The Paris Agreement

May. 12, 2017

In December of 2015, essentially every nation in the world (197 countries) signed the Paris Agreement to reduce and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The target level of emission reduction was set by each country for their country. However these levels are not binding as a matter of international law. Furthermore, there is no mechanism to force a country to set a target in by a specific date and no enforcement if a set target is not met. The Paris Agreement has a 'bottom up' structure in contrast to most international environmental law treaties which are 'top down', characterized by standards and targets set internationally, for states to implement. In other words, each country gets to set their own levels and there is no real legal avenue to assure those levels are met. Unlike its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, which sets commitment targets that have legal force, the Paris Agreement, with its emphasis on consensus-building, allows for voluntary and nationally determined targets. No country’s sovereignty is bound to the agreement.

The agreement, which takes effect in 2020, calls on developed nations to establish goal of at least $100 billion a year in climate-related financing by 2020 to continue into 2025. So far, the Green Climate Fund has now received over $10 billion in pledges. Notably, the pledges come from developed nations like France, the US, and Japan, but also from developing countries such as Mexico, Indonesia, and Vietnam. There are many who have issues with the financing aspect, but it must be recognized that the developed nations have contributed the majority of greenhouse gases to the environment and are culpable for the warming that has occurred so far. For example, the small island nation of Vanuatu has hardly contributed greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, but is currently under threat of rising seas. We should step up to take responsibility for our actions.

There are fears that climate change is just an excuse for redistribution of wealth. That may be true, but not in the way this is often spun in media. So much wealth is held by American and European corporations- Exxon/Mobile is the largest corporation in the history of mankind. Our centralized system of energy is held by a few very large utility, petro-chemical and fossil fuel industry corporations. It is often reported in the news that 1% of the population owns nearly half of the wealth on the planet. I hold the belief that sustainable energy will lead us to decentralize and allow energy production to become more localized. And redistribution of wealth due to sustainable energy economies moves money and resources from these huge corporations to local communities. It empowers communities toward energy self-reliance and frees them from corporate control. See my blog on local energy for more details.

So, in the news today (5/12/17), I read that our new Secretary of State and former CEO of Exxon/Mobil is urging the Trump administration to stay in the Paris Agreement. He is having to argue this with a scientifically illiterate man who has stated that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. (This is a paraphrase because obviously, Trump did not use such big words for his statement, he rarely uses words more than 2 syllables with his 4th grade vocabulary). I guess he is totally unaware that Western scientists do the majority of research on climate change and Americans have collected the CO2 level data since 1957. I might also add that the military (known for their practicality) and every major science organization on the planet also are concerned about climate change. But, I preach to the choir…..

The world will be moving to sustainable energy economies. Will the United States lead sustainable energy innovations? Since WWII, the US has led the world in technological and scientific innovations, but we seem to be going backwards. Will we allow corporate influence to maintain the status quo while the rest of the world progresses forward? Will the dismantling of the EPA impact the quality of our environment and our health? Could the US become an environmental mess, lowering our standard of living? The new president of France has invited climate scientists to come and work in France- will the current administration’s stubbornness on climate change cause a brain drain of our country? Only time will tell.