The real implications of the Paris climate deal

The real implications of the Paris climate deal

Following the much heralded ‘success’ of the Paris climate deal, what will really change -- if anything?

Politicians and the media alike have hailed the resulting pledge of the UN climate conference in Paris as the “world’s greatest diplomatic success.” This following two weeks of intense negotiating and furrowed-brow photo ops by delegates from the 196 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change member states, finally culminating in a collective agreement last weekend.

Now that the metaphorical confetti has settled, it is time to analyse the outcomes of this climate deal agreement with two questions: 1) What will it realistically achieve? and 2) Are these achievements enough to limit and eventually reverse human intensification of climate change? It’s all well and good to shake hands, sign papers, and proclaim through powerful rhetoric to have saved the world. The real test, however, will occur when the delegates return to their respective houses of government to implement these changes into law. Only then will the true results be manifest.

Let’s take a look at some of the major commitments of the climate deal:

1. Countries agree to reduce emissions to pre-industrial levels, with the ambition to limit global warming at no more than 1.5C.

2. Countries promise to raise $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt their economies.

3. Countries affected by climate-related disasters will gain urgent aid.

These may have exceeded expectations — especially following the disaster of Copenhagen in 2009. However expectations were much too low to begin with. Most climate scientists agree that anything more than 2C of warming is the “limit of safety”, beyond which natural disasters will become “catastrophic and irreversible.” Given current environmental trends, the aim of limiting emissions to even 2C — let alone 1.5C — is hopeful at best. Thus the reality of that target being met is unlikely, even if we do all cooperate on the deal.

This leads to the next issue — cooperation is not a given. One must seriously consider whether these policies will be ratified by all signatory countries. A pledge means little, especially when the ‘legally binding’ commitments are only legal insomuch as the UN has power. One must consider potential political backlash in developed countries that could stall emissions caps and funding goals. Imagine if a climate-change denying Republican is elected as the US president next year — a real possibility. This would negate any part of the agreement becoming law in one of the most influential countries to the climate discussion. On the flip side, some politicians in developing countries are already complaining that the proposed $100bn a year by 2020 will not be enough to adequately compensate their economic losses. This is a sticking point to monitor.  

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Ultimately, we must all consider that there are no reelections when it comes to our (habitable) planet. Whether or not we will reach this realization before it’s too late, that remains to be seen. But for now let us enjoy this small step in the right direction, and not rest on our diplomatic laurels to take longer strides forward in the future. 

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