Today marks a truly hopeful moment in human history as 196 countries approve an agreement to begin tackling climate change.
Below are detailed views from the NY Times and Climate Central as well as a link to the Paris Accord wording and a reminder of things we each can- and must- do every day to make a difference. Please take time to read the articles below and please share with family, friends and beyond.
This accord is only the beginning. There is so much more work to do to achieve what’s needed to truly secure the future of life on our planet as we know it.
Opportunities abound for all of us who work towards- -and help fund- conservation of nature to make a difference. Here’s to today’s historic agreement — and to nature-based solutions as part of the climate change toolbox for a healthy and hopeful future. – Ellie Cohen
Climate Conference Reaches Agreement; Read the Paris Accord Here (pdf)
Global leaders celebrated a landmark accord on climate change on Saturday after nearly 200 nations agreed to the deal.
By CORAL DAVENPORT
DEC. 12, 2015 NY Times
LE BOURGET, France — With the sudden stroke of a gavel on Saturday night, representatives of 195 countries reached a landmark climate accordthat will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change.
Delegates who have been negotiating intensely in this Paris suburb for two weeks gathered for the final plenary session, where Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France asked for opposition to the deal and, hearing none, declared it approved.
With that, the delegates achieved what had been unreachable for two decades: a consensus on the need to move away from carbon-based fuels and a road map for the 195 nations to do so.
Though the final deal did not achieve all that environmentalists, scientists and some countries had hoped for, it set the table for further efforts to slow down the slide toward an unlivable planet.
In the end, it was an extraordinary effort at international diplomacy. Supporters of a deal argued that no less than the future of the planet was at stake, and in the days leading up to the final session, they worked relentlessly to push skeptical nations to join their ranks.
As they headed into the cavernous hall late Saturday, representatives of individual countries and blocs publicly expressed their support for a deal that had been hammered out down to the wire in a final overnight session on Friday. The United States, which has been a leader in the negotiations, said it approved of the pact, as did the European Union, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, the Marshall Islands and the 143 countries that make up the G77.
And so it continued.
After a day of stops and starts, Mr. Fabius, the president of the climate conference, declared that there was a consensus and struck down the gavel at 7:26 p.m., a surprisingly abrupt close to formal proceedings that had threatened to last into the night.
The conference hall erupted in cheers as American leaders like Secretary of State John Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore stood to applaud President François Hollande of France; his minister for ecology, Ségolène Royal, his special envoy, Laurence Tubiana; and the executive secretary of the United Nations climate convention, Christiana Figueres.
South Africa’s environment minister, Bomo Edna Molewa, called the accord the “first step in a long journey that the global community needs to undertake together.”
At the heart of the final deal is a breakthrough on an issue that has foiled decades of international efforts to address climate change. Traditionally, such pacts have required developed economies, such as the United States, to take action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but they have exempted developing countries, such as China and India, from such action.
The new accord changes that dynamic by requiring action in some form from every country, rich or poor. The echoes of those divides persisted during the negotiations, however.
Delegates were presented with the final draft of the document Saturday afternoon, after a tense morning when the text was promised but repeatedly delayed. They immediately began parsing it for language that had been the subject of energetic debate in preparation for a voice vote on whether the deal should become law.
Throughout the evening, an atmosphere of tense excitement was palpable among the delegates. They rose to their feet in applause to thank the French delegation, which drew on the finest elements of the country’s longstanding traditions of diplomacy to broker a deal that was acceptable to all sides.
France’s European partners recalled the coordinated Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people, wounded more than 300 and threatened to cast a shadow over the negotiations. But, bound by a collective good will toward France, countries redoubled their efforts to achieve the agreement.
“This demonstrates the strength of the French nation and makes us Europeans all proud of the French nation,” said Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union’s commissioner for energy and climate action.
Yet amid the spirit of success that dominated the final hours of the negotiations, Mr. Arias Cañete reminded delegates that the accord was the beginning of the real work. “Today, we celebrate,” he said. “Tomorrow, we have to act. This is what the world expects of us.”
The new deal will not, on its own, solve global warming. At best, scientists who have analyzed it say, it will cut global greenhouse gas emissions by about half what is necessary to stave off an increase in atmospheric temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the point at which scientific studies have concluded the world will be locked into a future of devastating consequences, including rising sea levels, severe droughts and flooding, widespread food and water shortages, and more destructive storms.
But the agreement could be an inflection point in human history: the moment at which, because of a huge shift in global economic policy, the inexorable rise in planet-warming carbon emissions that started during the Industrial Revolution began to level out and eventually decline.
