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This year’s Earth Day (April 22, 2016) coincides with the ceremony of the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the headquarters of the United Nations (UN) in New York

This year’s Earth Day (April 22, 2016) coincides with the ceremony of the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the headquarters of the United Nations (UN) in New York

We all are hearing about “Paris Agreement” in the news. Let us understand what this is all about.

What is climate change?

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines climate change as “statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or its variability persisting for an extended period, typically decades or longer”. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings or persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of atmosphere or in the land use.

The planet’s climate has constantly been changing over geological time. The global average temperature today is about 15C, though geological evidence suggests it has been much higher and lower in the past.

However, the current period of warming is occurring more rapidly than many past events. The concern is that the natural fluctuation, or variability, is being overtaken by a rapid human-induced warming that has serious implications for the stability of the planet’s climate.

What is the evidence of warming?

  • The average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by about 0.8C (1.4F) in the last 100 years. . About 0.6C (1.0F) of this warming occurred in the last three decades.
  • Satellite data shows an average increase in global sea levels of some 3mm per year in recent decades. A large proportion of the change in sea level is accounted for by the thermal expansion of seawater. As seawater warms up, the molecules become less densely packed, causing an increase in the volume of the ocean.
  • The melting of mountain glaciers and the retreat of polar ice sheets are also important contributors. Most glaciers in temperate regions of the world and along the Antarctic Peninsula are in retreat. The Greenland Ice Sheet has experienced record melting in recent years.

Paris agreement

How much will temperatures rise in future?

In its 2013 assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast a range of possible scenarios based on computer modelling. But most simulations indicate that global surface temperature change by the end of the 21st Century is likely to exceed 1.5C, relative to 1850.

A threshold of 2C is generally regarded as the gateway to dangerous warming.

What is Paris Agreement and what does it deals with? Is it legally binding?

The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.

The purpose is to “pursue efforts” to limit warming global average temperature to a rise “well below” 1.5C (3.6F) compared to pre-industrial levels

The important clauses of Paris agreement are:

Paris agreement1

The agreement is legally binding except the emission targets. These will be determined by nations themselves. Within the agreement the targets are known as Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs). To date, 187 countries have submitted their INDCs. The contributions should be reported every five years and are to be registered by the UNFCCC Secretariat. Countries can cooperate and pool their nationally determined contributions.

These are not binding as a matter of international law, as they lack the specificity, normative character, or obligatory language necessary to create binding norms. Furthermore, there will be no mechanism to force a country to set a target in their NDC by a specific date and no enforcement if a set target in an NDC is not met. There will be only a “name and shame” system.

How soon could the Paris Agreement become law?

The signing ceremony on Friday is only an intermediate step. After, countries will still have to present formal ratification documents, and the Paris Agreement will not take effect until 55 countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions have done so.

The deadline for countries to sign the Paris Agreement is April 21, 2017. That’s one year from Friday.

Which countries are the key players in climate change? Is it a diplomacy or the countries are actually working?

