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The Paris Agreement: Bureaucracy and the Failure of Climate Change Policy

Updated on February 1, 2016

The United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) is an international environmental treaty founded at the Earth Summit in 1992 that came into force in 1994. It's purpose is to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human activity) interference with the climate system. The framework sets no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. The framework only outlines how specific international treaties (called "protocols" or "Agreements") may be 'negotiated' to set binding limits on greenhouse gases.

Countries have met every year since 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto gathering established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through the period 2008-2012.The 2010 Cancun Agreements state that future global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. The Kyoto Protocol was amended in 2012 to include the period 2013-2020 in the Doha Amendment which never came into force as all parties did not ratify it like the U.S. and Canada.

The U.S. refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol or Doha Agreement because there were no provisions in the treaty for developing countries who are also high emitters- only developed countries. Canada withdrew from the protocol in 2011, because it would not pay any penalties that would see wealth transfers out of the country. Both the U.S. and Canada have been looking at making voluntary emission reductions outside any agreement which will most likely be considerably less and delayed than the protocol goals expect. Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakstan expressed they will likely withdraw from the that protocol as well. Countries adopted a new protocol and entitled it the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

In 2015, all 196 parties to the convention then came together for the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. The parties adopted the Paris Agreement with the goal to limit global warming to less than 2 Degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Paris Agreement is to be signed in 2016 and will enter into force upon ratification by 55 countries representing over 55% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Parties to the conventions have agreed to other agreements as well including the Bali Action Plan of 2007 that states that Parties have agreed to "quantified emission limitation and reduction" objectives as well as reasonable mitigation action plans. The Coppenhagen Accord of 2009, states that global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F).This may be strengthened in 2015 with a target to limit warming to below 1.5 °C. The Cancun Agreement resulted in developed and developing countries submitting mitigation plans to the UNFCCC. These plans are compiled with those made as part of the Bali Action Plan.

National Geographic recently wrote, "Since 1992, when the world’s nations agreed at Rio de Janeiro to avoid 'dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,' they’ve met 20 times without moving the needle on carbon emissions. In that interval we’ve added almost as much carbon to the atmosphere as we did in the previous century."

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Road Blocks

It is very true, world leaders have accomplished little more than have a few lunches, visit with their comrades and create a lose policy with no teeth that took two weeks past schedule to obtain consensus. U.S. Climate Change Envoy, Todd Stern expressed the major challenge in reaching consensus is the fact that climate policy and economics are so intertwined that it makes countries nervous to discuss it because of the potential risk to economic growth and development. Because the proceedings are governed by consensus, small groups of countries often block progress. In short, some countries really are not willing to sacrifice money for change, for the saving of our planet. Big business connected to government and country representatives with business interests and investments do not want 'industry' to take the full blame for historical CO2 emissions pollution which truly does originate with industrialization after all.

In the 20 years of negotiations and meetings, carbon emissions have not been yet reduced. That is 20 years further contributing to global warming and climate change without clear mitigation action plans to actually solve it. It is 20 years of relative bureaucracy and inaction. The Paris Agreement is not due to take force until 2020 whereas countries will be expected to gradually reduce emissions by about 10% per year to reach zero emissions per country by 2030. The agreement also does not provide any legal sanctions to offending countries for not meeting the reduction goal. In fact, none of the international agreements have any legally binding requirements or penalties. Many believe the largest emitters like China and India will not be able to meet these goals because the only pressure put on countries to comply is the 'naming and shaming' system. The only thing a polluting country risks losing, is perhaps, a little reputation at the U.N.

Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation is the number one global risk in terms of impact.

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Failure

The world's poor, elderly and workers who are at greatest risk from climate change effects were not given special provision in the treaty but remain the most vulnerable. A key problem with the Paris Agreement is that it would allow transition away from fossil fuels to drag out so long that severe climate damage and catastrophe would take place long before any significant reduction could be realistically achieved in our adult lifetimes. The bottom line...real industrial change and emission reductions will likely not take place in our lifetimes but perhaps in our grand children's lifetime. By that time, the impacts of severe climate change, as we are now seeing all over the globe with droughts, water stress and food shortages, will have already affected massive casualties and irreversible damage to our world.

The truth? They can't stop the impacts of climate change in any efficient or timely manner. Bureaucracy and industry are road blocks to any real progress. Canada after a decade of rule under the Conservative Party has been left in the dark so long on climate change to the point scientists were muzzled, funding, programs, monitoring and environmental studies cut and slashed. Libraries and research were shut down and thousands of scientists fired in support of plausible deniability. Ignorance is apparently bliss and scapegoat. Even the Minister of Science was terminated.

The new Liberal government has only reinstated high level science positions, there has been no restoration of scientific programs services or rehiring of scientists as yet. The Liberal Government is scrambling to make up for lost time. There exists a loose framework of mostly climate policies and studies in progress but no tangible mitigation action plans on drought, water stress, resource shortages, temperature increases and severe climate change yet. There is a short list of some initial investments and subsidies for alternative energies, emergency preparedness and warning systems.

High and increasing CO2 levels are the key factor causing climate change. According to some studies, stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations would require anthropogenic CO2 emissions to be reduced by 80% relative to the peak emissions level.An 80% reduction in emissions would stabilize CO2 concentrations for around a century, but even greater reductions would be required beyond this.Other research has found that, after leaving room for emissions for food production for 9 billion people and to keep the global temperature rise below 2 °C, emissions from energy production and transport will have to peak almost immediately in the developed world and decline at 10% per year until zero emissions are reached around 2030. In developing countries energy and transport emissions would have to peak by 2025 and then decline similarly.

There presently exists no national compliance rules, regulations or sustainability laws that will quickly enforce transitions and change upon industry and away from fossil fuels in time to make any real immediate difference in CO2 atmospheric levels. Canada does not have a specific implementable national plan of action to reduce it either. The Paris Agreement was supposed to be that global savior and has proven to be a fail for us all. Global warming and climate change conditions will, therefore, unfortunately continue. There are no other global contingency plans. For Canadian citizens, the website on environment and climate change recommends you have a plan and an emergency kit. In this case, please immediately refer to my articles, "Thirsty for Answers: Preparing for Climate Change in Canada" and "911: Emergency Preparedness for Climate Change.".

Are you prepared for the effects of climate change?

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    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 2 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

      I'm really disappointed the United States dropped out of the Paris agreement. It is voluntary but climate change is real and some are treating it like the threat it really is!