The Paris Agreement is an historic and potentially life-saving agreement. It does more than many of us expected when the conference opened on November 30. It will be legally binding. It sets a long term temperature goal of no more than 1.5 degrees as far safer than the (also hard to achieve) goal of no more than 2 degrees. In doing so, it may save the lives of millions. It may lead to the survival of many small nations close to sea level. It may give our grandchildren a far more stable climate and thus a more prosperous and healthy society. It clearly means the world has accepted that most known reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground.
It is absolutely true that Canada announcing support for 1.5 degrees mid-way through the conference made a huge difference in keeping that target in the treaty. I heard that from friends and contacts around the world.
To avoid 1.5 requires immediate action. Unfortunately, the treaty is only to take effect in 2020 (after it is ratified by 55 countries, collectively representing 55% of world GHG emissions). We have built into the treaty mandatory global 5 year reviews – what is called the “ratcheting up mechanism.”
The mechanism to force all governments to assess the adequacy of their own plans only kicks in in 2023. That gap from 2015 to 2023 could well foreclose any option to hold temperature to less than 1.5 or even 2 degrees.
So in addition to the Paris Agreement we also passed the Decision of COP21. It includes some actions before 2020. The language there is far from perfect but gives us a chance to increase targets before 2020. In 2018, there will be a “facilitative dialogue” within the UN to assess the adequacy of targets and to prepare for new ones for 2020. The decision document is actually longer than the treaty itself and includes many actions to be undertaken within the ongoing UNFCCC COP process. Among them, the IPCC is requested to produce a report to COP spelling out what level of GHG emissions will lead us to holding global average temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees C above those before the Industrial Revolution.
Canadians can be rightly proud of what our government did in Paris. While I did not support our position on every single issue, I cannot be more proud of what we did on most issues, nor can I thank our newly minted (and now totally exhausted) Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, enough for her work.
Read more at http://www.greenparty.ca/en/blog/2015-12-13/cop21-final-blog-day-13
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