Climate Deal in Paris: Everything You Need to Know

Climate deal, shlimate deal, amirite? We don’t actually have to do anything, do we? At the recent COP21**** climate conference in Paris, 195 countries promised planet Earth we’d stop messing with her. The press is calling it a huge win for environmentalists, world cooperation, and for the health of our planet. President Obama said in a speech after the deal was signed, this could be “the best chance we have to save the one planet we have.” But we just signed a piece of paper, we haven’t done anything yet. The UN has held a Climate Change “Conference of the Parties,” every year since the mid-90s, but more often the narrative is about their shortcomings rather than successes. The U.S. famously avoided the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and at the 2009 Copenhagen conference the rich European countries (who got rich by burning coal) told developing nations like China and India to agree to the same cuts they were imposing on themselves — nah bro.

There are a lot of examples of climate policy fails, but listing them all gets depressing. While we fight over language, climate change continues to ravage the planet. Knowing this, decisionmakers came to Paris with a different strategy! Unlike conferences in the past, Paris’ COP21 let each country set its own goals for limiting or slowing carbon emissions, fighting deforestation, maintaining transparency on climate issues and identifying the adverse effects of climate change. In the last year, every country submitted a set of goals, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Though each are different, they’re all based on keeping Earth under the dangerous 2C temperature increase agreed on at Cancun’s COP in 2010. Now everyone has the same finish-line, and their own map to get there, AND they’ve all signed the COP21 deal! We’re on our way y’all!! Right?…? So next, is each country shifts their wooden-cogged bureaucracies into gear toward a net-zero emissions goal. From now until 2018, they’ll assess how to achieve the first steps laid out in the Paris accords; then they’ll meetup and showcase their kickstarted plans.

According to their INDCs: China is investing heavily in clean energy and will attempt to decrease after 2030; the U.S. will reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent from levels measured in 2005; the European Union will cut 40 percent, Brazil will cut 37 percent and curb deforestation to keep the Amazon carbon sink in tact — trees suck up carbon! Yay! India (the third largest CO2 emitter) is planning to promote clean energy generation and consumption. And even many Pacific Islands (some of which will be underwater before the 2100 target date) are submitting INDCs! The Paris agreement is exceedingly complex, but COP21 guarantees each nation has their own, reachable, goals! The politicians involved are calling this a huge diplomatic success; but is that the scientific reality? . Vox put together a chart from Climate Action Tracker data, and found without COP21’s plan we’d hit a 3.8C increase by 2100.

With the Paris pledges we’ll still hit 2.7C! WAY over the 2C upper limit! The agreement calls for deep reductions. And we need DEEP cuts, but they will hurt. So, to help developed nations overachieve their goals, rich countries pledged 100 billion dollars per year in public and private investment by 2020 to will help the poorer countries get affordable clean energy and lessen their struggles to meet ambitious climate goals. Look, in the end, COP21 is revolutionary on one hand because nearly 200 countries recognized publicly that lowering carbon emissions to curb climate change is important! So what happens now? The diplomats have to convince the governing bodies of their home nations to follow the pledge. What we have to do now is as citizens, keep the pressure on our leaders. While the actual GOALS aren’t legally punishable, they will HAVE to show up in public transparently, and say WHY they didn’t meet them every five years.

In the end, most are seeing this as the first step of a long, hard road. But a road that will have our children and descendants breathing easier. Of course, some countries won’t be breathing at all, because climate change will have already drowned some of them, overrunning their land with ocean.