Just weeks after the terror attacks of November 13, Paris once again became a focal point in world news by hosting what was arguably the most important climate conference since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, with an accord ultimately being reached by the participating nations. The conference took place just one month after that nation endured horrific terrorist attacks that shocked the world, which left some wondering if the conference would continue. The conference ended on the second weekend of December, exactly one month after the attacks, with mourners in the city quietly honoring the victims while those attending the conference hammered out the final details of an agreement.
American President Obama wanted to use this summit to take stronger action on the issue of climate change, and even flirted for a while with the idea of making the terms of the agreement legally binding, thus preventing a future president from ignoring it. It is not yet clear just how he will react to the climate accord reached at the Paris summit.
In the United States, climate change is still often considered more of a theory, and the fact that a vast majority of the scientific community around the world generally accepts that it is real is itself a source of dispute and heated debate. Climate change denial is still present in a sizable segment of the American population, including a majority of members of the Republican party, and continues to be a legitimate counterargument that rejects any notions of the urgency to take action on this issue. Some prominent Congressional members of the Republican party already tried to send a message earlier this month by holding a vote to block measures designed to limit pollution from power plants.
However, this rejection of what most of the rest of the world views as scientific fact has baffled many outside of American borders. Still, it is not just climate change deniers who are not completely happy with the terms of this accord. Many scientists themselves see problems with this new agreement, although their criticisms of it differ greatly from those of the deniers. Other noted members of the scientific community are rejoicing, and see this as a sign that the world community is finally taking the need for action on such a key issue seriously.
Yet, other scientists are not convinced, and suggest that this accord is not truly legally binding, because there is an absence of serious ramifications if a country fails to live up to the terms of the agreement. Kevin Trenberth, a scientist specializing in climate change for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, suggested that there was a lack of any concrete planning on the specifics. He said that there was much debate about whether or not to try and limit climate change to either 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees, but not enough discussion as to the specifics of how to achieve these goals. Trenberth argued that there no serious penalties, such as a carbon tax, that would keep potentially offending nations in line.
Michael Oppenheimer, an expert on climate studies at Princeton University, agreed. He stated that governments are not overly worried about the results of what will happen should they stray from the terms of this agreement, and that the focus on transparency also needs to be worked out in much greater detail. The success, or lack thereof, of this agreement will still rest with decisions made by nations and corporations. It is not guaranteed that these decisions will fall in line with the terms of the Paris accord.
Still, many other scientists have argued that the climate accord reached at the Paris summit is a positive step in the right direction. Kristy Kroeker is from the University of California in Santa Cruz, and she studies the impact of climate change on the oceans. She said that this is a plan to move forward on this critical issue, which was something that was largely absent up to this point. She acknowledges that this accord is far from complete and that there is a lot left to be done to fully address the problems, although she allowed that it is generally a positive step in the right direction, and should be viewed as such.
By Charles Bordeau
CNN: Obama: Climate agreement ‘best chance we have’ to save the planet
NPR: Scientists See U.N. Climate Accord As A Good Start, But Just A Start
NPR: Much Of The World Perplexed That Climate Debate Continues In U.S.
The Atlantic: The Republican Attempt to Derail the Paris Climate Talks
Image Courtesy of Foor & Water Watch’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License