Paris Agreement marks a global shift for climate | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Paris Agreement marks a global shift for climate

(Credit: Mark Dixon via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Climate and Clean Energy Communications and Research Specialist Steve Kux.

When our children's children look back to what we did to keep our planet livable, they may see this year's United Nations climate conference in Paris as a turning point.

Subscribe to Science Matters

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) may have been our last chance for a meaningful agreement to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy before ongoing damage to the world's climate becomes irreversible and devastating. Government ministers, negotiators and world leaders spent the first two weeks of December creating a guide for the next stage of humanity's action on climate change.

Nations that met in Paris are responsible for over 95 per cent of global emissions. On December 12, following multiple rounds of long meetings, they revealed the final text of the Paris Agreement.

Though far from perfect, it's a significant achievement. When nations last attempted a global climate pact — in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark — negotiations broke down and the resulting declaration was considered a failure. The Paris Agreement, in process and outcome, is a dramatic improvement — a product of the growing urgency to act on the defining issue of our time. It's the first universal accord to spell out ways to confront climate change, with Canada and other industrialized nations required to transition from fossil fuels to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 and developing nations by about 2080.

Before meeting in Paris, governments drafted plans to reduce national carbon emissions beginning in 2020. One COP21 negotiation goal — a review mechanism to encourage countries to improve targets over time — was achieved, giving hope that reductions will keep global temperature rise below the 2 C limit beyond which science indicates the consequences of burning fossil fuels will become catastrophic. Present commitments won't quite get us there, but the called-for improving of targets every five years will get us closer. Past experience shows that once a commitment is made to address a crisis, many unexpected opportunities and solutions result. The agreement also acknowledges that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 C should drive future goal-setting.

Canada's delegation had the added goal of rebuilding the country's reputation as an environmental leader. For years, we received countless "Fossil of the Day" awards for short-sightedness and stonewalling negotiations.

Responding to calls from citizens countrywide, our delegation returned to a more co-operative approach, advocating for inclusion of human rights and indigenous knowledge, along with recognition of the critical importance of the 1.5 C goal. Canada still received two "Fossil" awards, for lacking emissions-goals ambition and limiting availability of funds for "loss and damage", but compared to some nations, our country was a positive force.

The world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, China, was criticized for trying to water down requirements for a common emissions-and-targets reporting system and opposing a process to require countries to update emissions-reductions goals every five years, advocating instead for voluntary updates.

Compromises produced a final product that falls short of assigning liability for past emissions and providing dependable "loss and damage" payments to nations already suffering from the effects of climate change. Ongoing pressure is also needed to ensure targets are met and become more ambitious over time. Despite these shortcomings, the Paris Agreement is a leap forward in the fight against climate change. Funding for vulnerable and developing nations, plans to ratchet up ambition at regular intervals and recognition of the role of indigenous knowledge will play major roles in future action.

The first step in realizing stronger goals for Canada begins now. Our government promised more ambitious targets and a framework for cutting carbon pollution and expanding renewable energy within 90 days of the conference, by March 11, 2016. We've learned Canadian leaders will stand up for important issues, but we need to push them to be as ambitious as possible. I believe Canada's commitment will inspire people at all levels of society to propose ways to speed up our shift to clean, renewable energy, and reduce waste through greater energy efficiency.

The global community has taken a big step to get human civilization back on track. It's up to us to ensure that the planet we want — with clean air, safe water, fertile soil and a stable climate — stays within reach, for our sake and the sake of our descendants.

December 17, 2015
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2015/12/paris-agreement-marks-a-global-shift-for-climate/

Read more

Post a comment


5 Comments

Jan 22, 2016
7:21 PM

Thank you for a precise, understandable summary.

Dec 26, 2015
9:44 AM

For our children’s children to see this agreement as a turning point, the words will need to be translated into action very quickly.

As of this moment, despite COP-21, municipalities and provinces throughout the country are still modelling and contracting for future development based on yesterdays thinking.

An example of this from my own community, was the recent decision to move forward with an airport expansion despite a fairly stable population, which would allow access to heavy jet aircraft and increased supports to encourage air traffic, one of the strongest sources of carbon emissions. A letter to council and the mayor asking whether, in light of COP-21 we should rethink this decision so the community can confidently say it is making green choices, as planned, was never answered.

The irony is that dollars collected from municipal taxes, fee’s and fines will be applied to a facility which fewer and fewer people can even afford to use because of current economic policies rooted in antiquated and no longer viable notions of what progress is.

The move to prevent climate and environmental catastrophe will require a rapid rethinking of national economies and economic relationships between nations to be successful. This should be viewed as creating new types of investing opportunity for both the public and private sectors, and should be stimulative and thus beneficial to the currently declining economy, rather than the negative it might appear to be to those fixated on old ways.

Moving forward will require hard work and real public leadership from the top down, who are willing, and able to make sound decisions such as we have not seen for a very long time now (COP-21 excepted of course!).

Dec 23, 2015
6:15 AM

It has come to my attention that cities may be punching holes in the ozone layer. This may have a direct bearing on climate change and is something that needs to be investigated.

Dec 18, 2015
8:17 PM

Hello, I feel compelled to write about this article as I deeply feel the importance of reducing exploitation and poisoning of Nature. One point that feels quite awkward and almost hypocrite is the fact that while the main target is the emission from fossil fuels, the main cause of greenhouse gas effect (AND the destruction of natural environments) is said to be from methane released by farmed animals. Factory farming SHOULD HAVE BEEN the main topic in the COP21 discussions since THIS is the main cause of the targeted problem. From many scientific articles it is said that switching from a meat-eating society to a vegan society would have more beneficial impact in reducing the green gas effect than eliminating all of fossil fuels gas emissions. So it makes the Paris discussions appear as not serious and that there is perhaps a hidden agenda, like imposing taxes on fossil fuels

Dec 18, 2015
5:19 AM

Hello, I feel compelled to write about this article as I deeply feel the importance of reducing exploitation and poisoning of Nature. One point that feels quite awkward and almost hypocrite is the fact that while the main target is the emission from fossil fuels, the main cause of greenhouse gas effect (AND the destruction of natural environments) is said to be from methane released by farmed animals. Factory farming SHOULD HAVE BEEN the main topic in the COP21 discussions since THIS is the main cause of the targeted problem. From many scientific articles it is said that switching from a meat-eating society to a vegan society would have more beneficial impact in reducing the green gas effect than eliminating all of fossil fuels gas emissions. So it makes the Paris discussions appear as not serious and that there is perhaps a hidden agenda, like imposing taxes on fossil fuels

The David Suzuki Foundation does not necessarily endorse the comments or views posted within this forum. All contributors acknowledge DSF's right to refuse publication of comments deemed to be offensive or that contravene our operating principles as a charitable organization. Please note that all comments are pre-moderated. Privacy Policy »