On Saturday, representatives of 196 nations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) approved an agreement that would cut greenhouse gas/carbon emissions in order to limit the rise of the global average temperature in the 21st century to below 2 degrees centigrade. Under the agreement, carbon emissions would peak between 2010 and 2020 then significantly decline.
The cuts in emissions under the agreement will be achieved by countries “decarbonizing” their energy sources by transitioning away from burning fossil fuels to clean energy sources, like renewables and nuclear power. Developed countries will create a $100 billion fund to help less-developed countries decarbonize.
Though parts of the agreement like the decarbonizing fund are legally binding, the actual emissions targets – called the Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs) – will be determined by each nation individually. Not surprisingly, this has left many environmentalists criticizing the deal for not going far enough. Until such time as clean energy becomes more efficient and ubiquitous, countries will rely on fossil fuel energy to maintain and grow their economies.
Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen called the agreement worthless, saying “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
Hansen appears to be correct as far as the United States – the second largest carbon emitter in the world behind China – is concerned. Leading members of Congress such as Senator James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, have labeled the agreement a non-starter.
Senator Inhofe made it clear that not only will the Obama Administration not find cooperation for the voluntary emission targets, but that the entire premise of the agreement is unacceptable, saying “The news remains the same. This agreement is no more binding than any other ‘agreement’ from any Conference of the Parties over the last 21 years. Senate leadership has already been outspoken in its positions that the United States is not legally bound to any agreement setting emissions targets or any financial commitment to it without approval by Congress.”
Both the Senate and House Republican leadership oppose cutting carbon emissions on economic grounds, with many questioning whether climate change is even real and/or influenced by human activity. With such congressional opposition and meager legal power to stand on, it looks like the Paris Agreement is going nowhere in America.