It was a long time coming, but global leaders of 195 countries have finally created the most comprehensive, legally binding climate deal the world has ever seen. The agreement was the culmination of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) meeting hosted in Paris.
The biggest goal of the pact is to limit the warming on Earth to 2 degrees Celsius compared to the average temps since the Industrial Revolution in order to minimize some of the most devastating effects of climate change. This is meant to be accomplished by investing in sustainable technologies and drastically reducing the amount of pollution put into the environment by humans.
While this number sounds rather minuscule to some (after all, temperatures vary by more than that on any given day), the small increase will have devastating effects on small island nations that cannot endure the amounts that sea levels are expected to rise due to melting polar ice. While 2 degrees is the official deal, there is an extended — albeit unofficial — goal to cap the rise at 1.5 degrees in order to protect these vulnerable nations.
One of the areas that will bring about the most change to the average person's daily life is the goal of getting off using fossil fuels by 2050. This will mean an incredible investment into powering electrical grids without coal or natural gas, on which most of the developed world is dependent. While it's not incredibly likely that all emissions will cease by this point in time, a combination of reduced emissions and means of trapping carbon pollution will hopefully combine to have a net zero effect, with a total elimination of fossil fuels by the end of the century.
Another key element of this deal that countries will review their progress every five years in order to see how far they've come and identify areas that can be improved. This agreement is not "one and done" by any stretch of the imagination, and will hopefully encourage countries to become more aggressive in combatting the effects of climate change.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this agreement is how so many countries with diverse needs and carbon footprints were able to look at the science, understand what is at stake, and come together to decide on real change.
Of course, there have been some concerns that the deal that has been struck might not be as strong as its advocates have hoped. While the agreement essentially tells countries to meet the goals or else, there really isn't an "or else" that has been stipulated. There aren't any formal ways to regulate who is or isn't working toward their pledges and even if there were, there aren't any meaningful punishments. This will hopefully be remedied in future revisions of the agreement.
There is also concern that the aid that has been raised to help out the poorest nations that don't have much of a carbon footprint themselves, but are negatively affected by the downstream effects of pollution from larger, industrialized countries won't be enough to make up for the loss they have experienced.
While the agreement is a distinct move forward toward progress and preserving the Earth, there is still much work to be done. Let's all band together and do what we can to help meet our goals.
Cover image: Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock