Paris 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference & How We Can Take Action in 2016
On November 30th, talks began in Paris with the stated goal of ceasing all greenhouse emissions and the use of nonrenewable resources by 2050, limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, and investing in new infrastructures for a sustainable, green world. The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21, was attended by representatives from participating governments and the industry, technology, and science sectors, including President Obama, French President Francoise Hollande and tech visionary Bill Gates. After nearly 2 weeks of talks, the summit concluded on December 12th with the negotiation of the Paris Agreement. Despite grand proclamations and monumental pledges from virtually every developed and developing nation as well as a redoubled commitment from the energy sector to focus on the development of renewable energy technology, many have characterized the talks as being farcical and the new guidelines, while technically legally binding, as practically toothless.
146 countries presented their proposals or intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to reduce carbon emissions to the UN Framework on Climate Change (the United Nations body charged with overseeing the effort to stem climate change). While many of these proposals contained wide-reaching and optimistic goals, as well as revolutionary methods to combat climate change, such as reforestation , the combined data from the submitted INDCs showed that the proposed reductions in emissions were not large enough to significantly deter global warming. Each nation will be expected to revise its plan every five years and is encouraged to aim higher in its efforts to curb greenhouse gas. The catch is that they won’t actually have to begin curbing emissions until 2020 (a caveat that many environmental activists find unacceptable). Climate researchers are now calling for efforts to keep the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees, as anything more significant will threaten the continued survival of underdeveloped and island nations, as well as sea life and, to a greater or lesser extent, every life-form on the planet. If each nation succeeds in carrying out their voluntary proposals, the remaining carbon emissions would still bring about a temperature change of 2.7 degrees celsius by 2100, a point which is explicitly addressed as an urgent focus of attention in the pact.
One resolution states that wealthy countries who are producing the majority of harmful emissions will bear the brunt of the cost and effort to curb them, however there are no strict guidelines to determine how this cost will be distributed, nor repercussions for countries who don’t pull their weight. Developing countries will contribute on a voluntary basis and receive assistance from stronger nations, as well as revenue generated by the burgeoning decarbonization industry and the UN’s Green Climate Fund. Again, the details are fuzzy when it comes to how this aid will actually be distributed. A new system intended to gauge a nation’s climate record was unveiled, but there is no mechanism in place to hold these nations accountable if they don’t honor their commitments.
China. Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images
While many of these resolutions are laudable, not to mention doable, there is a fair amount of skepticism being voiced by those who view the environmental crisis as intractable and those tasked with leading the transition to clean energy, untrustworthy. Many have stated the opinion that the resolutions cannot be enforced, and that it is not enough to merely rely on the honor system when the fate of the planet is at stake. The situation for developing nations is perhaps more tenebrous than ever before, as the financial protections for these nations which were mandated in the historic Kyoto Protocol have been severely weakened in the Paris Agreement.
It isn’t difficult to understand why transitioning to clean energy and learning to create our world in an efficient, sustainable manner is not only the right thing to do but also good business. Adopting clean strategies for our automotive and agricultural industries and investing in renewable energy can be expensive in the short term, but continuing to rely on unsustainable infrastructures will cost us far more in the long run. Already, we are seeing an increase in deadly storms and rising ocean levels. If things continue on this course, we will see degraded farms and forests, catastrophic flooding, and oppressive heat waves. The world will face a refugee crisis as millions of people flee from regions that are no longer viable. While these scenarios may sound like science fiction, they are actually science fact. The current status quo is simply unsustainable.
The hope that the nations of the world will ultimately be able to make the shift to clean power is still only a hope. But there IS hope. There is hope to be found in the precipitous growth of investment in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. There is also hope to be found in the grassroots environmental movement, which on the whole, seems to have a view of the crisis, its causes, and the possible solutions that are realistic, pragmatic, and in a perfect world, achievable. These grassroots organizations are pushing their communities and local governments to reject proposals that are dangerous to their environments and to adopt policies that support sustainable living. And while coal and oil interests continue to fight the future, giants of tech and industry have stepped up in opposition to push the agenda of renewable energy.
Photograph: Ian Langsdon/AFP/Getty Images
Investing in a greener world shouldn’t be a matter of contention. There is no doubt that renewable energy is coming and that it will dominate less efficient sources of dirty energy in the marketplace, because it is superior in every way. Green energy is sustainable, less harmful to our bodies and our environments, and once we have the pieces in place, it will be much less expensive and will help alleviate the strain on our planetary ecosystems.
All in all, the Paris Agreement is a necessary step on the road to 100% clean energy. The time is now for those in power to act and for us to begin incorporating green philosophy into our own lives, if only to prepare for the bright future that we all deserve. A sustainable planet powered by clean, renewable energy sources, like the sun, the wind, and the water, is just over the horizon.
To kick off my blog for the new year and in keeping with the goals of living more sustainably, here is a wrap up of last year’s articles which illustrate how others around the world are living sustainably and how we can as well.
Sustainable Design including everything from lingerie made out of pine needles to sneakers made out of trash to chairs made from bioplastics to cocoon fireplaces.
Sustainable Food and Drinks including sustainable farming programs for veterans to Brooklyn Rooftop Vineyards to organic and locally made wines, liquors, and beers.
Sustainable Businesses / Business Owners from affordable housing developers who focus on sustainable building practices to Green Roof specialists and world renowned designers.
Green Living in NYC including great NYC bike paths and playgrounds with the most natural habitats.
Categories: Sustainable Living