On the last day of COP 21, and I got to meet two of my environmental heroes, Bill McKibben and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. There were fewer people in the Green Zone, which meant shorter lines for the Creperie inside (my favorite food source during the conference this week), but the space was still buzzing with energy. Later on in the day, I did some more Paris sightseeing and visited the Louvre and the Arc do Triomphe.

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Me, Caroline, Bill, and Zach

But the real end of COP 21 came today, December 12th, when the final climate deal, the Paris agreement, was officially finalized and released. You can read it here, but it’s honestly super long-winded, so I thought I’d provide my own summary on what it says and what that actually means for the future of our planet.

First and foremost, this IS a historic deal and we SHOULD be excited about what it says. This is the first time that the countries of the world are now working towards limiting global warming to below a specific number of degrees – that number being 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, “and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”. Not really sure what “pursuing efforts” means, but at least 1.5 is in there. There is a HUGE difference between what will look like at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial temperatures and 2 °C above, but that’s a topic for another blog post. For now, think: sea level rise, species loss, etc.

Here are 4 more things you should know about the Paris agreement:

  1. It is legally binding. Kind of. Now that the agreement has been accepted, 55% of the 196 nations participating need to ratify it at home before it officially comes into effect. There are a few troublesome countries that we are worried won’t ratify it (*cough cough* America *cough cough*). To learn more about the U.S.’s role in all of this, you can read this blog post I wrote for Conergy earlier in the week.
  2. It is the first “universal” climate deal. All climate deals in the past (including the Kyoto Protocol) only required developed, rich countries (who historically produced the problem of climate change in the first place) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, every single country is expected to contribute, and most countries submitted their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) earlier this year. As always, there’s a few stragglers that haven’t submitted an INDC yet. But the real problem is that while the overall Paris agreement limits warming to 2 °C, the goals set by the cumulative INDCs put the world somewhere between 3 and 4 °C. And I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly catastrophic that temperature change would be.
  3. The rich are thinking about helping the poor. There’s this thing called the “Green Climate Fund”, where essentially the rich countries that have created the problem pool together money to help the poor countries that are now having to deal with it. The goal is that this fund will have $100 billion per year in it by 2020. Man I hope that happens because there are island nations that are already flooding and we’re still just talking about helping them.
  4. We have a long-term goal in mind. And that is greenhouse-gas emission neutrality sometime in the second half of the 21st century. That’s SUPER vague, but it basically means we want to get to this place where we aren’t emitting more greenhouse gases than natural things like trees can absorb. Which means we wouldn’t be adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The World Resources Institute has a great article on this if you want to learn more about it.

 

So there it is. The world now has the Paris agreement and it is a good step in the right direction. But it is not going to solve climate change, and this is not the time to sit back, relax, and get complacent. The provisions of the Paris agreement, although they lead to a better world than would be without it, still lead to a very dangerous world that will displace millions of people and cause the extinction of millions of species.

On Friday, I participated in a peaceful protest of about 200 youth outside the Blue Zone where the negotiations were taking place. It made me realize that we are the future, and if anything, the results of the Paris agreement are a call to action. Yes, we needed the Paris agreement, and it is great. But the real solutions will come from the bottom-up. In a way, we knew it all along. But here’s to the leaders of the world finally agreeing that this is an issue we need to do something about, and more importantly, here’s to a new generation of climate warriors, rising.

 

*Cover photo was taken by Caroline Saunders.