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Ultimate Cheat Sheet: What the Paris Climate Agreement Means
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Ultimate Cheat Sheet: What the Paris Climate Agreement Means

Something big happened in Paris recently. On December 12, following two weeks of negotiations, representatives from 196 nations agreed to adopt a landmark climate agreement more ambitious than anything like it in history.

With scientists continuing to warn about the severity of our situation and the ticking time clock we have to enact serious change, we are in a pivotal moment in history. Let’s break it down.

the results: What the paris agreement entails:

  • A goal to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, with countries shooting for an even more aggressive goal of 1.5 degrees. A two-degree increase is the temperature that scientists believe represents a tipping point for our climate.
  • Achieve climate neutrality (meaning no net climate impact resulting from carbon or other greenhouse gases) by 2050. This involves phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the second half of the century and maintaining 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. (We’ll come back to this one, it’s important.)
  • After hundreds of years of environmental pillage, developed countries must dedicate $100 billion to support developing countries to achieve economic sustainability without the use of fossil fuels, and to adapt to the effects of climate change (which experts believe will disproportionately affect these countries)

These plans do not actually take effect until 2020. The five-year gap is for nations to develop plans to meet the goals outlined in the plan. Every five years, each nation’s targets will be reevaluated in order to meet the important 2-degree mark.

Sounds great! But what’s missing?

  • Some opponents believe there are not enough plans in place to meet these ambitious goals by mid-century. If we do nothing, predictions demonstrate an increase of up to 5 degrees Celsius (or 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit). The proposals from the agreement result in an increase of 3.5 degrees Celsius (6 degrees Fahrenheit), far exceeding the threshold point.
  • There are no legal implications for not meeting goals. Hopefully global shame will be enough (?!)
  • Smaller island nations argue that even at the 2-degree mark, global sea rise will be enough to devastate their countries.
  • The plan relies on the availability of green technology to keep up with the initial rise in greenhouse gas emissions before a plateau and decline can be achieved.

What’s next for the world?:

The deal must be agreed upon by each nation’s government between April 1, 2016 and April 1, 2017. Once 55 nations have signed on to the agreement, representing at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the plan will go into effect.

Unfortunately, in the U.S., we have a major political party who actively denies the existence of climate change. Know where your political candidate stands, because without policy, there can be no comprehensive change.

Finally, as noted environmental activist Bill McKibben has helpfully pointed out, this agreement, though aggressive, will not stop climate change on its own. Paris represents the starting point of something big, but there is still much work to be done.

We can’t sit back and relax. It’s just too important.

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Alisha Ebling is a writer, biker, vegan food consumer, and lover of all things book-related. You can find more of her writing on her website, or follow her @alishakathryn. View all posts by Alisha Ebling
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