Columns, Opinion

RENNER: Despite opposition, UN Paris Agreement step forward in fighting climate change

On Earth Day Friday, 175 world leaders and United Nations Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio met up in New York to do some good for our planet. They gathered to sign the Paris Agreement, a 32-page contract that calls for all nations to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions, The Guardian reported.

This lofty yet unspecific goal becomes a precise yet confusing goal if you read the actual document. Essentially, the ultimate objective is to help secure our future by, in part, “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.” It also states the sobering reality that we should start “increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.” If only the UN had drafted this sooner.

DiCaprio said what a lot of us are thinking in his address to the UN before the signing took place.

“We can congratulate each other today, but it will mean absolutely nothing if the world’s leaders gathered here go home and do nothing,” he said, according to ABC News.

So what exactly are they going to do?

Above all else, they’re going to be accountable. The nationally determined contributions of greenhouse gas that each party is permitted to release are now to be determined by each individual country, reported on every five years and made more “ambitious” over time.

In addition to this, the agreement stresses over and over again the importance of transparency, education and acknowledgement. It calls for developed nations to financially aid developing ones; science and technology organizations to provide education and training; and a committee to be made that will include representatives from all countries and enforce these objectives.

However, there is currently no international law set in place to enforce any of this, and no consequences to be felt if it doesn’t get done. Rather, there will simply be a “name and encourage” plan, as Janos Pasztor, the UN assistant secretary-general, told CBS News. This may be a weak system of enforcement, but it’s not bad.

One of the biggest and most unfortunate struggles environment visionaries face is simply getting people to acknowledge them. In the United States, we have an entire political party that essentially denies that there is any issue. As Donald Trump once tweeted, “Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!”

The little bit of agenda that our current president has been able to push has been brutally attacked by opposition. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama paid out $500 million to the Green Climate Fund as the first installment of his climate initiative.

Numerous media outlets, including The Daily Caller, soon used his actions to attack climate change in general, by saying this would inherently hurt poor Americans “because the lowest-income U.S. households spend roughly 35 percent of their annual income on energy [in 2011], while the highest income households spent less than 3 percent of their income on energy.”

That’s like saying two minus one is smaller than three minus one.

Even if you think the Paris Agreement is a bunch of meaningless words, it’s still starting a conversation that many people, including representatives from 175 different nations, would not have even taken part in before. If anything, it will give that one person, or that one group of people who are passionate about mitigating our contribution to global warming, a chance to be heard.

And if it does more than that, or accomplishes even just a small portion of the goals it outlines, we are better off because of it.

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  1. Global Warming is a myth