The day after I turned 30, my job put me on a plane to France to report on the historic 2015 Paris Climate Accords as part of a partnership with the United Nations. It was a momentous occasion, that felt like a pretty big accomplishment! Maybe I was succeeding at being an adult after all!
Then my Lyft driver totaled the car on the way to the airport — about a half-mile from my home, in fact. Fortunately, I still made my flight in time, although it was a little depressing when I saw the Sikh man behind me in line at TSA get flagged for a "random screening" despite that I, freshly-30-year-old-white guy, was clearly shaking and sweating with a suspiciously fast heart-rate having just gotten into a fucking car accident.
Perhaps I should have seen this all as an omen to things to come.
Though the Accords marked the first time the entire world came together to agree on something — a not-insubstantial moment in history! — the actual details of said-agreement were, erm, lackluster to say the least. After 2 weeks spent debating whether to aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C — a half-degree difference that could literally be the difference between life and death in some place — the leaders of the 195 member states of the United Nations ultimately agreed that they would "aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible." And each of them offered a non-legally-binding goal that they would "aim" to reach "as soon as possible." That's like a dinner party where everyone agrees that they will, potentially, pay their share when the bill comes. As I wrote at the time:
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?
Six years later, it turns out, everyone underpaid on their bill — except for Gambia, a West African country with a population that's less than half of the population of the greater metro area where I live. As CNN reports:
The watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analyzed the policies of 36 countries, as well as the 27-nation European Union, and found that all major economies were off track to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The countries together make up 80% of the world's emissions.
The analysis also included some low-emissions countries, and found that the Gambia was the only nation among all 37 to be "1.5 compatible." As the study only included a few smaller emitters, it's possible there are other developing countries in the world on track as well.
(On that last point, it's worth noting that Nicaragua did not participate in the Paris Agreement … because it didn't go far enough, and they were handling their own climate resiliency solutions.)
As per the 2015 agreement, all of the member-nations were supposed to submit updated climate goals this year. So basically, everyone had written, "Yeah I'll definitely get a B grade or better in the future!" But now they have a consequence-free opportunity to say, "Well that's okay, I'll get a B next time!…Maybe!"
This, to me, was the most frustrating part about Trump's insistence on leaving the Paris Climate Accord. While the move was played by him and his supporters as some major victory, it didn't actually accomplish anything, because the Accords were neither binding, nor ambitious enough to make a difference in the first place. Meanwhile, we all still live on this damn dying planet together. 194 countries came together and said they would maybe sort-of try to kill the planet a little less, and then the Trump Administration said, "WHOA! That is a huge and unfair commitment that is sapping us of resources!"
Anyway, how 'bout that IPCC report?
Not a single G20 country is in line with the Paris Agreement on climate, analysis shows [Ivana Kottasová / CNN]
Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons