#COP21 the morning after

Thirteen days and three all-nighters later, the Paris agreement on climate change was accepted December 12. What does it all.


Thirteen days and three all-nighters later, the Paris agreement on climate change was accepted December 12. What does it all mean?

Overall we have procrastinated and lost decades when we could have averted the climate crisis nearly entirely. Now we are in it. We have already changed the climate, so the debate now is can we avoid the very worst of the climate crisis and ensure the survival of human civilization?

Some have already denounced the Paris agreement for what it does not do. For example, it does not use the levers available to governments, like trade sanctions, to add teeth to the agreement. Those criticisms are fair.

Nevertheless, it does more than many of us expected it would when the conference opened on November 30. The treaty will be legally binding. It sets a long-term goal for global temperature increase of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which will be hard to achieve. But clearly the world has accepted that most known reserves of fossil fuels must stay in the ground.

Unfortunately, the treaty will only take effect in 2020, after it is ratified by 55 countries, collectively representing 55 per cent of world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). We have built into the treaty mandatory 5-year reviews. But the mechanism to force all governments to assess the adequacy of their own plans kicks in only in 2023, which could well foreclose any option to hold temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius.

In addition to the Paris agreement we also passed a decision document. The language there is far from perfect but gives us a chance to increase targets before 2020 as well as convene a facilitative dialogue in 2018 to assess the adequacy of targets and to prepare for new ones for 2020.

The decision document is actually longer than the treaty itself and includes many actions to be undertaken within the ongoing COP process. Among them, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is requested to produce a report to COP spelling out what level of GHG emissions will lead us to holding global average temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above those before the Industrial Revolution.

Canadians can be rightly proud of our government in Paris. While I did not support our position on every single issue, what matters is what we do next. Canadas climate target remains the one left behind by the previous government. We have no time to waste in revamping and improving that target. But lets ensure we get started.

The Liberal election platform committed to consultations with all provincial and territorial governments within 90 days of COP21. In his speech at COP21, Trudeau expanded that to engaging with municipal governments and First Nations as well. That is all excellent. Ideally this sets in motion a quick-start to identifying a more ambitious target with actions spelled out in the spring 2016 budget just in time for Earth Day, which has been chosen in the decision document as the day for formal signatures to the Paris agreement.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has been requested to organize a signing ceremony at UN headquarters in New York for the occasion.

Paris threw us a lifeline. We cant let it slip between our fingers.

Elizabeth May is leader of the Green Party of Canada. This her third report from the Paris climate talks for NOW Magazine. You can read her previous dispatches here and here.

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

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