Earlier in the day, the accord was heralded by Mr. Fabius, Mr. Hollande and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, who helped shepherd it through its final phases.
Before the text of the accord was released, the three urged all delegates to seize the opportunity for enormous change, and Mr. Fabius, who has presided over the assembly, made an emotional appeal.
“Our text is the best possible balance,” he said, “a balance which is powerful yet delicate, which will enable each delegation, each group of countries, with his head held high, having achieved something important.
Unlike at the climate summit meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, Mr. Fabius said, the stars for this assembly were aligned.
As negotiators from countries representing a self-described “high-ambition coalition” walked into the United Nations plenary session shortly before noon, they were swarmed by cheering, clapping bystanders. The coalition, formed to push for ambitious environmental provisions in the deal, includes a mix of rich countries, such as the United States and members of the European Union; island nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati, which are vulnerable to damage from rising sea levels; and countries with the strongest economies in Latin America, such as Brazil.
Representatives of the group all wore lapel pins made of dried coconut fronds, a symbol of the Marshall Islands, whose climate envoy, Tony de Brum, helped form the coalition. Developing countries with the highest emissions, such as China and India, are not in the coalition.
Scientists and world leaders have said the talks here represent the world’s last, best hope of striking a deal that would begin to avert the most devastating effects of a warming planet.
Mr. Ban has said there is “no Plan B” if this deal falls apart. The Eiffel Tower was illuminated with that phrase Friday night.
The final language did not fully satisfy everyone. Representatives of some developing nations expressed consternation. Poorer countries had pushed for a legally binding provision requiring that rich countries appropriate a minimum of $100 billion a year to help them mitigate and adapt to the ravages of climate change. In the final deal, that $100 billion figure appears only in a preamble, not in the legally binding portion of the agreement.
“We’ve always said that it was important that the $100 billion was anchored in the agreement,” said Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, a negotiator for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the incoming leader of a coalition known as the Least Developed Countries. In the end, though, they let it go.
It was not immediately clear what horse trading and arm twisting had brought the negotiators into accord. But in accord they were, after two years of international talks in dozens of world capitals, two weeks of focused negotiations in this temporary tent city in a suburb of Paris and two all-night, line-by-line negotiations.
While top energy, environment and foreign policy officials from nearly every country offered positions on the text, ultimately it fell to France, the host, to assemble the final document and see through its approval.
Some countries objected to the speed with which Mr. Fabius banged down the gavel.
Nicaragua’s representative, Paul Oquist, said his nation favored a carbon budget, or a global cap on emissions: an idea that was a political nonstarter. He said the deal unfairly exempted rich nations from legal liability for “loss and damage” suffered by communities on the front lines of climate change.
The national pledges will not be enough to contain warming to 2 degrees Celsius. More recent scientific reports have concluded that even preventing that amount of warming will not be enough.
Vulnerable low-lying island states had pushed for the inclusion of the more stringent target, against the objection of major oil producers like Saudi Arabia. But that target is largely considered aspirational and is not subject to legally binding language.
The agreement sets a vague goal of having global greenhouse gas emissions peak “as soon as possible.”
The new accord sets out a schedule for those countries to return to the negotiating table every five years with plans that would ratchet up the stringency of their existing polices. The first such meeting would take place in 2020, when countries would be required to propose tougher plans.
The accord also requires “stocktaking” meetings every five years, at which countries will be required to present an accounting of how they are reducing their emissions compared with the targets they had presented. It also sets forth language requiring countries to monitor, verify and publicly report their levels of emissions.
The issue of monitoring and verification had been one of the most contentious, with negotiators wrangling over final details into Saturday morning. The United States had insisted on an aggressive, uniform system for countries to publicly report their emissions, and on the creation of an outside body to verify emissions reductions — a sort of “carbon auditor.” Developing nations such as China and India had demanded that they be subject to a less stringent form of monitoring and verification than richer countries.
In the end, the final draft requires all countries to use the same system to report their emissions, but it allows developing nations to report fewer details until they build the ability to better count their carbon emissions. The text allows for other details, such as the creation of the carbon auditor agency, to be determined later.
Some elements of the accord would be voluntary, while others would be legally binding. That hybrid structure was specifically intended to ensure the support of the United States: An accord that would have required legally binding targets for emissions reductions would be legally interpreted as a new treaty, and would be required to go before the Senate for ratification.
Such a proposal would be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, where many lawmakers question the established science of climate change, and where even more hope to thwart President Obama’s climate change agenda.
As a result, all language in the accord relating to the reduction of carbon emissions is essentially voluntary. The language assigns no concrete targets to any country for emissions reductions. Instead, each government has crafted a plan detailing how they would lower emissions at home, based on what each head of state believes is feasible given the country’s domestic political and economic situation.
