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The Paris Climate Agreement

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 countries in Paris on December 12th, 2015 and went into motion on November 4th, 2016. This charter aims to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels by increasing economic and social ability to adapt to extreme climate, and by directing the scale and speed of global financial flows to match the required path to very low-emission, climate-resilient development. The Paris Agreement works on a 5-year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries. With the change in administration in the White House, the United States of America has officially rejoined The Paris Agreement and placed former State Secretary John Kerry as the US Climate Envoy, but to assert leadership amongst the numerous nations, the United States will have to update the pledges that it has taken and make them more aggressive and grandiose, in hopes that other countries will follow their lead.

What Does the Agreement Mean for America?

Under the current agreement, the United States has pledged a reduction in CO2 emissions of 26-28% from 2005 by 2025. Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, even though the United States opted out of the agreement, it is still on track to match its NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) for CO2, but is lacking in many other promises that it had made. NDCs are the heart of what the pact has set out to accomplish as Taryn Fransen, a senior climate change championer at the World Resources Institute, describes it as something that touches everything. She says, “It’s about how we get our energy, how we get our food, what we do with our land, the kind of housing we live in, and the kind of transportation that we use, and how well it works, and how clean and efficient it is, and each of those things touches our lives in very direct ways even if we don’t realize it.” Countries have to follow the United State’s lead in making bold commitments because recent studies have shown that the current pledges to reduce emissions will not cumulatively allow the world to reach the goal that the Paris Agreement has set.

Progress on the Agreement

Current evaluations of how countries are performing in the context of their Paris climate goals indicate some nations are already falling short of their commitments. It’s important to remember though that the Paris Agreement is a foundation for countries to themselves take an initiative and fight climate change and global warming by setting their own goals and doing whatever they can in their own power and domain. The stats obviously matter, but moreover the commitment and continued efforts of people as citizens of the world are the driving force and focal point of this agreement. The heavy lifting—reining in emissions even further by 2030 and 2050—still needs to be done, and the accord provides the tools and pressure to make that happen. The agreement ensures that changes such as fuel-source replacements occur in the future for countries that are able to do so, in order to hold them accountable for their proportion of emissions. Often, the communities who contribute least to global emissions are the ones already showing wealthier nations the way, committing to rapid emissions reductions, renewable energy expansion, protecting their forests, and putting economies on low-carbon pathways. “Reflecting the collective belief of nearly every nation on earth that climate change is humanity’s race to win, the Paris Agreement exposes America’s climate skeptics as global outliers” one article states. In past decades, climate awareness has been more prevalent by several dozen times, which is a positive sign for the future of climate activism and action. The change begins with each and every one of us, on the community, district, state, and nation levels, we are the ones who have to take action in our daily lives to make a collective impactful change that can bring us to that finish line. President Biden’s recent election provided a beacon of hope for Americans fighting the environmental impacts and changes at the state and national level, but they have their work cut out for them.

Hopes for the Future

The next Conference of the Parties is currently scheduled for November 2021 in Glasgow. The aims of COP 26 will be to assess the progress made under the Paris Agreement and to encourage countries to enhance their original NDCs into greater alignment with current climate science in order to amend the current practices in each country to aid in getting closer to the goals laid out by the accord. While COP 26 was postponed due to COVID-19, the delay gives countries time to develop more ambitious targets and accelerate low-carbon actions to ensure a green and resilient recovery from COVID-19.

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