The Paris Agreement, Put Simply

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By Campaign Agent William Fawcett

No other attempt at tackling a global issue has witnessed collaboration and a sense of international community on the scale that the Paris Agreement has. Signed last year by 195 out of the 200 or so countries of the world, the target to vastly reduce the rate of climate change has been described as an “historic turning point” in the goal to lessen the potentially catastrophic impacts of greenhouse gases and carbon emissions.

Far from complicated, the Agreement that became effective in November 2016 aims to hold the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, diverge ourselves away from fossil fuel dependence and adapt to the already inevitable impacts of climate change. It comes after an overwhelming majority inside the scientific community warned that any increase above 2-3°C by the end of the century would severely alter the climate, sea levels and food security of everyone. With the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2020, the Paris Agreement was deemed necessary to once again bring all nations alike together to tackle an issue that affects us all.

Out of the 195 signatories of the Paris deal, 147 are parties. This simply means that whilst the signatories declare their intent in making the terms of the treaty legally binding, those who are parties have already done so. Out of the parties now committed to the climate change target, China (20%), India (4%), Russia (7%) and the USA (18%) all make up over 50% of the world’s total emissions of greenhouse gases. All EU countries are also fully signed up to the deal, representing around 13% of greenhouse emissions, leaving only Nicaragua and Syria as the only sovereign countries in the world not having ratified or become a signatory to the accords.

Yet despite the Paris Agreement bringing together the world of friends and enemies in a fashion never seen before, Trump has vowed to “cancel” America’s engagement in the deal and finally made his decision this week after the G7 summit. Panicked scientists have already projected worrying forecasts after the US withdrawal, forecasting an extra increase of 0.2-0.3°C in global temperatures by the end of the century. Whilst China and India are in the gradual process of shifting towards more renewable energy sources and away from coal, the world’s second largest polluter of greenhouse gases stood firm on joining both Nicaragua and Syria as the outcasts.

The reaction amongst the international community has been one of both frustration but also of optimism, particularly in Europe. France and Germany have both expressed their desire at becoming the spearhead in the battle against rising temperatures and pollution without support from their influential ally across the Atlantic. Indeed many European ministers have come out in favour of US withdrawal, conceding to the fact that more progress can be made without the halfhearted approach of the Americans and their likelihood on frustrating the development of the Paris Agreement. Now that the Trump administration has made its intentions to leave the Agreement on the basis that the terms are unfavourable to US jobs and growth, the EU and China have sought to work together despite the US absence. One important danger following the aftermath of Trump’s verdict is that countries may decide not to adhere as strictly to the Agreement as intended, or even worse they could decide to exit if their interests deem it necessary.

However, hope is not all but lost. Trump declared in his Thursday speech that he would consider a revision of the terms to make a deal that represents America’s interests first. Whilst several key US states such as California, Washington and New York have declared their intent on upholding the Agreement by “taking aggressive action on climate change”. Along with this ‘Climate Alliance’, leaders around the world from Macron to Merkel have remained confident, citing that despite the loss of a major player, the fight against climate change is still achievable if the international community successfully comes together. Future generations will judge us on our actions that will ultimately impact on their lives and the lives of their children. Now more than ever international cooperation is required to ensure we do not end up becoming the architects of our own downfall.

Image rights: Presidencia de la República Mexicana @ Flickr 

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