It was exhilarating and a bit nerve-wracking, watching the Paris summit unfold as all our world leaders joined together to address climate change. Speeches abounded stating commitments and encouraging the spirit of cooperation for our common good. Smaller groups quickly formed working out the details. Soon the climate change deniers arrived on scene attempting to derail the progress and protect their profits. Fortunately, they were promptly ignored and negotiations continued. Interestingly, the Marshall Island delegates emerged as leaders. By gathering the voices and faces of many small poor islands struggling with ocean rise and damaging storms, they unified 100 countries vehemently requesting more ambitious global warming limits. Other contentious issues included how to best secure funds from developed countries to help the disproportionately impacted poor developing countries and how to develop a transparent system to evaluate progress.
On Saturday, December 12, 196 parties adopted an agreement by “consensus”. All are in agreement we need to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial temperatures with the ultimate goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit); certainly ambitious as we have already reached the 1 degree Celsius mark. Although not legally binding, developed countries have committed to raise at least $100 billion annually to help undeveloped countries survive. All are in agreement to achieve climate ‘neutrality’ (no net carbon emissions) fossil fuels need to be phased out soon after mid-century, goals which will require keeping 80% of the world’s remaining fossil fuels underground. All countries are legally required to monitor their emission levels and reconvene every five years to publicly report their progress and commit to more ambitious goals. Disappointingly, while world-wide leaders were tirelessly working for the common good, our Congress voted to overturn the Clean Power Plan most Americans support. With no super-majority to overturn a veto, we will continue to curb coal plant emissions. We have a precedent showing how effective world leaders can be when they come together. Changes implemented after the 1989 Montreal Protocol effectively brought to a halt the damage caused by the growing hole in the Ozone. Those were the days when it was the norm to believe our scientists.
The United States remains committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level by 2025. Many are disappointed these goals won’t cover our fair share as the World Resource Institute reports we are responsible for 14% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. You can bet other countries are watching us. Meanwhile, our legislators are out of step, continuing to give the oil industry billions in subsidies annually, our tax dollars, and this month lifted a 40-year ban on crude oil exports.
The leaders from every country in the world, 196 countries, signed the pact. The world is clearly embracing clean renewable energy as our future and markets are responding. Technical advances make clean energy renewables more affordable, effective and growing. Although reversing the course of climate change is a daunting task, the pact brings us hope. As individuals, our vote, voices, and actions will help keep us on course.