For the first time in history, representatives of 195 nations agreed to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Rejoice! Hooray! The world is saved!
Well. Sort of. Ish. For now.
The so-called "Paris Agreement" was signed into effect Saturday evening, Dec. 12, 2015, after two weeks of grueling negotiations (and technically one day after what was supposed to have been the end of the Conference of the Parties, but that's OK).
It is a landmark step in slowing the effects of climate change across the globe. The mere fact that 195 nations actually came together and agreed on something is a pretty remarkable feat in itself, especially considering that the last 20 times the United Nations tried to get together to address global warming, all ended in resounding shrugs.
While the historical importance of this cooperation is certainly worth celebrating, it's also an easy distraction from the more ... lackluster aspects of the climate deal.
Imagine those 195 nations involved in the agreement are 195 friends who all went out for dinner one night.
Now imagine the nightmare of trying to split the bill 195 ways. The Democratic Republic of the Congo doesn't want to go in on the $300 bottle of wine that the United States bought for the table. And the Marshall Islands had two more pieces of calamari than Brazil did, so Brazil wants them to pay the difference. Then, of course, there's Monaco, who only got a salad and yes OK paid for exactly what they ate plus a stingy tip, but they didn't factor in the tax and everyone else wants them to split the cost of the appetizers, too. And we haven't even gotten started on entrees yet!
Let's just say there was a lot of compromise involved. But hey, at least everyone had a good time, right?
For example, there was a whole lotta hemming and hawing about the difference between a 1.5° and 2°C global temperature increase.
We know the overall climate is warming and we need to stop it before it gets worse. But there's some disagreement on what "worse" means, exactly.
The general consensus has been that 2 degrees Celsius is the cutoff for rising global temperatures by the end of the century. Any hotter than that, and it gets increasingly difficult to predict just how unpredictable the ecological damage could be. Also, 2 degrees seemed like a pretty attainable goal for most countries.
There are others, however, who were pushing to cap the rise at 1.5 degrees. And while that half-degree might seem like splitting hairs, there are some parts of the world where it could be the difference between life and death.
The result of all this back-and-forth? The global temperature increase will be capped at ... um ... well, we're gonna cap the global temperature increase.
Basically, every country gets to set its own limits for greenhouse gas emissions. These limits will be publicly available through the UN website so all nations can be held to proper public scrutiny.
Unfortunately, there's not really any requirement for these emission reductions other than "less than what we're doing now." Amid the fancy legalese of the formal agreement, it actually says: "Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" (emphasis mine).
That's remarkably vague and noncommittal, especially for a legally binding contract. But the parties will reconvene every five years to review their progress and maybe-possibly increase those limits. So that's something?
The upside of the Paris Agreement: Everyone agrees that we need to take climate action.
Even if specific action is still left to the discretion of each nation, this is a big move in the right direction.
While the issue of global warming is hardly "solved" and we're not any closer to saving the planet once and for all (if such a thing is even possible), at least we acknowledge there's a problem, and we're committing to fix it.
Yes, there are some changes that will happen in your country and some things that might be integrated into your day-to-day lives. But you might not even notice them, and they might not be enough to make a difference.
That might seem like cold comfort. But it all depends on what we do from here on out.
So let's pledge as individuals to embrace climate-conscious lives whenever possible.
Vote with your dollars and go green when you can. You don't have to buy solar panels for your home — just pay attention to what you recycle. Walk, bike, or carpool when you can (and maybe next time you buy a car, aim for electric). Be aware of the world as you move through it, and consider the impact that actions might have on the future of our planet. And whenever there's an option that involves less fossil fuels, I implore you to take it.
That might be as vague and noncommittal as the Paris Agreement. But everything has to start somewhere.
Let's get started.