COP 21 – Final Update from UNANIMA

By now you already know the outcome of COP 21!  They signed the agreement while we were on the plane; we could hardly wait to see it. It was good to get home, even though New York did not exactly welcome us. At JFK airport, the Air Train connection was out of order, most of the elevators were broken, the only escalators that were working were going the wrong way, and the subway seemed more grimy than usual (compared to the Paris subways). In all fairness though, the Frenchwoman with whom I shared a cab said that Paris is usually not so spiffy—that they had gone to great lengths to make everything nice for us. And they certainly did! We found Parisians helpful, friendly, and forgiving of our bad French. The Sisters of Notre Dame of Sion were wonderful hostesses. Someone made sure that all the official representatives and observers (that’s us) received a welcome bag with useful items like a really cool water bottle and an unlimited ride ticket for trains, subways, and buses in Paris. And we were given the gift of Paris, the City of Light, in the season of light.

Oh, you want to know about the AGREEMENT! We think it turned out remarkably well in light of the fact that almost 200 sovereign nations (thinking of people back home to whom they were accountable!) had to come to consensus. It was very much like the Rio summit—everyone got something they wanted, nobody got everything they wanted, there are some people who are deliriously happy, and others grumbling that it was all a waste of their time. Everyone agrees the document is not perfect, but something really, really big happened: the world now has a framework upon which to build and negotiate. It is “a healing step if not a complete cure,” a commitment by 195 countries to reduce carbon emissions.

With regard to major issues, the wording is very careful:

The target of allowing a temperature increase of “well below 2 degrees Centigrade…and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5” is the most ambitious yet. The provision to reduce “emissions from deforestation” and to take other steps to save forests is the most significant statement in one of these agreements about the role forests play in de-carbonization. While developing countries were disappointed that a particular amount of money was not named, there was a recognition that developed countries should help them cope with the effects of climate change and transition to low carbon alternatives as they develop. For the first time, the terms “loss and damage” was included in an international agreement (finally meeting a demand from small island nations in danger of disappearing, to acknowledge their suffering). One of the areas upon which the US insisted was transparency, or a single system through which the carbon reductions of all countries could be evaluated. And finally, every country will be required to come back every five years with a report on its carbon emissions and with a new / renewed pledge. (See New York Times of Sunday December 13, “Highlights: Agreements Careful Language on Curbing Emissions.”

This agreement has been years in the making, and is the first to be truly universal—to require action from every country, rich or poor. It will not solve global warming on its own. But it could represent the moment that the inexorable rise of carbon emissions that started during the Industrial Revolution began to level off and even decline. The important thing is WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. Success will depend on global peer pressure and governmental stability.  So, celebrate, and then roll up your sleeves and get to work!

Thank you for reading our “Posts from Paris!”