Bryce: The Paris climate deal has a lot of people cheering, with world leaders like President Obama painting it as a historic moment. Obama: We met the moment. Bryce: But what exactly does this agreement do and what does it mean for the world? The major achievement is that for the first time ever virtually all nations committed to reducing their carbon emissions “as soon as possible” and to do their best to keep global warming “to well below two degrees celsius.” If the world can keep temperature rise below two degrees we’ll have a good shot at avoiding the worst. And seeing as though the 1 degree celsius warming that has already occurred has caused us to begin suffering from noticeably more severe weather, this agreement is long overdue. The problem is that it’s not legally binding: it doesn’t create rigid timelines for countries to meet their pledges, pledges that vary wildly from country to country–especially for the BRIC nations that are still developing and are understandably wary of sacrificing their own economic growth for the greater planetary good.
That’s why pledges initially made in this deal aren’t anywhere near enough to meet the two degree goal. But getting every country to commit to at least some kind of carbon reduction represents huge progress. Wealthier nations, basically the US and Europe, will also contribute significant amounts of money toward helping poorer countries develop clean power systems and reduce deforestation, which is the second largest contributor to climate change after the burning of fossil fuels. The agreement also establishes a transparent method for measuring and assessing how well each country is meeting its targets. And Nations have committed to coming back every five years with new targets that should get increasingly more ambitious as the pace of technological development continues to advance. So even though the Paris agreement didn’t do nearly enough to make sure the problem will be solved once and for all, the bottom line is that, by acting with one unified voice, the governments of the world finally sent a clear message: that the days of burning fossil fuels will quickly be coming to an end. This is what President Obama alluded to when he said: Obama: Moreover, this agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a low-carbon future.
And that has the potential to unleash investment and innovation in clean energy at a scale we have never seen before. Bryce: Companies like Shell, Exxon and BP, and countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf neighbors are going to have to rapidly shift their revenue models toward clean energy, or risk being left behind. Although America was a leader in achieving this result, our work is just beginning. We’ve got to continue to defeat the fossil fuel industry’s attempts to undercut efforts to fight climate change here at home. And the most obvious battle will take place on November 8, 2016, when we can elect a congress and a President who will take the torch from President Obama and continue the clean energy transformation of the world’s largest economy. So that’s what the Paris Climate Agreement is all about–it’s up to us to decide whether it will indeed represent a moment of incredible progress for mankind.