Why the climate change deal works

December 14, 2015
French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius (C), President-designate of COP21, and Christiana Figueres (L), Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, react during the final plenary session at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 12, 2015.     REUTERS/Stephane Mahe   - RTX1YF32

French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius (C), President-designate of COP21, and Christiana Figueres (L), Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, react during the final plenary session at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

After years of painstaking negotiations, the climate change deal struck by leaders of 195 countries on Saturday was a diplomatic success. It represents a welcome shot in the arm for attempts to tackle global warming and, crucially, establishes a new set of guidelines for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

The more-ambitious-than-expected deal will see greenhouse gas emissions peak “as soon as possible,” and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of those gases in the second half of this century, with progress reviewed every five years. Countries will attempt to limit global temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius, the level scientists say cannot be breached if we are to avoid the worst risks of global warming.

To help achieve these goals, rich countries will provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries deal with climate change — a figure that is included in the treaty’s preamble, and is not legally binding.

Critics of the deal, from different parts of the political spectrum, have already tried to diminish its significance. But it deserves to be defended. As President Barack Obama has said, it may prove to be “the best chance we have to save the planet we have.”

For those who argue that the deal is not ambitious enough, it’s worth remembering that the talks nearly collapsed several times over the past two decades, and have been one of the most complex set of international negotiations ever. Whereas the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — which mandated country-by-country reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — involved a deal for the EU states and 37 developed countries, the Paris treaty also involved developing countries, which makes it the first genuinely global treaty to tackle climate change.

The provision that the deal must be reviewed every five years means that countries can toughen their response to climate change in the future, especially if the political and public will to tackle the problem increases with time.

Not surprisingly, skeptics of climate change have lambasted the agreement. Despite the now-overwhelming scientific evidence about the risks of global warming, a number of people, including several Republican candidates for the U.S. presidential nomination, continue to state that climate change is at worst a grand hoax, or at best an unwelcome distraction from other key issues.

While there is always uncertainty with science, these critics are misguided. Even if scientists are somehow wrong about global warming, the Paris deal will help to more swiftly remove our dependence on fossil fuels, making the world a cleaner, less-polluted and more sustainable place. Moreover, it will motivate many countries to develop a broader range of fuel sources, especially renewable energy, which can help enhance energy independence at a time of growing geopolitical turbulence.

The consequences of a failure to act now would be the growing likelihood of devastating environmental damage. This is folly on a global scale.

So despite what critics claim, the Paris deal is a good one. It tops off a series of summits that have addressed the challenges of global warming and sustainable development more broadly. Paris follows not only the UN summit in New York in September, which established the new 2030 development goals, but also the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in July, and the new framework for disaster risk reduction that was agreed to in Sendai, Japan in March. Collectively, these agreements could help billions across the world in coming decades.

Governments must now follow up on the political window of opportunity provided by the Paris conference. From 2016 onward, implementation will be most effective through national laws: the country commitments put forward in Paris will be more credible — and durable beyond the next set of national elections — if they are backed up by national legislation.

7 comments

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The climate change is just a nonsense invented by the shadowy government to oppress the poor.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

The technology is good enough now. There needs to be significant investment in manufacturing, which will bring the power of economies of scale to bear on the price issue. Let us just please admit that skeptics of global warming are primarily interested in protecting the fossil fuels industries, or may be brainwashed minions. However, they are wrong or evil, because as the story points out, the benefits of greener local energy is stability, lower pollution, fewer wars. These in themselves are enough of a reason to get off the dinosaur juice.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Your title
‘The best chance we have to save the planet’
The planet has been here for millions of years suffered, collisions with asteroids where the animals and vegetation were wiped but the Earth carried on, in effect healing itself. Now a group of politicians tell us now is ‘the best chance to save the planet’.
I think we have to save the planet from the politicians who are looking for another tax base. WE never hear from the thousands of Climatologists, PHD’s and other scientists who think this is scientific hogwash.

Posted by tradingdaze | Report as abusive

Macedonian,

Carbon emissions cause lung and heart disease that affects the poor, costing both them and taxpayers.

Energy conservation, upgrades, and renewable energy provide quality jobs.

This certainly does not oppress the poor.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

This power grab is exclusively for global redistribution of wealth. Now developed countries are supposed to fork over hundreds of billions of dollars to undeveloped countries. What could go wrong there?

Posted by dwood520 | Report as abusive

Treadingdaze complains: “WE never hear from the thousands of Climatologists, PHD’s and other scientists who think this is scientific hogwash.”

Thousands? Who? You’ll find dozens, and they’re all hired kooks hired by oil and business lobbies. Who are these “thousands?”

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Still waiting to see an actual citation or source for these supposed “thousands” of climate scientists who say this is all nonsense. Come on conservatives and science deniers of all stripes. This is your chance.

Hello? Anybody there? Thought not.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive