Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Paris climate change agreement

It has been hailed by many as critical action on climate change.

But will it really be that?

Last Saturday in Paris, over 150 nations agreed to a pledge, a pledge to limit the amount of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere and thereby (hopefully) mitigating the effects of climate change. What are the key details?

For one, this is viewed as a long-term effort and naturally so. It will take time to accomplish these goals. The combined effort is centered around making sure that average temperatures do not rise above the nefarious "2 degrees Celsius" mark. It is generally accepted that if overall temperatures rise two more degrees, that is when we will really begin to see the catastrophic and likely irreversible effects of climate change. Temperatures have already increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since pre-industrial times. This Paris agreement has more ambitious aspirations, however, aiming to cap temperature rise at 1.5 Celsius as opposed to just keeping it under two degrees.

How will we do this? Limit greenhouse gas emissions. Such actions apply only to developed nations, however. The developing world is expected to do what it can as its "capabilities evolve." Wealthier nations have also pledged a combined $100 billion by 2020 to help poorer countries reduce their emissions. The accord also included a section on "loss and damage" associated with climate related disasters, such as island nations threatened by rising sea levels. On the other hand, the section does not involve any pledge of liability or compensation. So...

Not surprisingly, nobody seems entirely happy with this agreement. Conservative politicians have issued their customary clishmaclaver about "harm to the economy" (read "their bottom line") but I'm hoping they will eventually return to their primary scientific concerns, such as Creationism and the "Young Earth." Climate activists are upset that the pact is too weak and does not go far enough to save the world.

A pragmatist might look at the flaws inherent within the actual accord. There is no penalty for any nation that fails to meet their emissions targets. Proponents of the agreement point out that while that might be, there is transparency. The involved nations are supposed to report their emissions and give updates on their efforts to reduce them, thus encouraging them to follow through on promises. You'll forgive me if I say this relies a bit too heavily on altruism as there is neither carrot nor stick involved here.

Well there is a carrot. We can begin to actively do something about climate change and try to avoid catastrophe. Sadly, that doesn't usually translate to much in a make-a-buck world.

Do I have a dim view of humanity or what?

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