The Paris Agreement

Forecasts of Annual Gigatons of CO2 Emitted over Time

The chart above illustrates how annual CO2 emissions are increasing and how much they need to be reduced in order to minimize global warming to a 1.5 or 2.o degree C increase. Reaching these goals hopefully avoids the most significant impacts of global warming. In previous posts (How’s Planet Earth Doing?, How’s Planet Earth Doing, Part 2), I concluded planet earth is “not too good, and getting worse” and this chart above, which reinforces that conclusion, was a real and clear wake-up for me. 

So what’s being done about it? Well, most countries have been negotiating and working toward an agreement which would collectively address climate change.  This agreement is the Paris Agreement and the chart above summarizes the objective: to reduce the number of gigatons of CO2 emitted annually to avoid increasing global temperatures. I had heard about the Paris Agreement in the press but knew little about it. Unfortunately, the issue of climate change has become a partisan political point with some denying that the planet is warming or that human activity is the root cause of global warning. I can understand that individuals or businesses that believe their interests would be adversely affected by some of the steps proposed to reduce global warming might oppose those actions. Oil companies in particular have a huge stake in continuing to burn fossil fuels. According to an Chris Tomlinson commentary article in the May 6, 2019 Houston Chronicle:

“Researchers have calculated that to keep the earth’s temperature from rising to levels that cause widespread natural and economic disruption, humans can only afford to release another 986 gigatons of carbon over the next 50 years. If we exceed this carbon budget, the heat will turn farmland into deserts, kill hundreds of species and make some parts of North Africa and the Middle East uninhabitable.

“The world’s 20 largest, publicly traded energy corporations, though, have promised their shareholders profits from selling 1,541 gigatons of carbon over the next 50 years, according to the London School of Economics. These same companies have pledged to spend billions of dollars more to find new oil reserves and to burn them too.”

“If these companies did nothing more than sell the $6 trillion in proven reserves they own today, the planet would suffer. But if these companies do not promise to sell those reserves, their stock value plummets.”

So what is the Paris Agreement? I’ve taken the liberty to paraphrase parts of Wikipedia’s explanation of The Paris Agreement:

In 2015, 196 parties came together for the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris 30 November – 12 December and adopted by consensus the Paris Agreement, aimed at limiting global warming to less than two degrees Celsius, and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016. The Paris Agreement’s long-term goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels; and to limit the increase to 1.5 °C, since this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.

Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. No mechanism forces a country to set a specific target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets. Since the signing, different countries have announced specific plans to implement their commitment to the agreement (e.g., France plans to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040).

The aim of the agreement is to decrease global warming by holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Part of the strategy includes the so called 20/20/20 targets, namely reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (by 20%), the increase of RES (renewables) share (to 20% on the basis of consumption) and the increase of energy efficiency, thus, saving up to 20% in the energy consumption

Countries furthermore aim to reach “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”. The agreement has been described as an incentive for and driver of fossil fuel divestment.  The Paris deal is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement.

One of the beauties of this agreement (at least to me) is that each country could determine how they would implement the agreement.  This acknowledges that different countries contribute to global warming in different ways. It is not all about replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. There’s much much more. Take for example, a global initiative known as implementing clean cookstoves.  Household cooking over open fires is not an environmental problem in the U.S. but is significant to many other parts of the world.  This initiative basically replaces the crude and rudimentary stoves which use solid fuels over open fires, often with little or no ventilation.   And while there has been much progress over the past decade, currently about 3 billion people around the world do not currently use clean cookstoves.  The Drawdown Project, (which I referenced in What Matters Most?) estimates that currently only approximately 1.3% of the addressable market has adopted clean cookstoves and if that number were to grow to 16% by the year 2050, this solution would rank as the 21st most important practice ahead of offshore wind turbines (# 22), electric vehicles (#26), and household LED lighting (#33).  And to me, this example of clean cookstoves vs. electric vehicles, illustrates the importance for all countries to be participants in the global climate control effort. 

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. In his announcement, he described it as “an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.” Many have speculated as to the President’s reasoning for withdrawing from the agreement. But regardless, since that announcement, the U.S. delegation has continued to participate in Paris Agreement meetings because, formally there is no way for the U.S.—or any other country who signed it—to withdraw from Paris until four years after it went into effect. By coincidence or design, the process of withdrawal can only begin the day after the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

Until the U.S. announced its decision to withdraw from that agreement, all countries were involved and participating in efforts to control global climate change. Hopefully, we can return to that collective effort soon.

One thought on “The Paris Agreement

  1. Really interesting! It’s nice to have some understanding of a term that has become ubiquitous—and controversial. Thanks Food Guy!

    Like

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