The Paris agreement on climate change has been reached, although not yet voted upon as of this writing, in Paris at COP21. This document offers hope for a world that has long awaited a global agreement to address climate change. Success in Paris can largely be credited to the visionary Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which allows each country to negotiate its own commitments within the context of their own political realities.
In the U.S., for example, our Senate would not ratify an international climate treaty due to the number of Republican senators who either deny that climate change is occurring or doubt that humans are responsible. President Obama, however, was able to commit our nation through EPA regulatory authority to a 26-28 percent reduction from 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2025. Although the INDC targets are not legally binding, the accounting is.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was created at the 1992 "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro. The ultimate aim of the UNFCCC is "...preventing dangerous human interference with the climate system." The annual Conference of Parties, or "COP"--like the one held the past two weeks here in Paris--serves as the "supreme body" of the Convention with the "highest decision-making authority."
In the two-plus decades since Rio, member parties have wrangled and promoted self interests without arriving at a final agreement. In fact, each COP has done little more than kick the can down the road to the next conference.
Not today; COP21 can declare success in Paris!
I participated in my first COP back in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen. Many expected to witness the adoption of a post-Kyoto Protocol global climate agreement in Copenhagen, which was dubbed "Hopenhagen" for the event. The Bali Roadmap, after all, adopted two years prior at COP13 had presumably charted the path to success in Copenhagen. In the end, negotiators would merely agree to "take note" of what came to be known as the Copenhagen Accord. I must admit that I've watched with frustration as each COP closed with limited visible outcomes. Since Copenhagen, though, all roads have led to Paris.
The contrasts between Copenhagen and Paris could not be more stark. In Copenhagen, I stood in frigid temperatures and falling snow for more than five hours to receive my UN credentials to enter the Bella Center. More than 40,000 individuals had been accredited for a venue that could accommodate only 15,000, and thousands were literally left out in the cold.
In Paris, temperatures have been moderate, and there has been much sunshine during the two-week COP. In another contrast to Copenhagen, the UN issued limited accreditations, ensuring that all who received credentials would gain entry to Le Bourget, the official summit venue.
Copenhagen hosted the then-largest gathering of world leaders outside the UN in New York. These leaders arrived during the closing high-level segment of the COP to personally forge an agreement and -- hopefully -- put their signatures on an historic document. The opening of COP21 in Paris, on the other hand, hosted the largest one-day gathering of world leaders ever, with negotiators subsequently instructed to "get the job done," which they did.
In terms of attendance, more than 100,000 people converged on Copenhagen with hopes of witnessing a meaningful post-Kyoto Protocol climate agreement. A festive atmosphere permeated the city as thousands demonstrated in the streets. Here in Paris, the voice of civil society has largely been silent in in the streets of Paris due to a declared state of emergency in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks. However, I just returned from a massive "permitted" peaceful demonstration in which a "Red Line of Climate Injustice" has been unfurled (more on that in a separate post I am writing now). Parisians can be credited with reclaiming the "City of Lights" from the terrorists, and the city streets and cafes feel essentially normal, with little outward evidence of the horrific acts of November 13.
At a press conference earlier in the week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the INDCs put forth collectively by the UNFCCC member parties are not enough to keep our world from warming beyond 2oC. However, the accepted text envisions holding our planetary fever at 1.5oC. With the Paris agreement we have taken our first global baby-step toward tackling the civilization-challenging issue of climate change.
Now, we must stand up as a global society and walk into the future, recognizing both the challenges of weaning ourselves from fossil fuels and the extraordinary opportunities of transitioning to a sustainable future.
The Paris agreement agreed to today is meaningful gift to our children and as-yet unborn generations.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.