Paris Agreement Likely to Take Force This Year

(World leaders gather during COP21 talks last year)

Finally, some great news for the environment.

Dozens of nations have signed on to the Paris Agreement, bringing international action on climate change closer than ever to reality. The new signees come just after the United States and China – the world’s two largest carbon emitters – announced their intention to sign the agreement earlier this month.

The news came during this week’s UN gathering in New York City, where 31 countries formerly pledged to join the Paris Agreement. Also known as COP 21, the agreement was negotiated merely a year ago. Compare this lightening fast turn-around to the hurdles faced by the Kyoto Protocols – which took seven years to initiate – and the speed with which governments are moving to find common ground on climate change is, indeed, encouraging.

Among the nations that signed on this week, many rank high on the list of top polluters, including Brazil (5th largest polluter) and Mexico (13th largest polluter). Other states signing on this week include Albania, Honduras, Mongolia, The United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Morocco.

The fact that a total of 60 countries accounting for a full 48 percent of the entire world’s carbon emissions are now on board is a massive step for the international community in facing this existential threat. Now, all that remains is for additional signees accounting for a further 7 percent of the world’s carbon emissions to join before the agreement’s stipulations commence.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke about the historical nature of initializing the agreement:

This momentum is remarkable. It can sometimes take years or even decades for a treaty to enter into force… This is testament to the urgency of the crisis we all face.

There are, of course, the typical gamut of climate-deniers who would love nothing more than to scuttle the agreement. Republican presidential candidate and serial conspiracy theorist Donald Trump has – in perhaps one of the most absurd instances of conservative intransigence on this issue – claimed that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese government to derail US business interests.

His campaign has announced its intent to cancel the agreement should Trump win the November election. This, thankfully, is much more difficult than it sounds. Upon signing the agreement, a nation agrees to stringent protocols in the event that it chooses to leave the agreement. The process is so laborious that it would likely require more time than the lifespan of a potential Trump administration in order to successfully accomplish.

Nonetheless, forces hostile to the social good will continue trying to obstruct meaningful action on this paramount threat. Socially invested entrepreneurs, activists, and conscientious politicians need to keep up pressure on the Donald Trumps of the world in order to ensure maximum impact of green initiatives, for sake of all nations and future generations.

COP21: A Historic Deal With Imperfections

Following the conclusion of the Paris climate talks – also known as COP21 – one word in particular has been used to describe the final agreement: “historic.”

Delegates from 196 nations agreed upon a final draft this past Saturday, following marathon talks that lasted two weeks. The primary goal was to construct a united plan of action to prevent global temperatures from rising by 2° Celsius, and to lower the amount of greenhouse emissions to levels that the earth’s oceans and forests can absorb by 2050.

As part of the agreement, signatories must rollback fossil fuel emissions and promote clean energy. They must also report United Nations commission every 5 years regarding their progress. Ban Ki-moon – the secretary general for the United Nations – described the agreement as a “monumental success for the planet and its people.” 

A number of issues, however, remain.

In a concession that may hamper the plan’s long-term success – the actual reduction targets are voluntary, as the UN lacks the authority to guarantee compliance. In order to meet goals, nations will have to make scores of difficult choices. While many businesses have been enthusiastic about the deal and have expressed a desire to be a part of the solution, the fossil fuel industry will not disappear overnight. Indeed, the United States still offers generous tax subsidies for fossil fuels. At the end of the day, governments are going to have to step up redirect these resources for investment in renewable sources of energy. This will in part require the assistance and work of NGOs and other nonprofit institutions.

Bill Gates has proposed a public-private research and development program that would address this problem head-on, hastening the construction of new, efficient, and clean energy sources. By banding together global health organizations, NGOs, private businesses, and governments, such a program would pool together the activism, knowledge, and wherewithal necessary to accomplish this hefty task.

