27 February 2017

Paris: a year on

Last year I went to a talk about the Paris agreement, by Tara Smith, a lecturer from our own Law School. This year I was module leader of the module that talk was a part of. Things can move fast! And so has the progress of the Paris agreement. At the time of last year’s talk, Paris had just been agreed. The ratification process had not yet started. Now we are a year on; what is the situation now?

The good news is: the agreement would come into force as soon as a certain threshold number of countries had signed. And that number was reached in six months! That seems to be most unexpected. Tara gave some examples of other agreements; some took a few years, one took nine, and one was unlikely to ever come into force.

So what’s now being forced? Governments are legally required to formulate emission targets. These don’t have to be sufficient to keep global warming within 1.5°C or even 2°C, which are the key aims of the Paris agreement. They just have to be targets. And they don’t have to meet them. And then they have to formulate tighter targets every few years. Not tighter by any given amount; just tighter, even if infinitesimally so.

So how do things look? Well. Things could be a lot worse; the top speed at which countries ratified the agreement is of course a good sign. But one could argue it does not take an awful amount of political courage to ratify a toothless agreement like that. Has Paris lead to a mentality change? I can’t say I’ve seen much evidence of that. Can it still happen? Sure. Would that be early enough to keep global warming within 2°C? Well, now that is a topic we DO have evidence for. The answer is: in all likelihood, no. So if you read this and you’re expected to live a long time still: brace yourself!

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