Paris Accord : New Hope for Greener Future

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Dr. M.A. Haque
Though climate change is considered a recent phenomenon, its roots are more than 150 years old. In 1820s, French scientist Joseph Fourier was trying to understand the factors affecting Earth's temperature. Fourier realised that atmosphere was playing a crucial role. In 1861, the Irish Scientist John Tyndall demonstrated that methane and carbon dioxide could trap heat within the atmosphere while Swedish, Physicist Svante Arrhenius provided numerical estimates of temperature changes due to doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Joseph Kincer suggested in 1933 that temperature in individual cities was rising. In 1938 Guy Stewart Callendar gave evidence of 0.3°C rise in global temperatures over the previous 50 years. He suggested that the same was mainly due to CO2 release from fossil fuels. In 1961, Callendar updated his estimates for global temperatures. The current understanding matches their findings. Now there is a consensus that human activities have been affecting the climate. It is also being acknowledged that nations contributing least to the problem would be affected the most. There were typhoons in Philippines and India, droughts in Africa, threats to island nations from rising sea. The Sea level has risen by 15 cm since 1949. The reasons are obvious. While on one hand the carbon dioxide emission has increased from 14.9 Gigatonnes in 1970 to 35.6 Gigatonnes in 2015, on the other hand, the forest cover (which helps in absorbing CO2) has shrunk from 4.7 billion hectares in 1949 to 714.9 million hectares in 2015.
Recent Initiatives:
In 1988 Inter governmental Panel on ClimateChange (IPCC) was set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to prepare Assessment Reports on Climate Change and its impact based on scientific information. Five Assessment Reports have been presented by IPCC. Leaving few aberrations, the IPCC Reports have by and large established the role of human activities in bringing about Climate Change. Various meetings and Conferences have been held to resolve the issue without any success. Later, a warning was issued that if the present situation continues, average temperature of Earth may rise by 4ºC in near future. That would be catastrophic forthe earth. Consensus was reached to keep the global temperature rise to 2ºC or less through global cooperation. In this backdrop, the 21st Conference of Parties started in Paris.
Paris Developments: Initially, there were differences among the participating countries. However, on 12th December 2015, 196 nations reached a landmark Accord. Nearly every country has committed to lower the emissions of greenhouse gases to control the most drastic Climate Change. Initial demand that only developed economies could take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was sacrificed. The present accord requires action in some form from every country. United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said "This is truly a historic moment. For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change."
The historic climate accord at Paris has paved the way for leveling out the persistent increase in Carbon dioxide, CO2 emissions, which started with Industrial Revolution. The approval of text of the agreement by 196 nations will lead to reduction in emission of greenhouse gases by about 50 per cent, which can further stave off increase in atmospheric temperature by 2 degree Celsius. The Accord signals global markets to shift their investments from traditional sources of energy like coal, oil and gas to zero-CO2 energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear power. Five years ago, a similar deal was impossible. However, the situation seems to be changing. The Paris agreement after ratification by nations is to be signed in April 2016 at the United Nations in New York. Earlier, the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change summit had failed as countries could not iron out their differences. Most of them believed that Climate Change was a problem for future generations.Now the situation is different as scientific studies have confirmed that imhas already started adding to woes of the present generation itself. Flooding in Miami, droughts and water shortages in China are some of the examples of changing climate. The Paris Accord is the outcome of several factors including shifts in the domestic policies and relationships between United States and China, the two largest greenhouse gas emitters. Also, India has shown maturity in not sticking to its earlier stand of total exemption. The final Accord did not fully satisfy everyone and some developing nations have expressed their concerns. The Poorer nations wanted a legally binding provision that rich countries provide minimum of $100 billion a year to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate its impact. In the final document, $100 billion amount finds mention in the preamble but not in the legally binding part.
Future Expectations: It is expectedthat emissions will get reduced by 50 per cent if the Paris Accord is implemented. However, the national plans will vary in scope and ambition. Although every country is required to bring a plan, there is no legal requirement saying how they will reduce the emission and by how much. The crux is that the emission levels are to be cut down by all signatories. The countries will also be required to meet every five years, starting from 2020, with their updated plans to further tighten their emission levels. Every five years from 2023 onwards, the countries will publicly report on how they are cutting emissions with reference to their plans and as per a universal accounting system. Although Individual country's plans are voluntary,these plans are legally required to be monitored, verified and reported publicly. This will ensure that suitable environment is created for implementation of the Paris Accord.
India, China and the Accord: India and China have welcomed the Paris Accord. These are world's two most populous countries. Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi has hailed the Accord and tweeted that "Outcome of Paris agreement has no winners or losers. Climate justice has won and we are all working towards a greener future," Mr Prakash Javadekar, the Minister of State for Environment, said "What we have adopted is not only an agreement, but we have written a new chapter of hope in the lives of seven billion people on the planet." He praised that the Accord was based on the principles of climate justice and common but differentiated responsibilities.
China's envoy said the Accord indicated that the nations were "marching historic steps forward."Earlier, Beijing and New Delhi had different views from developed nations in the UN climate forum. This time with other developing nations, they have resisted moves to levy difficult emission-reducing obligations upon them. Also, they have got assurances of finance from rich nations. Similar issues had resulted in failures, earlier. Sharp differences among the countries have been sorted out substantially at Paris. The Accord further tries to start new market mechanism allowing CO2 reductions trade between nations. India is likely to make financial gains by trading the benefits from solar power plants, it is planning.
(The author writes on environmental issues, views expressed are his Personal e-mail:

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