The accord uses the language of an existing treaty, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to put forth legally binding language requiring countries to verify their emissions, and to periodically put forth new, tougher domestic plans over time.
“This agreement is highly unlikely to trigger any legitimate grounds for compelling Senate ratification,” said Paul Bledsoe, a climate change official in the Clinton administration. “The language itself is sufficiently vague regarding emissions pledges, and presidents in any event have frequently used their broad authority to enter into these sorts of executive agreements.”
A climate rally in Paris on Saturday.
Credit: GLOBAL 2000/Flickr
By John Upton Climate Central Published: December 12th, 2015
LE BOURGET, France — As the world’s hottest year on record nears an end, a new approach to fighting global warming under the guidance of the United Nations was unanimously agreed upon here Saturday, ushering in an era of hope that the world can limit the devastating impacts of climate change. After decades of failures to cooperate to slow the release of climate pollution, the Paris Agreement is a global framework crafted to transition away from fossil fuel-based economies toward cleaner energy supplies, and to protect the forests and other ecosystems that help keep the planet cool.
Aiming to curb warming well below the low level of 2°C that many see as critical but unlikely, the new pact will rely on the individual efforts of nearly 200 nations striving in their own ways to reduce their impacts on the climate. No penalties will be imposed on those who fail to live up to their promises. “This is in the interest of every nation on earth. We have taken a critical step forward,” said U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. “It’s a victory for all of the planet and for future generations.”
The eventual success of the pact in limiting global warming won’t be known for years, given its untested and heavy emphasis on voluntary measures to reducing pollution. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who presided over two weeks of negotiations in a sprawling conference center, attended by tens of thousands of national delegates, official observers, scientists, environmental advocates and journalists, lauded the pact as “differentiated, fair, durable, dynamic, balanced and legally binding.”
Climate pledges submitted by nations ahead of the two-week round of negotiations here wouldn’t do nearly enough to keep warming well below the 2°C target, let alone its loftier goal of 1.5°C. However, the hope is that the agreement will establish a system that successfully improves on those pledges over time. Under a key compromise between European and American negotiators, some parts of the pact will be binding under international law, while other aspects will be voluntary.
Perhaps most significantly, the agreement could send a message to the energy sector and its investors that solar and wind power and other clean energy sources will be increasingly favored over fossil fuel energy. Such impacts wouldn’t come directly from the Paris Agreement, but from the domestic policies that countries put in place to meet the pledges that they make under it, said Harvard University economics professor Robert Stavins. “These various policies have the teeth to impact business decisions,” Stavins said. The fossil fuel industry still receives hundreds of billions of dollars annually in government subsidies globally, helping it outcompete cleaner and more modern alternatives. The new pact may help in whittling away those handouts — something that many consider to be key to effectively slowing global warming.
Failed negotiations and climate pacts of years and decades past took heavy-handed, top-down approaches, trying to force developed countries to reduce their pollution levels by arbitrary amounts. The Paris Agreement is radically different. It relies on stringent monitoring of almost all countries as they strive to reduce pollution levels to levels they set themselves, using strategies of their own choosing. Finalization of the 31-page agreement followed two weeks of enervating negotiations that sometimes ran through nights. “We didn’t sleep very much,” Fabius said. That culminated with resolution of a tense diplomatic staredown between China and India and much of the rest of the world on Saturday over how far-reaching the climate pact would be. The outcome was a diplomatic triumph for France, which rallied for it throughout the year and carefully guided the negotiations.
It will now have the name of its capital city enshrined in an agreement that profoundly pleased many. The triumph came amid national grief, fear and intense police investigations following terrorist attacks that killed 130 in Paris a month ago. mDuring an address to negotiators on Saturday, French President François Hollande described the “gridlock” that has defined the past two decades of failed climate negotiations as a “source of great disappointment for all those who wanted the planet to have a future.” Although climate rallies planned earlier in the month had been outlawed by officials wary of subsequent attacks, leading to teargas-drenched duels between police and protesters, a more celebratory rally in Paris was allowed to proceed on Saturday.
