The Paris Agreement on climate change marks the first time nearly 200 countries acknowledge that human activity has a negative impact on the environment and that, if the same course of action is followed, the effects will be devastating due to a rise in sea levels.
The accord is flawed and could have been better, but it is hard to reach consensus among nations with such a broad range of geographical, population, economic and development characteristics, as is the case with large countries like India ‒ who see the problem as a matter of economic growth ‒ and the islands in the ocean which may disappear as glaciers melt and sea levels rise.
In 1988, it was revealed that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels created a “greenhouse effect” that raised the planet’s temperature, wreaking havoc on the weather. At the 1997 Kyoto meeting in Japan, only developed nations agreed to reduce emissions, and, in 2009, the meeting held in Copenhagen, Denmark, ended in disorder and disagreement. This time around, the recent weather phenomena were surely an incentive to reach an accord where it never existed before.
Specifically, countries agreed to work individually to prevent global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above what it was before the industrial era. According to scientists, passing this mark would be a point of no return. The problem is that, on this point and others in the agreement, everything depends on the will of each nation. That is where it gets complicated.
For instance, in the U.S, one of the main polluters, a majority of Congress disputes the scientific data that links climate change to gas emissions. A presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, has even compared today’s scientists to those in Galileo’s time who argued that the Sun revolved around the Earth.
In order to reduce gas emissions, the support of the industrial sector is crucial. However, it is unlikely that they will lower their usage while oil prices remain low. A deterrent would be to charge a fee per ton of gas emitted, but there is no support for such a measure.
Sometimes, just being able to meet is a step forward; admitting that there is a shared threat and a need to take action. We hope that the Paris Agreement is an auspicious start.