20 Years On…UN Climate Negotiations Have Finally Come Up with a Bold Solution

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After 20 years of difficult meetings, including two weeks of negotiations at the recent United Nations climate conference in Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries adopted a historic climate agreement on Saturday December 12, 2015 that outlined firm goals to limit temperature rise and to scrutinize government targets to get there.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon congratulated negotiators stating that “History will remember this day the Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people.”

French President Francois Hollande, as host of the conference, noted that the world has now entered the “low carbon age” which would “revolutionize the world.”

Key elements of the agreement

shutterstock_167119931Some key elements in the Paris Agreement included a target to limit global warming below 2°C, with further efforts to limit it below 1.5 °C, a financing mechanism that will raise at least US$100 billion a year to help developing countries tackle climate change, and review and monitoring process that will track the transparency of pledges and raise its ambition in five-yearly cycles.

Implications for climate deniers?

The climate “debate” and science denial are not actually about science. Most who reject the consensus of 97% of climate experts do so because they prefer the status quo and object to the proposed solutions. This was made clear by a 2014 study showing that Republicans are far more likely to reject the science when told the solution involves government regulation than when they’re told free market solutions are available.

Those who deny the scientific evidence were ignored; instead, scientific arguments in favor of an even more stringent target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures won the day.

Why does 1.5°C matter?

Every 1°C of warming will eventually cause 2.3 meters of sea-level rise.

If you live in a small island nation in the tropics, more than 1.5°C of global warming certainly seems dangerous. With more than 1 meter of sea-level rise, around 90% of countries like Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, and Kiribati could become so prone to flooding as to be uninhabitable. While there’s large uncertainty about the rate of future sea-level rise, evidence from the distant past suggests that every 1°C of warming will eventually cause 2.3 meters of sea-level rise.

The Paris climate agreement is not perfect. But like democracy, it may be better than all of the alternatives. Recognition of a 1.5°C limit as a “safer defense line” makes the agreement truly global, rather than something dictated by the developed world.

A global call to action!

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Businesses also rose to the climate challenge during the two-week conference as several initiatives were launched. These included the Science-Based Targets initiative, through which 114 companies including IKEA, Coca-Cola, and Kellogg will set emissions reduction targets in line with scientific recommendations for limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and the Responsible Corporate Engagement in Climate Policy programme, where 114 companies will track their activities that influence climate policy, ensure these are consistent, and be transparent about their policy position on climate change.

The need for additional regional efforts was also made clear as cities across the world representing almost a fifth of the global population launched a five-year vision to scale up actions to tackle climate change.

What is clear from all these commitments at both the international and the regional level is that in order to win the fight against climate change, UN Member States will need the businesses that contribute to rising CO2 emissions to collaboratively scale up the implementation of solutions to reduce their emissions, as well as civil society, to bring about truly transformative change and a carbon free future.

The agreement alone won’t prevent climate change, but it will make it very difficult for climate deniers and carbon emitters to avoid addressing the issue. Paris therefore sets a solid foundation for more climate progress, and with the help of civil society, continued grassroots action, calls for climate justice, and support for communities that have historically been reliant on fossil fuels we can help to make a 100% clean energy future a reality!

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