Two weeks ago representatives from 196 countries arrived in Paris to resolve one of the world's most pressing problems — Climate change. On Saturday, December 12th, the group emerged victorious with the first ever global accord in the fight against global warming — One that U.S. President Obama hailed as the "turning point for the world" and the "best chance to save the one planet we've got."
The agreement's overriding goal is to ensure that average global temperatures increase by no more than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. This according to environmentalists is a critical threshold above which the planet could experience irreversible impacts — Catastrophes like greater sea level rises and widespread plant and animal extinction.
To ensure this does not happen all 196 nations have agreed to decrease the use of fossil fuels that generate heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions like methane and carbon dioxide as soon as possible. The agreement also stipulates that by 2050, man-made emissions should be reduced to levels that can be absorbed by our forests and oceans.
The pact does not bind countries to a particular carbon emission level. Instead, it allows each nation to establish an easy reduction target and outline a strategy of how they plan to get there. Government officials are also urged to review the plan every four years to ensure they are meeting their goals and find ways to decrease emission rates further if possible.
There is also no penalty for countries that fail to abide by their self-imposed targets. However, the representatives hope that the fact that the world will know about their progress will encourage nations to try their best. Also, while developed countries are expected to cut their absolute emissions, developing countries are only "encouraged" to do so.
Wealthy developed nations like the United States also committed to giving $100 billion USD of funding annually by 2020, to assist the poorest and most at-risk countries to deal with the impacts of climate change and build low-carbon technologies.
Though the terms have been agreed upon in principle, the agreement still needs to be approved by the each country. It will go into effect as soon as 55 nations that together account for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions agree to the terms.
Most experts believe that ratification should not be a problem given there are no legal obligations being imposed on any nation. Besides, the world's biggest polluters, U.S.A. and China that account for 14% and 24% of total greenhouse gas emissions respectively, have already announced plans to cut emissions substantially. Their joint pact in November 2014, is what paved the way for the Paris deal, and inspired nearly all the world's nations to announce similar plans.
The agreement is not all that environmentalists had hoped for. However, they are encouraged at the collective resolve, especially given that the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen was a complete failure. As Bill Mckibben the co-founder of the international environmental organization 350.org says, "This (the agreement) didn't save the planet. "But it may have saved the chance of saving the planet." Hopefully, all the countries will realize that living up to their promise is the only way to save our planet and ourselves, from what could become an irreversible situation.