldwide benchmarks probably won’t be met. This means that allies might find it useless to continue with their goals. Here is another graphic from Business Insider showing who has ratified (put into action), signed (waiting for home government approval), and left the Paris Climate Agreement.
Didn’t the US Already Sign The Paris Climate Deal?
No? President Obama made an executive order to ratify the deal, but it didn’t pass through Congress. The former head of the executive branch of the US government made this decision on his own, therefore the new head of the executive branch can decide to disregard it on his own.
What do we do Now?
If you are worried about the prospect of the world we live in, your ultimate fears are being realized. But here is the good news:
- Many large US companies supported the goals of COP21, so continue to pressure retailers, car companies, tech companies, AND THE AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY with your concerns about the Earth. Believe it or not, they care too. They are listening to you by tracking what you buy and watching trends on social media.
- Individual changes can make a big impact if we all do them together. I sound like an old person but if you make changes and share the changes you made with your friends and family, they might find it easier to make those changes too.
- In the United States, local politicians can make big changes. Contact your state representatives and city council members. Tell them you want to work towards making your district/city more environmentally friendly. Even small groups of people can make a big impact at the local level, because so few people are vocal in small government.