Ahead of the historic round of annual negotiations, countries submitted pledges outlining how they plan to protect the climate beginning in 2020. The new approach had been heavily backed and devised by U.S. negotiators. In the end, the U.S. got what it wanted from the pact. Under the agreement, countries will be required to review and potentially improve their pledges every five years as part of a goal of keeping global warming to “well below” 2°C compared with preindustrial times, while also “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”
The 1°C of warming so far has already had profound effects on the weather and on tide levels. Additional warming will make wildfire seasons fiercer, heat-waves hotter and deluges heavier. Seas have risen 8 inches since the 1800s, leading to routine flooding in the U.S. and in coastal cities worldwide. In studies published last month in a special supplement of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, all eight found clear evidence that climate change played a role in making extreme heat events more intense or more likely to occur. More recently, climate change was found to have made a major storm that dumped 13 inches of rain in some parts of England 40 percent more likely.
Progress toward meeting the pledges, which are designed to reduce the worsening effects of climate change, will be monitored internationally. But there will be no international legal repercussions for failure. That approach was strongly favored by the Americans. Experts say the U.S. government will be able to join the new treaty under its existing laws, including the Clean Air Act and the 1992 treaty that founded the climate negotiations. It could do that without seeking approval from the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by the Republican Party, and which is against climate action.
In a compromise from Europe, the aspects of the pact that may have required U.S. Senate approval, including any requirements that national climate pledges actually be met, were left nonbinding.
“The silver lining here is that nonbinding commitments may make a more effective agreement,” said Alex Hanafi, a senior attorney with the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund who closely follows climate negotiations. “Nonbinding commitments can increase ambition, as countries feel more free to put forward stretch targets.”
The U.S. pledged to produce 26 percent less climate-changing pollution in 2025 than was the case in 2005. The European Union said it would reduce its pollution 40 percent in 2030, compared with 1990 levels. China’s pledge would see its annual growth in pollution rates halted by 2030. To help meet their pledges, countries may set up carbon cap-and-trade programs, such as those already operating in Europe, parts of China, South Korea, California and in some states along and near the U.S. eastern seaboard. The new agreement clearly allows countries to link their programs together, effectively promoting international pollution trading. The agreement contains some glaring gaps. Most notably, it may do little to clean up the heavily polluting shipping and airline industries. And its reliance on guidelines established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could also see power plants skirt new rules by burning wood instead of coal, worsening deforestation and climate change.
Still, aspects of the agreement will protect forests, which suck heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Some countries listed forest protections in their climate pledges, which the new agreement specifically allows to be counted toward pollution reductions. “This is not just about limiting temperature rise, but also maintaining the resilience and integrity of carbon sinks, such as the oceans and forests,” Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre told reporters on Friday. Overall, the reliance of the agreement on voluntary pledges will “help move us in the right direction,” said Steffen Kallbekken, who researches behavioural economics and climate policy at the Norwegian Center for International Climate and Environmental Research.
Kallbekken said the pledges submitted so far would not keep warming to less than 2°C, but that future ratcheting of the pledges under the new agreement could help to do so. Although he doesn’t “think that’s likely,” he said the new pact would help to curb rises in levels of greenhouse gas pollution and temperatures.
The goal of keeping global warming to less than 1.5°C was described by Kallbekken as an “aspirational” one that would almost certainly require the use of expensive geoengineering technologies to draw down levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
“What’s very uncertain is whether that technology is economically and socially feasible,” Kallbekken said. “Can you do it on a massive scale?”
Regardless of what’s possible or likely, it was clear in the years leading up to the Paris climate negotiations that previous efforts to slow global warming by attempting to enforce rules on nations through the U.N. had failed.
The Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which was the last climate pact to carry as much weight as the Paris Agreement, required weak pollution improvements from developed countries. Europe met its requirements with the help of a recession. The U.S. never ratified it. Canada withdrew and neither China nor India were directly affected. Efforts to double-down on the approach at talks in Copenhagen in 2009 failed famously. The so-called “bottom up” approach adopted Saturday is untested in climate diplomacy. In some respects, it resembles bilateral and multilateral efforts that successfully stemmed nuclear proliferation following the Cuban Missile Crisis following years of failed talks at the U.N. That two-week Cold War confrontation nearly triggered nuclear war, leading to new urgency.
“Based on the experience we’ve had from 20 years of negotiations, they’ve shown that the top-down approach wasn’t effective,” Kallbekken said. “The best solution we’ve had so far, which remains to be proven, of course, is what we’ve done with these national pledges.” While the U.S. and EU got most of what they wanted from the climate pact, not everybody was so successful. Small island states had pushed hard for the 1.5°C target to be included in the pact, hoping to protect their homes from rising seas. But the agreement fell well short of ensuring they would receive financial help recovering after rising seas swallow their homes, or after storms made worse by global warming tear infrastructure apart. Although the Paris Agreement lists ways assistance could be provided to help after disasters through a loss and damage mechanism, it specifically ruled out any requirements to provide compensation. Rich countries committed in previous rounds of negotiations to mobilize at least $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer ones slow and adapt to climate change, but the Paris Agreement failed to lay out the rules they had sought to ensure that pledge is met or improved upon.
