We’ll Always Have Paris… | UNA Greater Seattle Chapter

United Nations Association Greater Seattle Chapter

We’ll Always Have Paris…

January 10th, 2016 by unaseattle

Submitted by: Jim Eachus, Board Member

On November 30, the United Nations convened the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Twelve days later, the conference gave birth to an agreement approved by 196 parties. The original UNFCCC was universally accepted because it demanded almost nothing of the parties. So universal acceptance of the Paris accord is a real achievement – it does involve commitments. The trick was to accept whatever commitment each party felt capable of meeting. The result was a lot of glasses half empty and glasses half full, but no broken glass.

Let’s start with the good news. The Paris Agreement is by far the most ambitious climate agreement yet. The agreement expresses near universal concern about the problem. A specific point of success was the decision to review progress in five years, rather than ten years or never. The show of unity and determination may give some impetus to the disinvestment movement, if investors begin to believe that petroleum’s days are numbered. An optimist can imagine that attempts to meet the goals will result in miraculous technological breakthroughs.

Rather than going straight on to the bad news, let’s pause for no news. The last minute agreement to make the goal 1.5° C above pre-industrial temperatures instead of 2° C is strictly a feel good move, with no impact on anybody’s future behavior.

And now the bad news. No one was required at the conference to present a credible plan to meet their goals. Some have no plan. Many have based their goal on clean coal technology, a phantom unlikely ever to materialize. Nothing in the agreement addresses reducing resident atmospheric CO2. The sum of the contributions, if achieved, would still leave the world on a path to well above 2° C. 2° or even 1.5° hardly means problem solved. Look, we’re only at 1° C now, and the Arctic Ocean is melting, the Antarctic ice shelves are collapsing, coral reefs are dying, methane is being released from permafrost and subocean hydrates, glaciers and snow packs are disappearing, sea levels are rising and forests are burning.

Is the agreement binding? Sort of, but it has no teeth. And at the last minute, the US administration succeeded in getting “shall” changed to “should” so it wouldn’t have to get the impossible Senate approval. The change took the help of some French diplomatic slight of hand, declaring “shall” a typo. There followed considerable grumbling from the developing countries about what should happen should shall become should.

Bottom line? The Paris agreement is just one source of pressure on political leaders to do the right thing. It will only produce real results if every other form of pressure continues, as well. That means voter concern about climate change, activists in the streets, investor focus shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, better media coverage of the climate/weather connection, and blunt evaluations of the future from the scientific community.


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