The objectives of the Paris Climate Summit are far from simple. The governments of more than 190 nations have come together in Paris to attempt to work out a new global agreement addressing climate change. The two goals they laid out are setting a maximum of two degrees Celsius change in global temperatures and finding financial support for developing countries. Though these are very difficult to achieve, many world leaders are optimistic about the turnout, and we should be as well.
Why two degrees Celsius? This change in global temperatures was a benchmark set by Yale economist William Nordhaus as the maximum amount of warming humanity could tolerate before results would become disastrous for the global economy. This is a mark that has been generally agreed upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, this is not a two degree change starting from now. It’s two more than the average temperature before the Industrial Revolution. At the end of this year, the planet will have warmed one degree celsius. To put this into perspective, a three degree increase is considered the point of no return, where carbon emissions would continue to rise regardless of human intervention due to the death of 50 percent of plant life. A six degree change would likely kill 95 percent of life on earth. Current emission trends put us at a five degree Celsius change by 2100.
Two degrees is a significant number, to say the least. Global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 40 to 70 percent by 2050, with total carbon neutrality achieved by 2100. However, even if carbon emissions are cut, there’s another problem. An additional two degrees Celsius is not exactly a favorable number. The greater the change to global temperatures, the more severe the consequences of extreme weather patterns will be. And the people who suffer the most from global warming are typically the people who contribute the least to it.
It’s the responsibility of the creators of this problem to help protect these nations, so the second order of business in the Paris talks is how to compensate developing nations. The agreed idea at the moment is raising $100 billion per year provided by developed countries to help developing countries cope with climate change. The number was originally established in the Copenhagen 2009 talks. This agreement is a crucial aspect as it generates greater trust, showing developing nations that developed nations will uphold their end of the bargain. The only problem is that it needs to be legally binding. The consequences for failure cannot simply be disappointment. A point Obama stressed during his time in Paris: negations need “a single transparency mechanism that all countries are adhering to and that those are legally binding.” However, he also suggests that the targeted reduction goals be self-generated. The problem is that the pledges so far would only hold global warming to a 2.7 degree change.
A draft appeared on Saturday that’s only 20 pages long. While a major breakthrough, the document is still riddled with areas of disagreement and dispute. With one week left, the majority of talks will need to focus on how rich countries are going to financially contribute to the $100 billion fund, how to further reduce carbon emissions and how to keep countries legally bound to the deal. Though it’s somewhat risky, emission goals will most likely be established by each country’s own government. Obama has explicitly stated that a full-fledged treaty would not pass in a Republican-dominated Congress.
Making any kind of legally binding document that all 200 nations involved will agree on may be impossible. If consensus can be found with the majority of nations while still significantly reducing carbon emissions, this document will undoubtedly be the most important document of the century. We should be optimistic that the heads of hundreds of countries are able to gather in a city recently attacked by militant radicals and still show concern for the future. Let us pray that it’s successful.