Time to chill out

In December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. The main aim of the so-called “Paris Agreement” is to set out when and how we should tackle climate change. The “when” bit is easy. It officially begins in 2020. The “how” is the hard part and has been made all the more difficult by US president Donald Trump’s decision last June to pull out of the accord. However of late, senior Trump administration officials have made more placatory comments about the pact and this is being interpreted as a possible softening of America’s stance.

Floods and droughts

At ground level, however, Trump’s highly-publicised decision does not alter what all other countries have agreed to do: to submit a plan every five years that outlines how they intend to deal with climate change and to create a worldwide action plan that will limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In fact a limit of closer to 1.5°C is even more desirable if the world is not to face even worse hurricanes, floods and droughts in the years and decades ahead.

More than 150 years of industrialisation, widespread felling of forests and radical changes in farming practices have greatly increased the quantities of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere. As their concentration has been rising steadily, so have global temperatures. From 1880 to 2012, the average global temperature rose by 0.85 °C. This has led to oceans warming, a reduction in the volume of snow and ice and to sea levels rising by 19cm from 1901 to 2010. The ice sheet in the Arctic has shrunk every decade since 1979 and if we don’t do something about it, the effects of climate change will only get worse.

The Paris Agreement is hugely significant because it marks the first time an accord of this nature brings so many countries together in a common cause and sets out specific targets. An important inclusion is the pledge to increase support to developing countries to help them better tackle climate change not least because developing countries often emit high levels of emissions in their push to modernise. The agreement also expresses the hope that greenhouse gas emissions will peak soon and then allow the earth to cool down a little. The plan also calls for a lot more education, training, public awareness and public participation in the whole area of climate change.

Friends of the Earth

But not everyone is over the moon about the accord. Organisations such as the international environmental group, Friends of the Earth, are far from impressed by the Paris Agreement. The organisation has called the agreement “a sham of a deal” and says that rich countries need to be doing far more to reduce their own emissions and providing far more in the way of financial support to developing countries and vulnerable people affected by the impacts of climate change. In a statement issued at the time the organisation says: “Without adequate finance, poor countries will now be expected to foot the bill for a crisis they didn’t cause. The finance exists. The political will does not.”

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