I have been reading about and reflecting on the climate accord resulting from the recent COP21 talks in Paris. Over 190 countries, nearly the entire world, has signed on to cut greenhouse gases to try to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius, with hopes that the limit can be lowered to 1.5 degrees, which will likely keep low-lying island nations habitable.
While much has been made of the fact that the combined pledges of the countries will not keep warming under two degrees, I have hope because every country will have to publicly state their progress and will have to update their goals every five years. As President Obama and others have pointed out, five years ago no one was predicting that the price of solar panels would come down so rapidly and that their use would increase so dramatically, so it is likely that innovations, technology access, efficiency gains, and economics will combine to help countries make their goals more ambitious over time, so that the 1.5 degree goal can be achieved.
Further, the accord adds incentive to preserving and restoring plants that can take up more carbon dioxide to help restore a better carbon budget, which is needed to eventually stabilize the climate. Global temperature is already almost one degree Celsius higher than it was in the pre-industrial age, and we are feeling the effects in global temperatures, increased severe weather and droughts, melting glaciers and permafrost, and ocean temperature rise and acidifcation.
While I wish that there had been more emphasis on climate justice and the rights of the economically disadvantaged, as Pope Francis writes about so eloquently in Laudato Si’, I hope that other United Nations documents will be taken into account along with the climate agreement to help protect and improve the lives of those living in poverty and those whose homes and food supplies are threatened by climate disruption.
While some Republicans have said that they will not honor the commitments that the United States has made to reduce its carbon emissions if a Republican is elected to the presidency next year, I think that they are mistaken. The omnibus budget bill just passed by Congress allocates funds toward our commitments. The US has already achieved 10 of its 26-28% reduction target from 2005 emission levels, with ten years to add the further 16-18%. Rules that are already in place for further emission cuts would be very difficult to rescind.
Perhaps most importantly to Republicans, many major businesses have made public commitments to emissions cuts, renewable energy utilization, efficiency gains, etc.; they appreciate the predictability that this international agreement brings. Furthermore, because so many US companies operate internationally, they will be dealing with other countries’ goals and methods, including various carbon pricing mechanisms. Cutting carbon emissions is a good business practice and the Republicans will have to realize that refusing to cooperate with the international community on the COP21 agreement will hurt not only US credibility and leadership but also its businesses and economy.
Climate and social justice advocates throughout the world are energized to keep the momentum going. People everywhere are keeping vigil and make changes in their own lives to help, as Pope Francis terms it, “care for our common home.”