Climate 101: The Paris Agreement

The United States and China both recently ratified the Paris Agreement in a great show of cooperation between two of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters. This was an important step towards implementing policy that might actually help our planet combat climate change.

I had a recent realization that many of my friends who love spending time in the outdoors don't know a lot about environmental policy or the nitty gritty details of climate change. Since I (sadly) can't spend all my days discussing these things with them in coffee shops, I've decided to start a new series called Climate 101. I'll be breaking down some of the most important topics surrounding climate change and hopefully helping people who love spending time outdoors understand it a bit better.

First, what is the Paris Climate Agreement & where did it come from?

The Paris Climate Agreement was negotiated at COP21 by parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and aims to "combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. (UNFCCC).

COP21 simply means that it is the 21st Conference of Parties since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where the UN Framework on Climate Change was adopted. The Rio Convention laid out a framework to stabilize atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, which they recognized as unprecedented human interference with the Earth's climate. Since then, there have been Conference of Parties to review how we're doing with those goals.

There have been multiple other frameworks and plans adopted since 1992, with varying success. COP3 brought us the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal Action Plan came out of COP11, and the Green Climate Fund was created during COP17.

What will the Paris Climate Agreement accomplish, assuming it's ratified?

- Limit global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally limiting it to only 1.5 degrees Celsius

- Reach peak greenhouse gas emissions ASAP, then start to decline use

- Enhance sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases, such as forests

- Support sustainable development

- Assist national adaption efforts

- Help vulnerable countries cope with negative affects of climate change such as extreme weather and sea-level rise

- Developed countries will support developing countries in building "clean, climate-resilient futures"

- Complete transparency among member countries

The United States and China are two of the biggest Greenhouse Gas emitters, so we're all good now that they're locked in, right?

Wrong. The Paris Climate Agreement requires 55 countries that account for at least 55% of global emissions to ratify before it starts taking affect.

The Paris Agreement opened for signature on April 22, 2016, aka Earth Day. All parties have to first sign the Agreement then go back home and convince the rest of their government to formally ratify, or approve. So far 180 of the 197 Parties to the Convention have signed the Paris Agreement, but only 27 of those parties have formally ratified. That brings us to only 39.08% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States and China are the only major global greenhouse gas emitters that have ratified so far.

What happens if the Agreement isn't ratified?

Well, there's no deadline for ratification so... Nothing. And honestly, that's worse case scenario. There have been multiple failed attempts at creating a unified, coherent strategy to combat climate change and we've really let the clock run out.

We're already experiencing stronger and more frequent storms, more wildfires, longer droughts, melting icebergs, accelerated sea level rise, shrinking glaciers, and a shifting of plant and animal ranges due to changing temperatures. If you want a more comprehensive explanation of what's going to happen check out NASA's Climate Change site.

Without the Paris Agreement countries will have take matters into their own hands and get serious about combating climate change - and that's an even more challenging path.

How can I help?

Get the word out! Take to social media and help educate others.

While I know I can't contact my government to urge them to ratify (thanks for being on top of that, Obama!), I'll certainly be reaching out to friends abroad and urging them to make sure that their elected officials know that this is a priority for them.

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