Dear EarthTalk: What do green groups think about the outcome of the recent Paris climate talks? — J.L.
On December 12, 2015, 195 countries assembled at the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris produced a 32-page agreement outlining goals to phase out industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. All countries agreed on “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Each country submitted a voluntary pledge for cutting its CO2 emissions, known as an “intended nationally determined contribution,” or INDC. These pledges are not strong enough to achieve the two degree target, but countries involved are required to monitor and report their emissions data, which will be reviewed every five years, and are expected to update their emissions reductions over time.
“While the Paris commitments won’t deliver all the emissions reductions that are needed, the agreement provides a framework to ratchet up ambition over time: a transparent system for reporting and review, regular assessments of progress, and strengthening of commitments every five years beginning in 2020,” said Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “The agreement relies on each nation to enact its own policies to reduce emissions while ensuring that their progress can be monitored by all. We look forward to each country’s work to both meet and build on their pledges in order to finish the hard work of protecting future generations.”
But distant promises standing in for present-day pledges adequate enough to achieve the agreement’s temperature goals have left many green groups disappointed. In a statement issued shortly after the release of the final agreement, Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, said: “Every government seems now to recognize the fossil fuel era must end, and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry.”
Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, reflected post-Paris that a continued, unrelenting push for clean, renewable fuels by green groups is crucial. “When it comes to forcing real, meaningful action, Paris fails to meet the moment,” Naidoo said. “We have a 1.5-degree wall to climb, but the ladder isn’t long enough… To pull us free of fossil fuels we are going to need to mobilize in ever greater numbers…We will push our beautifully simple solution to climate change—100 percent renewable energy for all—and make sure it is heard and embraced.”
In addition to green group backlash, the Paris agreement was openly condemned in recent press and by former NASA scientist James Hansen, who called it “fraud,” yet some remain optimistic that the conversion to sustainable energy is inevitable. Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, told ThinkProgress: “The leaders of the world recognize that the consequences of noncompliance are disastrous. We are looking at the wholesale transformation of our global climate. The main incentive here for compliance is not the threat of some civil penalty—non-compliance would mean environmental disaster.”
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