Environmental Stewardship

Climate Agreement Reached in Paris

After a few sleepless nights of negotiation toward the end of the two-week-long United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP 21/CMP 11), the 195 participating nations signed off on a climate accord on Saturday that seeks to minimize global temperature increases by reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Proponents are hailing the agreement as a historical breakthrough, given that it is the first global climate accord universally agreed to by the nations of the world. Notably, the United States – at the time, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases – did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol in the late 1990s. Canada and Russia later withdrew themselves from the protocol.

The Paris agreement employs a “hybrid legal structure,” with both legally binding and nonbinding components as a way to avoid needing the Republican-controlled Senate to ratify the agreement. The primary feature of the agreement, namely the emissions reductions goals submitted by most nations in anticipation of the conference – formally referred to as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) – are entirely voluntary. Many INDCs, especially those submitted by developing countries, are overly vague and difficult to quantify. Furthermore, India’s INDC says the nation would need $2.5 trillion (or roughly a year and a half of India’s gross domestic product) in foreign aid in order to fully implement their plan.

The parties of the agreement are, however, required to monitor and publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions regularly and agree to reconvene every five years (beginning in 2023) to impose additional, more stringent emissions cuts. This latter requirement is significant because the INDCs submitted thus far would fail to prevent global temperatures from rising by less than 2 degrees Celsius(or roughly 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the level scientists agree would subject the world to the most dangerous effects of climate change. Interestingly, and perhaps even unsurprisingly, China and India balked at the idea of outside emissions verification, claiming it would be too intrusive.

In addition to emission reductions, the developing world was hoping that the Paris negotiations would see developed countries finalize and fully endow the Green Climate Fund. The Fund, first agreed to in principle during the 2009 Copenhagen conference, would distribute $100 billion annually to developing countries in order to help them implement climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. The Paris agreement, however, makes no explicit mention of the precise role the Fund would play in the new international climate regime aside from a brief mention in the preamble. Inevitably, questions will continue to be raised about the future of the Fund and whether or not it will hit its $100 billion goal by 2020.

In Depth: Environmental Stewardship

Listen to any news broadcast, read any press release from an environmental advocacy group or simply watch the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) propose new regulation after new regulation, and it would be nearly impossible to not come away concerned or even fearful of imminent environmental disaster. It should come…

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