Key PlayerContribution to greenhouse gas emission (Source: carbon brief)
Status Report
China24%Action Plan
Plan to have carbon dioxide emissions reach a decline “around 2030,”
By 2030, 20 percent of energy in China to come from non fossil fuel sources
Recent commitment to “strictly controlling public investment flowing into projects with high pollution and carbon emissions both domestically and internationally.”
Pledge to set up a national market for greenhouse gas quotas by 2017, commonly called a “cap and trade” system.
Reality bites
Climate experts see this as a significant promise, since state-owned enterprises are by far the biggest consumers of coal, and because state-owned enterprises, backed by state loans, are building dozens of coal-fired power plants abroad. But those companies are deeply embedded in the Communist Party system, and officials trying to control them often encounter obstacles.
United States
12%
Action Plan
Pledge to cut greenhouse gas pollution between 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
United States halted new coal leases on federal land
Reality bites
Its ability to meet that goal was thrown into question in February, when the Supreme Court unexpectedly put a hold on implementing a major environmental regulation aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Now it remains in limbo until all legal challenges have been resolved, which is likely to take at least another year.
The presidential election creates another question mark for the United States’ Paris commitment. The leading Republican candidates, Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, both question the established science of human-caused climate change and have forcefully criticized the Paris accord. Both Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, have vowed to support and strengthen Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, which include greater use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
EU
9%Action Plan
The European Union’s pledge to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030.
The 28-nation block also gives the largest amount of money to poorer countries to prepare for and deal with climate change.
Reality Bites
The region’s goals use 1990 as the baseline, giving it a running start (the bloc is on track to easily beat a target of cutting emissions by 20 percent by the end of this decade). But much has changed.
Europe’s leadership is currently divided over a migration crisis and distracted by a British threat to leave the Union. There is also the prospect the Eurozone still could break up because of the situation in Greece.
Member states still must reach consensus in important areas on climate policies. They include how to reform and strengthen their emissions trading system for industry and utilities. That decision could be held up by countries like Poland that rely on coal for their power, and by lobbying from the steel sector and other energy-intensive industries.
India6%Action Plan
Reduce India’s emissions intensity per unit of GDP 33 percent to 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2030
To achieve “about” 40 percent installed electric power capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2030; Goal of having 100 gigawatts of solar and 75 gigawatts of electric power from other renewable sources by 2022. India has imposed a Rs. 200 (approximately $3.20) per ton tax on
coal that is going directly to renewables and has cut subsidies and raised taxes on oil and gasoline.
To create an additional “carbon sink” of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent through afforestation by 2030
Reality Bites
India still seems to place undue reliance on foreign government contributions to a UN “Green Climate Fund” to fund its clean energy needs. Finance remains a issue.
Brazil6%Action Plan
Plan to reduce her country’s emissions 43 percent from 2005 levels by 2030
Sweeping efforts to slow deforestation for agriculture, the chief contributor to Brazil’s substantial carbon footprint
Reality Bites
With the country in the worst economic downturn in 25 years, those proposals are likely to face severe political headwinds. The economic downturn also means the government is likely to lack the funds to invest in new renewable energy sources.
Russia5%
Action Plan
Yet to make any binding pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Reality Bites
The biggest challenge Russia faces is modernizing its economy. Progress on that front could lead to lower emissions as industries adopt newer technologies.

What are the challenges or reality bites under the Paris agreement?

  • The signing ceremony is the first step in ensuring that the agreement enters into force as soon as possible. It will take effect 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification or acceptance with the secretary general.
  • It is going to be a very tall order for the world to deliver a package of measures that will result in limiting global temperature rise to “well below” 2C (3.6F), let alone 1.5C, above pre-industrial levels. Further the NDC are insufficient to prevent global temperatures from rising beyond 2C.
  • Finance departments of governments around the globe are going to have to put decarbonisation at the heart of their fiscal policies. Whenever there have been wobbles in economic activity, green policies have either been put on the back burner, diluted, ignored or removed from statute books altogether.
  • There will have to be a paradigm shift in the philosophy of political parties. Lip service and nods, accompanied with a little tinkering will not be enough to deliver the aims of the Paris Agreement.

For India, climate change is a slow-moving disaster. How? What can be done by “us”?

No other major country is likely to suffer more than India. India is already enduring summers that melt roads and kill people. Some 60 percent of its population makes its living from agriculture, which will be particularly affected. Most farmers will be hit by drought while some will be flooded. A large portion of the Indian population lives in coastal areas and low-lying islands. These areas will be subject to more and deeper flooding and consequent population displacement. Northern India is dependent in large part on runoff from glaciers that are shrinking in the face of climate change. Already, rampant disease vectors are increasing in scope and deadliness.

First, we must admit that climate change is everyone’s problem. No agency, government, or scientist can “fix it” for us. We are all in this together. Here is what we can do:

  • Plant deciduous trees on the sunny side of your house
  • Plan ahead-Do several errands in a single trip
  • Walk or bike
  • Clean out the junk in the trunk. Lighter cars get better mileage
  • Make sure your engine is properly tuned. Keep your tires properly inflated
  • Carpool or ride the school bus. Support public transportation.
  • Conserve water and electricity. Go for clean energy.
  • Check and repair weather stripping on doors and windows
  • Adjust your clothing instead of thermostats
  • Keep furnace and AC filters clean
  • Consider closing off unused rooms
  • Install insulated drapes
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