5 Things You Need to Know About the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

Photo: PARIS, FRANCE – NOVEMBER 04: The Eiffel Tower is illuminated in green to celebrate the ratification of the COP21 (Conference of the Parties Climate Conference) climate change agreement in Paris, France on November 04, 2016. (Photo by Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

On Friday, November 4, 2016, 192 countries and the European Union signed the Paris Agreement made within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance starting in the year 2020.

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What is climate change?

Climate change is a notable difference in global or regional weather patterns that last over an extended period of time. It can be caused by solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, volcanic eruptions, or human activities such the increase of carbon dioxide as an after effect of mass industrialization.

Why should we be concerned about climate change?

The inability to remove excess carbon dioxide from the Earth’s environment has been heating up the temperatures of the air, land, and earth, wreaking havoc on ecological systems across the globe. This can effect how people, plants, and animals live, altering the availability and use of water, and creating health risks. It can also impact food production, altering the synchronized pollination of crops, as well as making ecosystems uninhabitable, causing populations to die at remarkable rates.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

How do we know climate change is real?

According to NASA, the Earth’s climate has changed throughout the course of history, with seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat in the last 650,000 years. The current warming trend is seen to be of particular significance, as most of it is human-induced, and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.

The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases, known as “The Greenhouse Effect,” was first demonstrated by physicist John Tyndall in the 1860s. In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius first predicted that changes in levels of carbon dioxide could substantial alter the surface temperature of the earth.

Today, using Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advancements, scientists have been collecting different types of data around the world including sea levels, global temperature, ocean temperature, shrinking ice sheets, declining Arctic sea ice, glacial retreat, extreme events, ocean acidification, and decreased snow cover to examine the impact of warmer temperatures in different environments.

Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, record temperatures have been reported, resulting in a wide array of natural disasters and ecological change, most notably the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, which teeters on the brink of death.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is the world’s first comprehensive agreement to deal with the effects of climate change. The aim is to hold the increase in global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with the aim to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The agreement is designed to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster resilience in a manner that does not threaten food production, while also creating a financial framework in the form of carbon tax that would force industries to pay for the pollution they create. Additionally, tens of billions of green bonds have been issued to fund environmental projects.

The implementation of the agreement will be evaluated every five year, with the first evaluation to take place in 2023. Iraq, Nicaragua, Syria, and Uzbekistan are entitled to sign that Paris Agreement, but have not done so as yet.

How has the Paris Agreement been received?

In December 2015, after the Paris Agreement was first adopted by consensus, The Guardian reported former Vice President Al Gore as saying that, “no agreement is perfect, and this one must be strengthened over time, but groups across every sector of society will not begin to reduce dangerous carbon pollution through the framework of this agreement.”

The Guardian also reported that James Hansen, a former NASA scientist and climate change expert, voiced anger about the fact that most of the agreement consists of aims and not firm commitments. “It’s a fraud, really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises.”

More recently, on November 3, The New York Times reported that many companies have not yet figured out the extent of their emissions, let alone made plans to curb them. The financial framework calling for billions of dollars, was called a pittance, as Ángel Gurría, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, stated, ““It’s not a question of billions, it’s a question of trillions.”

The United States, which currently produces 15 percent of the world’s emissions, had been leading the efforts, going so far as to bring China into the fold. In March 2016, the Obama administration gave a $500 million grant to the “Green Climate Fund,” as the first payment in a $3 billion commitment that would aid developing countries in implementing new procedures to minimize climate change. The Fund, made in conjunction with, but not part of, the Paris Agreement is not legally binding. Concerns have been raised that under unified Republican leadership beginning in 2017, the United States will reverse its commitment to fighting climate change.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.