NOTE: This guest post was written by Emily Livaudais. Emily is a Junior at Seton Hall University, studying Diplomacy and International Relations along with Broadcast Journalism. Originally from St. Louis, MO, Emily loves traveling and experiences different cultures. Emily is fluent in English and is working toward fluency in Mandarin. She has worked with refugees in St. Louis helping them to pass the US citizenship exam. Emily spent the summer of 2015 studying at Beijing University, and she also taught English in Guangzhou. Emily is the interview producer for The Global Current and a member of the Seton Hall College Republicans. She hopes to someday travel the world as a reporter or documentary filmmaker drawing attention to human rights and social issues around the world. The column below draws from Emily’s observations attending a talk sponsored by the Women’s Foreign Policy Group and the Institute of International Education.
Coral Davenport, Energy and Environment correspondent for the New York Times, covered the recent Paris climate change talks. When the gavel came down ending the conference, Coral says, all 196 parties broke into cheering. Some people even began to cry, demonstrating how hopeful people are that this agreement will finally resolve the issues surrounding climate change. However, Coral mentions that this reaction is similar to the celebration following the Kyoto Convention in 1997 which did not yield significant results. While the conference was important, she’s not too convinced that it produced a historic agreement.
2015 proved to be an exciting year. The United Nations announced a new set of development goals and held talks months later for the 21st UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), otherwise known as COP21. The UNFCCC began with the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, and requires nations to reconvene to discuss measures to combat human-caused climate change.
Given the history of previous COP gatherings, it is okay to be suspicious of whether the Paris Agreement will actually do anything for climate change. The Kyoto Protocol in 1997, for example, created a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but left out developing countries such as China and India who are major emission contributors. And also the U.S.’s failure to ratify resulted in the Kyoto Protocol being largely unsuccessful. COP21 proved to be a serious attempt to learn from past mistakes to finally put the world on the track of reducing carbon emissions.
The Paris Agreement is the first universal agreement to come out of a COP talk. Including both developed and developing countries ensures that everyone is playing a role in combating climate change. Not everyone is held to equal standards, but at least everyone is expected to reduce emissions regardless of their developmental stage, which is an improvement.
Another change is the legally binding hybrid design which will eliminate the issue of states requiring parliamentary approval. The agreement made items of process, such as time tables, legally binding. For example, countries are legally bound to reconvene in 2020 with a new plan which improves upon the previous plan. However, countries are not legally bound to abide by their own promises to cut emissions.
Okay, so having states not legally bound to follow the plan to cut emissions sounds like it is just set up for failure, but the hope is that this will not be the case. Transparency is a legally binding part of the agreement, meaning that information regarding emissions and the plans must be easily accessible by the media and the public. This gives the public and the media a key role in ensuring the success of the plan. If states are not accountable to their own plans, then pressure both from domestic audiences and from peers will hold them to it. This is important especially for major powers like the U.S. and China. If certain states ignore the terms of the Paris Agreement, then they would certainly lose some credibility when they try to enforce other agreements in other areas.
A third issue being tackled by COP21 is migration. Climate change is resulting in higher ocean levels which is displacing many people near the coastline. It is projected for there to be 50-60 million refugees by midcentury from the effects of rising water levels alone. There are more details to be worked out about climate change and migration, but it is an important topic which needed to be brought up. It is expected to be further discussed in forthcoming conferences.
One flaw of the Paris Agreement is absence of specific financing provisions. It is unclear where financing will come from to assist states with reaching their goals according to their individualized plans. It appears now that developing countries will not be receiving enough money to reach their goals.
It is unclear whether the Paris Agreement will be the historic agreement which will finally show improvements in tackling climate change. It will take time to see the effects. What is known is that the agreement was well thought-out and has taken into consideration previous mistakes. This could be just another stepping stone to reaching the perfect agreement.