Another problem is the gulf between the capacities of rich nations and developing nations. For many countries in the West, fossil fuels were foundational for their current state of development. There is a distinct disadvantage for developing nations foregoing dirty energy sources. In a highly-touted victory for poorer nations, the climate deal in Paris included a $100 billion aid package from wealthier nations designed to boost developing nations’ ability to pursue reduction targets. The deal also included the promise of more funds in the future.

Despite this concession, the final deal was a disappointment to those baring the brunt of climate change’s immediate effects. According to Leisha Beardmore, the chief negotiator from Seychelles, the United States prevented representatives from vulnerable island nations from recognizing the irreparable damage already wrought by global warming. “The idea of even discussing loss and damage now or in the future was off limits. The Americans told us it would kill the COP,” Beardmore told The Guardian. This, in effect, sweeps the moral and financial responsibility for land degradation under the rug. The United States, coincidently, is one of the two top emitters of the green house gases that have imperiled these nations.

Evidently, there are loose-ends and imperfections. But for the first time, the world collectively acknowledged the threat of climate change, an immensely important step in the right direction. This will ultimately make it more difficult for critics outside of the mainstream who still decry global warming as a hoax. It also means that nonprofits, public health workers, and NGOs fighting for a more secure, greener future will have a lot more work on their hands.

Philanthropy and COP21

Labeled an “act of defiance” by U.S. President Barack Obama, the UN climate change talks in Paris commenced November 30 despite ongoing security concerns in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in France’s capital. While proceeding with the conference certainly displays a degree of fortitude in the face of extremist terror, the import of the talks stems from another dangerous security threat – that of irreversible climate change.

Leaders from 190 nations are gathered for the two week conference – also known as COP21 – which aims to nail down pledges from each participating country to cut carbon emissions in order to avert the global catastrophe of temperatures rising by more than 2°C. Some scientists, however, remain skeptical that any action emerging from COP21 will be enough.

A U.K.-based organization called Carbon Brief offers a helpful list of known pledges. To name a few:

  • The EU pledges to cut emissions by 40 percent compared to the 1990 level by 2030
  • The United States pledges to cut emissions by 28 percent compared to the 2005 level by 2025
  • Russia pledges to cut emissions by 25 to 30 percent relative to its 1990 baseline by an undisclosed benchmark

Whatever the finalized pledges may be at the end of the summit, there will be no enforcement apparatus to ensure that nations follow through with their commitments. A UN panel will monitor nations’ progress, but will possess little power to discipline or alter the course of nations acting in bad faith.

Environmental nonprofits will be on scene in Paris to make their case for bold action on behalf of climate justice. 350.org is sponsoring an event lobbying for divestment from fossil fuels – a hot topic in the world of philanthropy. Proponents of the strategy hold that by removing valuable foundation assets and other institutional investments from polluting industries, philanthropists and everyday professionals can hasten the elimination of dirty energy – an end that economists say is ultimately inevitable anyway.

In a previous piece, Key Elements Group LLC explored the ongoing campaign cosponsored by 350.org and The Guardian to encourage The Gates Foundation and The Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels. In response to the campaign, Bill Gates dismissed the merits of divestment, a stance he has since reiterated in the lead-up to the summit in France. Instead, Gates champions a carbon tax.

According to proponents, a carbon tax – long favored by economists – would simultaneously deincentivize burning fossil fuels while generating the resources necessary to develop alternative forms of energy. Marrying government, the private sector, and nonprofit intermediaries, this strategy would also involve contributions to nations that face a disadvantage further developing without the fossil fuel expenditure that enabled developed nations to reach their advanced state.

The debate may present a false binary; the two strategies together would probably be more effective than either one in isolation.

The fact that all major players – including the United States and China – are at the table is a step in the right direction. The consensus on the risks of climate change is now more established than ever, and the governmental will on display in Paris is welcome. Nonprofit professionals and advocates for the social good, however, still need to keep pushing the envelope in order to win a more secure future for the earth’s inhabitants.

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