It’s the Best We Got – The Paris Agreement Over Past Climate Change Treaties

The recent Paris Agreement, now entered into force, marks a significant step forward in cooperation to mitigate climate change and its effects. The Paris Agreement is finally a substantive treaty that delineates overarching targets and goals by which developed and developing countries can rally around. The US and China ratifying this agreement even signifies the pressing need for multilateralism to tackle the threat that global warming poses to all of humanity. Markedly significant to this agreement, is the aim to keep the global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to actively pursue action to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. While some say that Paris Agreement is not enough to solve global climate change, it’s the best that the world right now has to offer.

Compared to past negotiations for climate change, the Paris Agreement is decisively an improvement. In Rio 1992, The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognized that there was a global concern for greenhouse house gas (GHG) emissions. The overall mission of the UNFCCC was to halt GHG emissions levels, yet it failed to enumerate actions to be taken. Alongside the UNFCCC, developed and developing states also disagreed upon how their roles would play out in the pursuit of mitigating climate change, especially since most emissions have come from industrial countries and imposing emissions regulations which would be unfair to the development of developing countries.

These discussions would go onto to influence the creation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, where the “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities” model (CBDR) was a mechanism by which to operationalize the UNFCCC. This somewhat resolved the debates regarding the roles of developed and developing countries, but the CBDR within the protocol mandated emissions reductions to developed countries only. Bigger developing countries like China and Brazil were excluded from such commitments, to the chagrin of developed nations. Overall, however, the Kyoto Protocol, was largely ineffective because targets could not be met by countries who did sign on, and the US signed, but never ratified the protocol.

In 2009, the Copenhagen Conference reinforced the need to tackle climate change. This conference, however, finally saw developed states and developing states agreeing to towards setting limits on emissions. The Conference failed to produce a lasting treaty however, because targets and goals could not be agreed upon by all the states present at the summit. The current 1.5 degrees Celsius aim of the Paris Agreement was initiated at the Copenhagen Conference, but it was seen as a contentious definition as it was pulled from all resolution drafts, to the dismay of African and underdeveloped countries.

Coming back to present day, the fact that a global climate change treaty has finally been accepted by the international community is a tremendous feat for the Paris Agreement. The agreement is the result of overcoming and learning from the inadequacies of past negotiations and treaties. It is also the result of the surmounting pressure of states to create meaningful steps towards climate change, especially when each year is markedly becoming hotter and hotter. In respects to the role of developed and developing countries, the Paris Agreement makes no distinctions between the two, but encourages states to maximize the most they can to achieve the agreement’s aims as capable. Instead of mandating reductions to certain countries like through the CBRD, the Paris Agreement has implemented a framework to carry out it’s temperature aims: the Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs). These INDCs allows for states to voluntarily pledge their plans to implement the 1.5 degree aim, with a review process in place for states to strengthen these contributions.

Critics have noted, however, that these elements of the Paris Agreement leaves its effectiveness uncertain. Especially for the INDCs, since they have come under fire for depending too much on “the good will of world leaders.” Scientists have even contended that the temperature aims of the Paris Agreement are minimal at best, and will not prevent the world from warming nonetheless. Further, critics have brought up that the Paris Agreement lacks in specific numbers in regards to emissions reductions and financial investments. Yet above all these things, the Paris Agreement serves as a significant step in normalizing and creating a foundational step for climate policy in the international arena. People may have a bone to pick with technicalities of the Paris Agreement, but this has, so far been our best foot forward. Especially in a world with various interests, this is the best multilateral solution the world has yet to offer and it is better than having nothing at all.

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One thought on “It’s the Best We Got – The Paris Agreement Over Past Climate Change Treaties

  1. In my opinion, the Paris Agreement definitely took a step in the right direction to tackle climate change. As noted by Michael Hopkin in “Beyond Paris”, the Paris Agreement at least puts climate change policy at the forefront of the global political agenda. As stated in the above post, critics may take issue with certain details within the agreement, but it at least lays the groundwork to address such an important world issue. The above post also takes note of the fact that the international community has finally united under one agreement that will move the world forward in addressing climate change. It’s also important that the agreement stays in line with the UNFCCC’s guiding principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”, acknowledging the differences in each country’s functioning and capabilities.

    After the ratification of the Paris Agreement, climate activists may have been more optimistic about the future of climate change policy. However, the 2016 US Presidential Election definitely influenced people’s thoughts on the matter and has left a lot of people doubtful. It will be interesting to see how the US president-elect and his new administration will affect the progress that has been made with climate change policy. There has been a threat to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement and to focus on fossil fuels instead of renewable energy. If this was in fact accomplished, it would be a huge blow to the climate movement and would reverse a lot of progress that the United States and other countries have made to reduce emissions. There has also been a lot of skepticism about the science behind climate change from the incoming US government administration. The stance of the United States government will surely play a huge role in determining future progress in dealing with climate change issues.

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