The Worldwide Fight Against Climate Change Just Got Real

September 22, 2016

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Keep Hope Alive

The waters are rising, the temperatures are scorching, the permafrost isn’t so permanent, and our favorite ice cream flavors may be disappearing—so is there any reason at all to feel hopeful about fighting climate change?

We think there is. In fact, we’d say that there are about 191 reasons to feel hopeful. That’s how many countries approved the landmark agreement in Paris back in December 2015 that requires every country to fight climate change.

Want to feel even better? The whole world got together in New York this week to start turning that agreement into a legally binding reality

We’ll Always Have Paris… and New York

The Paris agreement was an act of grand persuasion and diplomacy, unequaled in the history of the United Nations.

BUT there’s a difference between approving the agreement in a fit of optimism and exuberance and ratifying it, thereby obligating your country to achieve its substantial legally binding goals.

What happened in December last year was a huge feel-great moment for the world. But ratification is where things get real. And guess what? In New York this week, things just got really real.

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Ki-moon and Momentum

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon knows all about forging agreements among parties that may seem to have little in common. Of course, now that few people (or perhaps we should say, few people outside of America) come out and say that climate change isn’t real, and most in fact acknowledge it to be the great global danger of our time, this still doesn’t easily translate to a course of action. The Paris agreement was so impressive precisely because getting 195 countries to agree on anything at all is truly miraculous.

Mr. Ban wanted to keep the momentum and optimism going, so he invited everyone to New York on September 21, right in the middle of Climate Week NYC, to push toward ratification.

Working Together for Change

Leading up to the event, there was reason to believe that his efforts would be successful. After all, President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping had already announced to the world that they would commit their countries to the Paris accord.

The fact that the world’s two biggest carbon emitters decided to work together would be big news in any context, but it was especially critical because of the particular framework of the climate deal.

For the Paris agreement to become binding, at least 55 of the parties responsible for at least 55% of global carbon emissions had to ratify it. The US and China are responsible for about 40% of global emissions.

Thanks to Mr. Ban’s prodding and an increased worldwide commitment to finally doing something (no doubt inspired by increasing examples of extreme weather all over the globe), 60 countries have now ratified the agreement, representing 48% of global emissions. Leaders of countries responsible for an additional 12% of emissions have promised to ratify it by the end of the year (when Mr. Ban will step down from his position). 

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What Now?

Once that happens, the agreement will go into effect in 30 days. What does that mean? First off, this is fantastic news, because there’s no time to lose when it comes to combating the effects of climate change. In terms of international diplomacy, which often moves at a snail’s pace, the speed with which this came together is stunning.

In terms of the deal itself, every nation was initially required to submit, and then commit to, a plan to cut carbon emissions. Each country has taken a different approach, mostly because there weren’t really any rules about how to make the cuts. But, starting in 2020, every country will be required to reconvene every five years and report on how they’re doing and present updated and more stringent plans.

Developing Countries

Many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change had little to do with the massive wave of industrialization that brought it about, and now have the fewest resources at their disposal to combat it.

That was the idea behind creating the Green Climate Fund (GCF). As part of the Paris agreement, the world’s richest countries pledged to fund the GCF at a rate of $100 billion per year by 2020. That’s a lot of money! But without it, developing countries stand an ice cream cone’s chance in an Australian heat wave of thriving in a world altered dramatically by climate change. As of September 2016, the GCF has raised $10.3 billion, including a pledge of $3 billion from the US.

Some developing countries wonder whether the ambitious fundraising goal will be met, but their survival depends on it. 

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Get to Work

Now that the world has declared its intention to rescue itself, we need to hold our leaders’ feet to the fire (or to the melting pavement, as the case may be). Sign the petition below to keep the pressure on.

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Sign The Petition for Clean Energy!