While everyone is still trying to get their heads around the Paris Agreement, as it is now called, we should probably spend a moment on what we have achieved. Humanity has finally admitted that Climate Change must be addressed on a level that will actually matter. No more fooling around.
Then we should probably spend at least another moment on what the world agreed to:
What are the key elements? To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100 To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy. (Global climate deal: In summary 12/12/2015, BBC News)
For a species disinclined to react to far-off threats, we agreed on a lot, although not enough to actually bring the temperatures down to a safe level or provide adequate funding for developed nations to thrive. The Agreement has unleashed a lot of hope and despair and, of course, a lot of carping by those who still believe that all this climate concern is making much of nothing. (How wonderful for them.)
There is hope that the fossil fuel era will close and the renewable energy era will rise. There is hope that the Agreement will focus humanity’s attention on not only enduring this manmade warming phase with grace, but will actually allow us to emerge from it a better steward of our planet, with a healthier and more just society.
There is despair that we’ve started much too late to address this crisis and that our lesser angels will allow our short-term interests to override our long-term survival. That instead of being charitable towards others, we’ll devolve into a constant state of self-destructive meanness as we fight over the last scraps of the bounties we accumulated in the fossil fuel era.
Whether we thrive or perish is up to us, all of us. The Paris Agreement has demonstrated that none of us can watch Climate Change from the sidelines. Especially not the climate deniers, whose worldview is no longer acceptable. Climate denial is now on par with earlier hateful memes, like the belief that some people are inherently better than others.
Not even Rochester, NY can sit on the sidelines. We’ve misspent decades continually refusing to connect the dots to local consequences so we can adapt in a timely manner, or admit to ourselves that we have a moral mandate to help others because much of the existing warmth in the atmosphere is ours. Rochester and New York and the Northeast (and Europe, from whence the Industrial Revolution began) own those dangerous greenhouse gases that are already wreaking havoc.
Overall, environmentalists were hopeful for a successful Paris Agreement in the sense that the baseline for worldwide consensus on the validly of addressing Climate Change would hold, but not so hopeful that the Agreement in and of itself would save us. That, they know, is ahead of us. Bill McKibben, as usual, says it best:
Climate deal: the pistol has fired, so why aren’t we running? | Bill McKibben There can be no complacency after the Paris talks. Hitting even the 1.5C target will need drastic, rapid action With the climate talks in Paris now over, the world has set itself a serious goal: limit temperature rise to 1.5C. Or failing that, 2C. Hitting those targets is absolutely necessary: even the one-degree rise that we’ve already seen is wreaking havoc on everything from ice caps to ocean chemistry. But meeting it won’t be easy, given that we’re currently on track for between 4C and 5C. Our only hope is to decisively pick up the pace. In fact, pace is now the key word for climate. Not where we’re going, but how fast we’re going there. Pace – velocity, speed, rate, momentum, tempo. That’s what matters from here on in. We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast. (December 13, 2015) The Guardian