SUFB 071: About the COP21 Paris Agreement

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Over the weekend, world leaders and policy makers attending the COP21 Climate Change talks in Paris put forth the long-awaited international climate change agreement. The document outlines how nations will address climate change as part of an international community, the role developed countries will play versus the role smaller countries will play, and a general time frame for reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the detrimental impacts of climate change. On today’s episode, we’ll briefly go over the major points of the agreement and what this will mean for future policies addressing climate change.

The document, entitled “Adoption of the Paris Agreement,” does a great job of initiating international communication and cooperation on climate change mitigation and avoidance methods. It stresses the importance of not only keeping future climate change to 2° C above pre-industrial levels, but also the benefits of working towards a 1.5° C maximum increase. The agreement also establishes a process for countries to submit and monitor five-year goals regarding policies like reducing carbon emissions or increasing natural carbon sink areas. Most importantly, the submission of these individual five-year goals is legally binding. This will ensure each nation continues to regularly update the United Nations on its domestic progress in reducing climate change. Additionally, the agreement stressed the need for transparency between countries when communicating their goals and progress towards these goals. This language facilitates international cooperation and trust, two key aspects of any successful large-scale climate change policy.

However, the document falls short when it comes to suggesting or requiring actual implementation methods. Though the submission of and reporting on the five-year goals are mandatory, their actual completion is not. The agreement does not require nations to achieve their five-year goals, or provide any detail on possible financial sanctions if they fall short. As many experts speculated, it appears as if adherence to these five-year goals falls squarely on the shoulders of national governments (which have a reputation for being fickle).

Additionally, there is no legally-binding language detailing how low-income or developing nations will finance many of the suggested policies. In the preamble to the agreement, it’s stated that developed nations should contribute $100 billion annually to developing nations to address climate change. However, this is not legally binding. Further, many experts claim $100 billion isn’t enough to implement an effective carbon-emission reduction policy for many these small, island countries.

So yes, the agreement has some flaws in it. For starters, it could have provided specific information on how much money will be needed for developing countries to implement eco-friendly policies and how developed countries will finance this. It also should have detailed what sanctions countries will face should they fail to meet their five-year goals. That being said, the United Nations can only do so much as far as domestic policy is concerned. Sure, there could be financial penalties, but how effective would these really be? We’ve seen before many countries go against the U.N., regardless of the sanctions.

Still, the agreement does provide the initial framework for international cooperation and communication to combat climate change. And even if this is all it does, the agreement can still be considered a success. The talks themselves brought together small island nations and large developed economies. It provided under represented parties an opportunity to speak with global leaders and stress the potential damages of unchecked climate change. It showed the world that climate change is a real and relevant problem, and that it requires a global solution. Now, the work comes home. It’s up to individual countries to implement and accomplish their respective five-year goals that were submitted prior to the conference. That means it’s more important than ever to speak to your local or state representative and tell them that a policy addressing climate change is an essential component of any political campaign. If we only elect leaders who prioritize action against climate change, then we have a shot at protecting the future of our planet.

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