To cheers, applause and even some tears of joy, the Paris climate change agreement was announced this weekend after a marathon two-week-long series of talks brokered by the United Nations. A total of 195 nations are on board, making this accord the very first of its kind. Although some parts of the agreement are legally binding, others – including the targets themselves – are not. Nevertheless, the world has united in its aim to limit warming to below 2°C (3.6°F) by the end of the century.
Describing the target as “ambitious,” President Obama remarked that this decision shows “what’s possible when the world stands as one,” as reported by BBC News. Perhaps most significantly, China, the United States, and the European Union are all on board with this agreement. Collectively, they are responsible for 45 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Before the deal was made, the world faced at least 3.6°C (6.5°F) of warming by the end of the century. Even with the initial carbon-cutting plans submitted by hundreds of the delegates at the start of the meeting, there would still have been 2.7°C (4.9°F) of warming. Many poorer, low-lying nations said that anything in excess of 1.5°C (2.7°F) would devastate their countries.
Now, the agreement pledges to keep warming not only below the “red line” target of 2°C (3.6°F), but to keep it as close to 1.5°C (2.7°F) as possible. The aim is to reach a balance between the sources of carbon dioxide emissions – the most significant greenhouse gas – and its various “sinks,” including the world’s forests and oceans, somewhere between 2050 and 2100.
China will aim to transition away from a carbon-intensive economy to a more sustainable model, and the United States will reduce its emissions by up to 28 percent compared with its 2005 levels. There will also be $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries, which will help them transition to clean energy sources without suffering any economic loss, as well as building climate change-related hazard defenses.
In addition, the progress of all nations will be reviewed every five years. The most up-to-date scientific evidence will be constantly fed into the review process, allowing nations real-time feedback on how their actions are affecting the climate. The carbon-cutting targets of each nations are themselves not legally binding however, meaning that reneging on the deal without consequence is possible.
Image credit: President Obama attended the talks in the French capital. Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock
Despite this, the global reaction to the deal – from politicians and businesses to scientists and environmental groups – was positive. “This was the last chance,” said Miguel Arias Canete, Europe’s climate action and energy chief, as reported by the Guardian. “And we took it.”
The agreement emphasizes the surge in use of renewable energy sources. A recent report by the International Energy Agency states that 26 percent of the world will be using renewable energy sources by 2020, due to their increasing cheapness and efficiency. Evidence of this trend can be seen worldwide, from the advanced 24/7 solar power plant in Morocco to the legislative efforts of the Scandinavian nations.
The deal was made amid an atmosphere of unprecedented global solidarity; in particular, American public support for a binding deal reached a new high. With warming since the beginning of the industrial revolution occurring a remarkable 47,100 times faster than the temperature change during the last naturally occurring greenhouse period, this agreement certainly came in the world’s eleventh hour.
Main image credit: Yann Caradec/ Flickr; CC BY-SA 2.0