COP21 — Paris is the beginning, but not the end

On the 11th of December in 1997, many nations arrived to sign the Kyoto Protocol. This was in hopes to reduce global green house emissions caused by human activities. However, the countries’ optimism was insufficient, as we saw Canada withdraw ( effective December 2012), countries like Japan and Russia not set new targets, and the USA, one of the world’s leading emitters, not even ratify the protocol.

In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a synthesis report showing the grim outlook for the future if countries do not work proactively in order to reduce anthropogenic GHGs.

source : Greenpeace. Temperature change 1765–2100: Graph excerpted from the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report showing past and predicted changes to global temperature.

However, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) arrived in a timely fashion. The conference which was held between the 30 of November and the 12th of December this year was held to negotiate the Paris Agreement. the outcome of this was that nations agreed to “ hold the
increase in the global average temperature to below 2 ˚C above pre-industrial levels”. US president Barack Obama called the agreement “a turning point for the world” and further called it “the best chance we have to save the one planet that we have got”. Many other heads of states, politicians and business-people have praised this ‘landmark’ agreement. However, contrary to that there are still many who ask the question, “Is the Paris Agreement really enough?”

Individual countries are given the task of determining their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards the common goal. They are meant to be reported every five years, and become more ambitious as time goes on. Nonetheless, there is still the possibility that nations may report substantially low NDCs, which can not be seen as sufficient contributions towards reducing climate change. There is also the matter that there is no way of truly enforcing the agreement, as there is no sign of a penalty for countries which do not meet their NDCs of report their data.

Although the agreement is international, it heavily relies on top emitters such as the USA, China and India, and whether or not they are truly dedicated towards the goal. The agreement will only go into effect if nations Ratification/Accession by 55 UNFCCC Parties, accounting for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“<a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Co2-1990-2012.svg#/media/File:Co2-1990-2012.svg">Co2-1990-2012</a>" by <a href=”//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Chris55" title=”User:Chris55">Chris55</a> — <span class=”int-own-work” lang=”en”>Own work</span>. Licensed under <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0" title=”Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0">CC BY-SA 4.0</a> via <a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/">Commons</a>.

Another issue is on whether or not countries in the developing world will truly be able to take on this challenge. As many within Sub Saharan Africa have seen recently, there has been a drastic decrease in their nations capabilities of producing energy, which is due to the combination of a prolonging drought, as well as a lack of adequate infrastructure to meet the demands of the growing population. With all of this taken into account, as well as other political, economic and factors in various nations, one would question whether or not the developing world can truly handle the strain which comes from trying to bring a more sustainable future.

Many headlines have suggested that the signing of COP 21 would lead to the end of the use of fossil fuels. Although it does hint towards countries shifting to use more renewable energy, a fossil fuel free future is nowhere in the near future. Even with many advances in various scientific fields, there is no clear- cut alternative to what has been a lifeline to energy users since the industrial revolution. When the solution finally does arrive, it will take a relatively long period of time and trillions of dollars worth of investment to change various types of infrastructure to suite our new carbon neutral energy usage. Is the world really ready for that kind of commitment?

And finally there is the question of how the globe will restructure itself in a world without the use of fossil fuels. We have seen nations go to war over oil, and we have seen it influence foreign policies all over the world. Countries have been built from the ground on the basis of them having large oil reserves which can be exported, leading to them becoming economic powerhouses. Although this piece has been filled with scepticism over whether the Paris agreement will really work, it does add to the point that the world needs more than handshakes and optimism to really valid steps forward towards creating a more sustainable future.