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The Climate Agreement

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I’m a little surprised at the vigor of the Paris climate agreement. Of course the nations of the world now have to follow through and I’m super skeptical of that, in no small part because of the Republican Party in the world’s largest economy. Certainly President Obama and John Kerry showed a lot of leadership here while increased domestic outrage over China’s unbelievable air pollution levels forced the Chinese government to sign on. Poor nations received a principle of payments from industrial nations to help mitigate the impact of climate change on their people, but none of that is legally binding, so we’ll see. But if–and this is a huge if–the nations follow through on the deal, the benefits are enormous:

Those plans alone, once enacted, will cut emissions by half the levels required to stave off the worst effects of global warming. The national plans vary vastly in scope and ambition — while every country is required to put forward a plan, there is no legal requirement dictating how, or how much, countries should cut emissions.

Thus, the Paris pact has built in a series of legally binding requirements that countries ratchet up the stringency of their climate change policies in the future. Countries will be required to reconvene every five years, starting in 2020, with updated plans that would tighten their emissions cuts.

Countries will also be legally required to reconvene every five years starting in 2023 to publicly report on how they are doing in cutting emissions compared to their plans. They will be legally required to monitor and report on their emissions levels and reductions, using a universal accounting system.

That hybrid legal structure was explicitly designed in response to the political reality in the United States. A deal that would have assigned legal requirements for countries to cut emissions at specific levels would need to go before the United States Senate for ratification. That language would have been dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, where many members question the established science of human-caused climate change, and still more wish to thwart Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda.

The whole world has to deal with the mendacity of the Republicans. Christ.

It’s also worth a reminder that climate change will impact every part of our lives, including our cultural heritage. In France alone, its iconic wine and truffles are in severe danger.

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