Corey Troiani, DFW Program Director
You’ve probably heard that world leaders and negotiators met in Paris and reached a global agreement on reducing our atmospheric impact on climate change.
For two weeks, thousands of negotiators from nearly 200 countries mulled over scientific data, models, and input from world leaders. These negotiators ultimately crafted a 31-page agreement that countries should dramatically reduce carbon emissions and keep the majority of fossil fuels in the ground. Additionally, industrialized nations will help fund developing nations as they attempt to grow into a low-carbon future.
You might be thinking, how do countries plan on keeping these huge promises, or why should I care about this anyway?
First, scientists have long known that fossil fuel emissions contribute to what is called the greenhouse effect. Heat-trapping gases, like carbon dioxide, keep the suns heat in our atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise over time. The more heat-trapping gases we release, the hotter the planet gets. And boy, are we releasing a lot of greenhouse gases nowadays. The US alone releases 14.7 trillion pounds of the stuff every year. For perspective, global temperatures have been rising to the tune of about four Hiroshima bombs every second (or about two billion of these bombs since 1998).
So, what happens when the earth heats up a few degrees? The short answer is: Chaos.
If we do not put a control on global carbon emissions soon, we can expect larger storms, more droughts, mass human and animal migrations and extinction, as well as food and water shortages all over the globe. It’s not a pretty sight.
Maybe an uncle, or someone, told you over Thanksgiving dinner that we don’t need to take this seriously, since the Earth hasn’t warmed in the last 15 years or so. Pass the salt, Auntie, because the science is out on that one as well. Even though global atmospheric temperatures have stalled to some extent, oceanic temperatures continue to absorb the bulk of the heat, and ocean chemistry is changing as a result, bleaching wild coral preserves as the waters acidify.
Even in Texas, a fossil fuel friendly state, the public recognizes the impact we are having on our climate. According to a poll by the University of Texas in October, a full 76% of Americans agree that climate change is occurring, along with 69% of Texans. That is remarkable consensus among the population, an agreement only dwarfed by the 98% + consensus among climate scientists. Of course, just because everyone agrees on something—even scientists—doesn’t mean that it is true. However, experiment after experiment, data point after data point confirms the simple fact that more greenhouse gas emissions means a hotter planet.
So, let’s get back to the big climate meeting in Paris and how countries plan on keeping all these big promises to kick their bad energy habits and dole out stacks of cash to the poorer countries. The 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) was held in Paris over the past two weeks. The significance of this event was supposed to be greater than any preceding, because it was to result in binding international agreements over a global climate deal.
On Saturday, December 12, negotiators announced that they had finalized their agreement with full consensus by 195 countries. The highlights of this agreement include:
- The desire to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius since preindustrial average.
- The pledge of wealthier nations to contribute $100 billion annually to developing nations to shift to a cleaner energy economy.
- Developed countries agreed to take “the lead” on reducing emissions, while developing nations will “move over time” to make cuts.
Many environmental and social justice groups have a critical view of the agreement for a number of reasons:
- The funding targets for developing nations are non-binding.
- There are no clear mechanisms for parties to take action (e.g. agreement on a carbon tax).
- Indigenous and island nations did not win specific defenses against climate damages.
- Negotiators settled on limiting to 2 degrees Celsius rather than below 1.5 degrees, which could be difference between life and death for many threatened communities.
- The agreement must be ratified by 55 countries (responsible for at least 55% of global emissions) before it is considered “binding” (aka worth adhering to at all).
- Some analysts suggest that even if countries adhere to their goals, we will still not hit the 2 degrees or less warming targets.
While it is still unknown if countries will adhere to their agreement in Paris by establishing similar targets at home, the events surrounding this conference inspire a lot of hope. More than 600,000 people across the world took to the streets to stand up for a fair and just future during the conference. Despite the French government’s ban on marches in the city of Paris due to national securities threats, thousands took to the streets. In one instance 10,000 shoes were left in the Place de la Republique to replace marchers who were barred from the area.
The climax of marches took place across the world on Saturday, December 12. Dubbed the Red Line Action, to signify the line of temperature and carbon emissions that cannot be crossed to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, 15,000 took the streets in Paris alone carrying red banners and decorations.
Climate justice organizers, who believe large industrialized countries should make the lion’s share of emissions cuts and assist developing nations and indigenous people with equitable solutions, used the conference “as an opportunity to organize, to mobilize, to build new links, strengthen existing networks and announce ambitious future plans for action.”
The conference in Paris inspires hope for us primarily because it demonstrates how many ordinary people are willing to stand up and fight for a fair and livable future. We look forward to building power with communities across the state—and globe—who share the vision of an equitable and just world that is free of pollution.
Here’s what some of our allies from Houston had to say about Paris.
— Robert D. Bullard (@DrBobBullard) December 14, 2015
— Yudith Nieto (@SoyYudith) December 3, 2015
— bryan parras (@HighTechAztec) December 12, 2015
DFW Program Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment