Is The Paris Climate Agreement Too Little Too Late?

Bill Scher

The historic international Paris climate agreement will be formally signed by 155 nations on Earth Day this Friday, but scientific reports since the pact’s forging in December that indicate a more urgent climate crisis are renewing the question of whether the agreement will cut carbon deep enough and fast enough.

Bloomberg reports:

… ominous reports in the four months since have buttressed the doubters: Global warming may hit geological hyperspeed in decades. NASA is projecting that 2016 will break the annual heat record for the third year running; Greenland’s ice sheet is experiencing springtime melt weeks earlier than average; and much of West Antarctica is at risk of slipping into the Southern Ocean by 2100, adding a meter to global sea levels …

… The pact “might not be enough, especially in terms of sea-level rise,” said Rob DeConto, a geoscientist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. DeConto co-wrote the Nature study in March warning of Antarctica’s fate. “We really need to go to zero emissions as soon as possible.”

But this isn’t really news. No one is arguing that the pledges made by the signatories guarantee that a climate crisis will be averted. It was widely reported at the Paris conference that the best the pledges could do was limit the global temperature rise to 2.7˚C when we want to prevent anything more than 2˚C.

The upside is that 1) 2.7˚C is still better than the “>4 to 6 degree range that would occur if we did nothing, and 2) the Paris framework includes provisions to ratchet up the targets as we learn more, with countries reconvening every five years beginning in 2020.

As I noted back in November, there was good reason not to push this tenuous compromise farther than 155 countries could withstand. If it was made into a legally binding treaty, then our Senate Republicans would have killed it. If we demanded other countries made bigger pledges, countries like India would have walked.

We should celebrate how much we have been able to accomplish, but with our eyes wide open, knowing that there will surely be more we will have to do and more battles to fight. Friday’s signing is only a first step, and time is ticking.

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