“We came to Paris to make sure that developed countries, which are obligated to support developing countries, do their bit,” said Harjeet Singh, an ActionAid official based in India. “But here we find that we’re having a lot of fluffy language in the text. We want real money on the table, and not just some fluffy language.” The greatest concessions during the Paris talks came from rapidly industrializing nations — India and China and, to a lesser extent, South Africa and Brazil. Those countries had, at times, appeared to pose the greatest threats to hopes of clinching aspects of an agreement that were supported by much of the rest of the world. Those four nations had fought to be grouped with the world’s poorest countries, such as Haiti, which could have reduced their obligations to help in the fight against climate change. Strictly speaking, they lost that fight: no longer will global climate agreements divide countries into two categories, based on their wealth. But the agreement nonetheless refers to different roles that “developing” and developed” countries will play.
“What we have adopted is not only an agreement, but we have written a new chapter of hope in the lives of 7 billion people on the planet,” Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar said during the closing meeting. “We also are happy that the agreement differentiates between the actions of developed and developing countries.” Fearing that their economies would be hobbled at a critical time in their growth, rapidly industrializing countries also resisted efforts to make the pact as far-reaching and ambitious as was eventually the case.
Similarly, the U.S. was slow to take climate action during most of the earlier stages of its economic development. It only became a determined advocate for a global climate accord during President Obama’s second term, as clean energy prices tumbled, and as the effects of climate change became frighteningly clear. In recent months, the Obama administration rejected high-profile fossil fuel projects, including the Keystone XL pipeline, and refused to extend Arctic oil drilling leases. This year, his government also finalized the Clean Power Plan, designed to restrict climate pollution from the electricity sector.
The outcome of the talks in Paris may help establish a legacy for Obama as a climate champion, while helping his Democratic Party campaign on the issue, which is of growing importance to American voters. The Republican Party currently has no clear platform on climate change. As negotiations entered their final harrowing days, Obama personally called the leaders of China and India, and Kerry spent the week in Paris negotiating directly. The diplomatic salvoes may have helped produce the world’s first all-encompassing climate change agreement, but that won’t do enough to solve the problem. That will be determined by the ambition of the pledges that are made under it in the coming years and decades.
“How we implement our targets, how we guide our agreement, how we build it out for each of our nations and how we strengthen it in the time ahead,” Kerry said as the negotiations came to a close. “That is what will determine whether we’re actually able to address one of the most complex challenges humankind has ever faced.”
By John Upton Climate Central Published: December 11th, 2015
Even as climate negotiators labored Friday to finalize a pact to slow global warming, it was becoming clear that any new agreement would also help protect forests. A 27-page draft of a planned United Nations climate deal released late Thursday contained a subsection dedicated to the strategic role that forests and jungles could play as countries se… Read More
The Paris Climate Conference reached the final draft on an accord Saturday that would significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions Patrick Kovarik/AFP Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/paris-climate-conference-reaches-powerful-yet-delicate-accord-20151212#ixzz3u99Y1TQ4
Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change
10 Things You Can Do To Help Slow Climate Change (with additions by Ellie)
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
With leaders and activists from all over the world in Paris this week talking big-picture solutions for climate change, we wanted to talk about the little picture. The things we, as individuals, can do to help slow climate change. Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Tony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, about the choices and changes people can make in their daily lives to have an impact on climate, and how much those changes really matter.
10 Things You Can Do To Go Easier On The Earth– for a healthy future for our kids and communities:
- Insulate your home [and use less energy— in Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power, you can now pay a little extra for 100% renewal energy]
- Reuse and recycle [and compost] everything you can
- Turn off the lights not in use and use new technologies, like motion sensors for lights; Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs [and even better] with LEDs
- Take shorter showers and use less water in general [moving water uses 1/5 of all electricity in California state-wide]
- Eat less meat [and the right kind of meat—locally grown, grass finished with eco-friendly ranching practices]
- Waste less food [and compost whenever you can to reduce emissions from landfills]
- Buy a more fuel-efficient car, or an electric car [and change home appliances from gas to electric—when using clean energy for electricity]
- Drive [and fly less] (carpool, walk, bike, use public transportation, combine trips, vacation locally)
- Plant a bird- and climate-friendly, drought resistant garden- with native plants and grasses.
- Engage in local climate-smart habitat restoration.
Ellie Cohen, President and CEO
Point Blue Conservation Science
3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954
Point Blue—Conservation science for a healthy planet.