A crucial date, or another point in a long line of failures? History will certainly judge the Paris Climate Agreement, but until then, reactions to it have generally been positive. It’s a monumental achievement, if only for being unanimously supported.

I found remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry to be highly relevant:

“For a long time we have known that climate change is real, that it’s happening now, and that unless we come together as global community – because no one country can solve the problem – we’re not going to have a chance of doing what we need to do.  It’s clear that the impacts all around the planet are beginning to manifest themselves increasingly. “

The called COP21 a “breaking of the cycle”, a cycle of half measures and empty promises. So, does this mean that the promises made here won’t be hollow?

“[T]hose of us who have been attending these things called COPs – Conference of the Parties – for many years have recognized that half-measures, empty promises, and intransigent positions which we have seen in the past at these events were just not going to cut it.  They weren’t going to get the job done. So we had to come here and break that cycle.”

In his view, this binding agreement is different and successful because it also takes into consideration the financial part of the deal.

“I think that we’ve reached an agreement here that is the strongest, most ambitious global climate change agreement ever negotiated.  And many of us here in Paris have recognized that we were going to have to do that in order to send a signal to the marketplace that can change the direction that the world is on with respect to dependency on carbon fossil fuels. “

The very fact that the US Secretary of State was in Paris, working intensively and making himself available for comment basically every day after negotiations sent a very clear signal, and one that personally I wasn’t expecting – the US is serious about this. The US basically killed the Kyoto Protocol, but unless I’m missing something, they’re damn serious about making Paris work. This was also highlighted by Kerry, as he received a question about domestic opposition. Earlier this week, Senator James Inhofe vowed to block every effort that the US made in Paris. Kerry commented:

“Well, it’s already happening.  I have news for Senator Inhofe.  The United States of America has already reduced our emissions more than any other country in the world under President Obama’s plans.[..] o I think that – I regret to say Senator Inhofe is just wrong.  This has to happen and I believe this will continue, because I don’t – I just personally do not believe that any person who doesn’t understand the science and isn’t prepared to do for the next generations what we did here today and follow through on it cannot and will not be elected president of the United States.  It’s that simple.”

He even went on to say that this agreement received much more backing than he’d expected.

“Now in truth, I didn’t anticipate 186 countries.  I thought we’d be doing great if we hit 100 or somewhere – this far surpassed that.  But because we got together and it became serious as a result for a lot of countries, and because you had a developing country and somebody who had been leading the efforts against us in Copenhagen, that opened up the door.  And it was a sea change.”

But not everyone was so happy about the results. Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo stated that this “won’t dig us out of the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep”.

“The deal sets out the objective of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, but the emissions targets on the table take us closer to 3 degrees. That’s a critical problem, but it’s one with a solution. Renewable energy is already doing heavy-lifting across the globe, but now its moment must come. It’s the only technology mentioned in the Paris Agreement. There’s a yawning gap in this deal, but it can be bridged by clean technology. We’re in a race between the roll-out of renewables and rising temperatures, and the Paris Agreement could give renewables a vital boost. The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned.”

He also made a very important point: it’s not the time to celebrate our triumph – it’s time to start working.

“This is not a moment for triumphalism given the lives that have been lost already as a result of climate impacts, and the lives that are on the precipice as temperatures rise. This is a time for urgent action. The climate clock is ticking and the window of opportunity is closing fast.”

There are also some things which aren’t encouraging about the pact. The agreement itself is a Treaty under international law, which makes it legally binding. However, the national targets (NDCs), are not. This was one of the things basically veto-ed down by the US – they wouldn’t be a part of the pact without this.

Bill McKibben, Co-founder of 350.org argued that the change is pushed so far down the line that the damage will already be done by the time we transition to a carbon-free economy:

“Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry. This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

But even so, the solution has been praised. The B Team, a group of eminent business and civil society leaders praised the agreement. Sir Richard Branson, B-team co-founder and founder of Virgin, stated:

“Today, the course of history has shifted.  Paris will be remembered for generations as a watershed moment when the people of the world came together and set us on a pathway to net-zero emissions, economic justice and shared prosperity.  We have an opportunity to build a new economy, and business is poised to help make it happen. The “Paris effect” will ensure the economy of the future is driven by clean energy.”

For better or for worse, this is the agreement will have – and it has every change of becoming more ambitious. We can all play our tiny part and start making a difference. As said above, we have a chance to save the planet, but the window is closing fast.

Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!

Like us on Facebook