A lot has been said over the past few days about The Paris Agreement – and what it means for any one country. So without getting into politics (seriously) – let me set the record straight about this Agreement. And I’m going to use overly simplified language here, not to demean anyone’s comprehension, but so that everyone understands exactly what the Agreement means for us and our planet.
1. The Paris Agreement is an agreement between 195 UN countries to deal with global greenhouse gas emissions. In this agreement the countries basically all got together and agreed to try really, really hard to slow down climate change by limiting their greenhouse gas emissions and to submit their own individual ongoing progress reports. For clarity I have to state that there are NO penalties within the agreement.
2. The agreement is NOT legally binding. But that doesn’t mean it’s toothless. If I agreed to help a friend – and (for example) said that I would pick their kid up from school – that is NOT a legally binding agreement. You can’t, strictly speaking, punish me if I decide to leave the child sitting on the curb. But — and this is a big but — you can shame me. You can avoid me, distrust me, and not make any more social agreements with me. Essentially turning your back on an agreement is bad for a relationship.
3. Sovereignty is the ability, inherent or granted, to govern oneself or self-determine one’s course. The Paris Agreement does not affect a country’s sovereignty.
The Paris agreement, signed in 2015 by 195 countries, does four simple things.
- It sets a global goal of keeping global average temperatures from rising 2 dec C (compared to temperatures pre-Industrial Revolution) by the end of the century.
- It sets a nonbinding agreement for countries to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible.”
- It adds a framework for countries to become more aggressive in reaching those goals over time. In 2020, delegates are supposed to reconvene and provide updates about their emission pledges, and report on how they’re becoming more aggressive on accomplishing the 2 degree goal.
- It asks richer countries to help out poorer countries: to give them capital to invest in green technologies, but also to help them brace for a changing world.
And it’s important to remember: The Paris agreement, as it currently stands, won’t stop global temperatures from rising. The point of Paris was to create incentives for countries to voluntarily grow their efforts to avert a warmer future.