At the tail end of 2015, the world’s leaders met in Paris to discuss the growing issue of global climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The conference, also known as the twenty-first “Conference of the Parties” to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, successfully ended with the creation of the Paris Agreement.
The agreement binds 55 parties, which account for 55 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. It aims to hold global temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, worldwide. With China and India continuing to rapidly industrialize, and the continuation of high per capita carbon emissions in the West, this agreement sets some ambitious targets.
While the conference was arguably successful in setting measurable goals, critics have called the targets unrealistic. Citing the failures of 1997’s Kyoto Protocol, and the slow adoption of green technology worldwide, many experts have their doubts about whether this new agreement will succeed where other agreements have failed.
Recently, a group of University of Toronto students were selected as delegates for the conference. Larissa Parker, a fourth-year U of T student studying ethics, society and law, environmental studies, and political science, was one such delegate.
“Overall, I believe that the meeting was a success,” said Parker. “It is impossible to ignore the fact that this was really the first time that a vast majority of countries agreed on a binding agreement and collectively responded to the urgency of tackling climate change in an organized and respectful manner.”
The agreement has also been criticized for imposing restrictions on countries that are becoming increasingly industrialized. These countries need energy to power their industrialization, and are pointing towards the historical abuse of fossil fuels by high-income countries as a pathway for success.
When asked about the fairness of the declarations made by the agreement to low-income countries, Parker pointed out that the declarations are, in some respects, fair. Parker also noted that the warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius was “a huge victory for the developing world, and particularly small island states who passionately argued that two degrees was not enough to save their nations from natural disasters such as floods and droughts.”
The conference discussed the possibility of global partnerships, whereby more industrialized countries would work to alleviate the effect of climate change in less industrialized countries. One of the proposals is to compensate lower-income countries for the economic losses they may incur due to the destruction of their natural ecosystems, with funding coming from countries that have polluted the most.
“Many states like the US and Canada however, were uncomfortable with ‘liability and compensation,’” Parker said. This led to a “footnote in the agreement specifying that loss and damage would not involve liability or compensation.”
Even with all of the high hopes for this agreement, critics around the world still question whether these targets are attainable. “Although the agreement is the most ambitious and cooperative text to tackle climate change that the world has ever seen, it is clear that the targets that each country has put forward, when added up together, do not reach 1.5 or even two degrees. In fact, with the current targets, the world is looking at around three degrees of warming,” Parker said.