On Saturday, December 12, nearly 200 countries approved a historic climate agreement that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stem the tide of the worst effects of climate change. Many environmentalists are applauding the deal as it marks the first time that near-global cooperation has been pledged: compare the Paris accord, with nearly 96 percent of global emissions represented, to the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997, which covered only 14 percent of global emissions (with China and the United States, the two largest greenhouse polluters, conspicuously missing).
The overarching goals of the accord are to peak the emission of greenhouse gasses “as soon as possible,” and to limit the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (roughly 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the second half of this century. Many scientists and analysts consider 2 degrees the “magic number” after which the worst consequences of climate change – such as rising sea levels – will be seen.
Meeting the Accord’s Goals
Prior to the Paris talks, governments of 186 nations submitted plans describing how they would cut carbon emissions by 2025 or 2030. The successful implementation of these plans would cut emissions by about half of what is needed to reach the 2 degree threshold.
The key, then, is to ratchet up these initial plans to reach that threshold. The Paris accord builds in a series of requirements for countries to increase the stringency of their policies over time. Every five years, beginning in 2020, countries are required to reconvene with updated plans further increasing their proposed carbon cutbacks. Beginning in 2023, and every five years after that, countries must publicly report on how well they are meeting their goals.
The accord’s preamble also includes a provision calling for developed countries to raise, on their own initiative, at least $100 billion annually to assist developing countries in cutting their emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change. To the