Why did many consider the climate change conference necessary? Globally, 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history. In addition the planet’s glaciers are melting at the fastest rates ever seen. Under water, the coral reefs are experiencing disastrous effects of bleaching, spurred by everwarmer oceans.
Each year, more species are losing their habitats to climate change. Continued accelerated increase in temperature can result in severe habitat loss for almost two-thirds of plant species and one-third of mammal species. Rising seas from melting glaciers could flood some of °Cthe world’s largest cities. It is these effects that have driven the severe warnings about the possible effect on humanity.
It took two weeks of negotiations in Paris, to reach a global deal to tackle climate change. The Paris Agreement is the first comprehensive global treaty to combat climate change and will follow on from the Kyoto Protocol when it ends in 2020.
This agreement signed by 196 countries will enter into force once it is ratified by at least 55 countries, covering at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Ahead of the Paris conference, 185 countries made pledges with the other 11 countries expected to submit their pledges before next year’s climate talks in Marrakesh.
The Paris Agreement commits countries to work to limit global warming to “well below 20 above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”.
To keep global warming below 20 we can emit a total of around 3.6 trillion tons of greenhouse gases. This results in the probability of a 66 % chance of achieving the targets; to improve the odds global emissions must be reduced.
It is hope that the early action will prevent the economic cost of adverse climatic effects which have been estimated, based on the level of global warming, to exist between 5 and 20 % of global GDP.
The main items of the agreement will see the following. Countries will pursue their self-determined emissions targets from 2020 onwards. It is expected that every five years national targets will be reviewed and countries are expected to strengthen their pledge at that time.
It is hoped that worldwide emissions should peak “as soon as possible”. It is anticipated that the second half of this century would see greenhouse gas emissions balanced out by sinks, processes that remove them from the air. Developing countries will need financial assistance to help them reduce emissions under the agreement. Developed nations will contribute at least US$100 billion a year from 2020 to help poorer nations deal with climate change.
While still early days, there are a number of limitations of this agreement. It should be noted that while the agreement is legally binding, details such as the amount of climate finance involved is not. Climate change is already proving to be very costly to certain countries such as the islands of the Caribbean. The extreme weather events we face is a prime example.
This agreement acknowledges the significant effects faced by our countries but it rules out any liability or compensation. Article 8 of the Paris Agreement “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”.
Article 8 provides that parties should cooperatively enhance understanding, action and support regarding loss and damage and sets out areas of cooperation and facilitation.
The Paris agreement falls short of providing specific milestones to ensure we will be tracking compatible emission pathways in the long journey to the end of the century.
The statement of balancing greenhouse gases emission and sinks during the second part of the century is too ambiguous; achieving this goal towards the end of the century could result in a temperature rise above 2°C.
Trinidad and Tobago has to pay attention to new ideas and initiatives that that can have a deleterious impact on the economy. One such idea is the financial and business sectors’ new engagement and demand for a carbon price, including the growing movement for fossil fuel divestment. How this evolves and the speed with which it does needs to be monitored by this country.
At a time when the economic prospects for this country appear to be facing serious head winds, understanding what the growing needs of “putting carbon back” means for countries like ours.
How can countries like ours simply accept the suggestion that to address the need to reduce emissions we may be obliged to leave some of our prized fossil carbon reserves underground? The central idea that we can develop a cheaper substitute for every single application of fossil carbon everywhere in the world, before temperatures reach 2°C, is not realistic.
There must be a balance between ensuring economic survival and facing our responsibility to contribute to reduce the production of fossil fuels as well as reduce emissions. Such a balance must be found.