Now the Hard Part

Travel & Environment Desk
Now the Hard Part
Now the Hard Part

After pulling constant all-nighters in Paris, diplomats and negotiators from 195 countries put an end to more than 20 years of climate talks on Saturday when they crafted and approved a landmark deal that aims to save the planet from humanity’s reckless use of fossil fuels.

However, without the legwork, the 31-page document is nothing but a wad of paper. The deal only serves to organize the international effort to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to achieve carbon neutrality during the second half of the century.

A careful look at the published document — available online on the UNFCC website — reveals its ambiguous wording; an issue which will most likely be addressed in future UN sessions.

Of course, major deals often contain vague language which is thrashed out at later meetings, but it does highlight the fact that the climate deal itself has details that need ironing out.

What are the key features of the deal, anyway?

  Temperature Goal

Possibly the most surprising feature of the climate deal is the temperature goal. Signatories have agreed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, even though they had previously agreed on a more manageable but far less effective 2° C limit.

What makes this admirable goal ambitious is that the planet has already warmed about 1° C compared to pre-industrial levels.

While limiting the temperature rise to 2° C remains the deal’s official target, keeping global warming to 1.5° C is an inspired goal that will be impossible to meet without policies to match.

  Emissions Target

A less surprising but equally important feature is the agreement’s forceful text that demands a permanent end to fossil fuel emissions. Realizing the difficulty of the task, the countries agreed to reach “peak emissions as soon as possible” (currently emissions are not expected to peak until 2030 at the earliest).

As mentioned earlier, the accord aims for a net zero emissions by the end of the century, highlighting the world’s commitment and desire to move beyond the fossil fuel era, much to the dismay of coal companies and Saudi Arabia, which tried shamelessly to derail the talks by throwing up roadblocks, according to a report by the Guardian.

  Pledge Reviews

As international bodies, including the UN, have pointed out, current climate pledges submitted by 186 countries fail to curb emissions enough to limit global temperature rise. In fact, as things stand, current INDCs set the world up for around 3° C of global warming by 2100, well past the 2° C target which itself is questionable.

Enter the Paris accord: Signatories have agreed — but are not required to — review their pledges every five years starting in 2020 to aim for higher emission cuts. While they are not legally obliged to do so, the goal is to pressure the world to take stronger action over time.

  Financing Poor Nations

The main question that forced diplomats to extend the talks past its December 11 deadline was that of financing.

Poorer nations need help to adapt to climate change and develop clean energy alternatives, both of which are quite costly.

Developed countries, believed to be largely responsible for manmade global warming, have agreed to raise $100 billion a year until 2020. But whether or not they deliver is a different matter.

The deal does, however, urge every country to “undertake and communicate ambitious efforts,” meaning even poorer nations must do their part to help the global effort against climate change.

  Displacement Committees

One of the main reasons why it took more than two decades of negotiations to forge a deal is that governments in the past were more comfortable with kicking the proverbial can down the road.

The result of their dawdling is that global warming has already set in and many countries, especially low-lying islands, will suffer consequences no matter what, which include being engulfed by rising sea levels and then disappearing.

That means a large number of people will be displaced, leading to mass migration of epic proportions that could very well dwarf the ongoing European migration crisis.

While many rich countries, led by the US, opposed the notion of financial compensation, they did agree to set up committees to deal with displacement and ensure smooth transition, as well as other issues which may arise.

  Transparency and Monitoring

Actions speak louder than words; as such, the deal calls for comprehensive reporting and monitoring measures to ensure every country follows through with their pledge. The measures have not yet been determined, but they will no doubt be essential in ensuring every nation keeps up their end of the bargain.

Vox reports that top emitters China and India had opposed “overly intrusive inspection,” which is why the deal calls for a so-called “transparency framework” that is “facilitative, non-intrusive, non-punitive manner, respectful of national sovereignty, and avoid placing undue burden on Parties.”

How this works, however, remains to be seen.

  Strange Legal Status

While the pledges themselves are not legally binding — failure to meet nationally-set emissions cuts will not incur penalties — most of the supporting structure of the deal, including transparency mechanisms and having to convene every five years, are legally binding.

Confusing? Sure. But there is a method to the diplomats’ madness: The rationale behind the intricate legal workings of the deal is to prevent notorious climate change deniers, commonly known as US senators, from torpedoing the deal.

The odd legal status of the climate deal means it does not need to be ratified by the US Senate to be adopted by the Obama administration, but it does mean that the next US president — if a Republican — could easily consign President Barack Obama’s climate pledge to the dustbin of history.

The US is the world’s second largest emitter of carbon dioxide, so for the deal to bear results the North American nation’s cooperation is paramount.

If the goals seem farfetched and details complicated, that is probably because they are. This is not to say that the deal should not be celebrated; it is by all rights a historic pact that could serve as a turning point for the planet and set the world on a green path. But the accord is just the beginning and the hard part lies just ahead.