The UN climate agreement finalized in Paris over the weekend comes just in time for the holiday season. This historic moment feels like a gift for my children, adding a warm light to the darkest time of the year.
No, it’s not enough. The pollution reductions enshrined in the agreement – even if fully implemented – will lead to global temperature increases far beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius scientists warn us would stretch civilization to its limits.
No, this agreement won’t fix the problem. We are in for a much longer, harder journey than it would have been if nations had started addressing climate change a few decades ago, when scientists first raised the alarm. Time isn’t on our side, and we have to both meet and strengthen our commitments to a safe climate on a global scale, with blinding speed. “We” means we, all of us, every single one, and that’s never been an easy task.
This agreement offers hope for my children. For your children. For all the world’s children, and all the children still to come in this world. Before this agreement there was no international consensus on how and even whether to address this issue. Now there is.
And so much more, too.
Here are four things the Paris climate agreement gives my children.
- No more excuses. For the first time, the world’s nations have united to stop climate change. We are all in this together – and the UN climate agreement has enshrined that axiom. That’s important because for years, climate couch potatoes have argued that the US shouldn’t pitch in to stop pollution if other countries aren’t going to make changes. That excuse is gone. The nations of the world have come together and agreed to take action. It’s time to get off the couch and get moving.
- More ambitious goals than ever before. Before the UN climate agreement, the world was on track to warm 8.1 degrees F (4.5 degrees C) by 2100. The commitments laid out in the climate agreement put the world on track to warm 6.3 degrees F (3.5 degrees C) by 2100. This is not enough. I am not saying that it is. It falls short of the somewhat arbitrary marker of 2 degrees C, which many scientists and analysts say is the limit beyond which human civilization cannot be stretched. But 6.3 is better, a lot better, than 8.1. It’s a shift in the trajectory, and it’s in the right direction. I am celebrating that.
- Telling the truth. And on the goals front, the UN climate agreement finally admits that 2 degrees C is actually too much. We now have global commitment to limit global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue the goal of 1.5 degrees C. That half-degree is important – it’s the difference between a nation literally drowning or staying above water, in the case of some small island nations facing physical obliteration from sea level rise. It is also important for the health and safety of people on the margins, the poorest among us, those living on shorelines set to be inundated, those already dealing with malnutrition, those who literally can’t survive an increase in food prices, the flooding of their home, or a wave of infectious disease spread through climate disruption. That half-degree tells the truth about the chaos we face, and admits our collective moral obligation to face that truth.
- A carbon free future. The Paris agreement sets a long-term goal to get to greenhouse gas neutrality, a situation in which climate warming emissions are balanced by carbon sinks that remove such gases from the atmosphere, like forests. This goal is set for the second half of the century. Many say that’s way too long if we want to turn this ship around. I say 2050 is better than never. And the big picture is actually stunning: This is the first global affirmation that the world will transition away from fossil fuels. Not just reduce emissions. But eliminate them. Most of the remaining global reserves of coal, oil, and gas must remain in the ground, while the global economy moves toward clean and renewable energy. Chills.
I attended the climate talks in Paris to make sure the voices of parents were heard loud and clear by the negotiators. I wanted an agreement that would protect my kids from climate chaos. Although our work is not yet over, the Paris agreement has set us on the right path.