Is the Paris Agreement simply symbolic?

By: Hannah Remmert

This past December, Paris held the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, in which 196 parties came to discuss viable global solutions for mitigating, or lessening, climate change, which resulted in the Paris Agreement.

While there are many different goals within the Paris Agreement, the key aim is “holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”

Since the Industrial Revolution began around 1750, humans have contributed significantly to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases; primarily from burning fossil fuels. Due to these “anthropogenic” influences, the world is already 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

The agreement has received recent backlash from those who claim that these goals are powerless to truly mitigate climate change. Tollefson and Weiss wrote an article which was published in the scientific journal Nature about a week after the agreement was reached. Their article stated that even if all the nations met their promised goals as agreed to under the Paris Agreement, the Earth would still warm 2.7°C, as the world is already 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has likewise determined that emissions would have to be cut 40-70 percent by 2050 to keep warming under 2°C, and to keep emissions below 1.5°C would require a 70-95 percent cut in emissions. The Paris Agreement goals simply do not meet these requirements.

While it is frustrating to see such global support for an agreement which does not facilitate the necessary changes, the Paris Agreement is certainly a step in the right direction. It has forced countries to consider their emissions and prepare to adapt and develop sustainable and resilient infrastructure for the future.

Despite US claims of pioneering the path towards reducing emissions, US commitment has wavered since the Agreement. Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the EPA issued a regulation last August requiring states to make major cuts to greenhouse gas pollution created by electric power plants. On February 9, the Supreme Court’s decided to review Obama’s Clean Power Act; effectively halting all progress for the time being.

Hopefully the Paris Agreement will hold countries of the world more accountable for their emissions, but when these countries see the lack of action in the US, does it deter them action? If other places see that world leaders in emissions are not making significant changes, why should they spend the resources to do so?

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