Paris Agreement: What We Need to Know

We Paved Paradise. Written by Justin Joyas for SubSelfie.com

With updates from Bam Alegre

Finally after weeks of discussion in Paris and decades of international disagreements, representatives from 195 nations have created the Paris Agreement at the United Nations climate change talks in France. This agreement is historic because it is universal — all developed and developing countries will follow its rules and regulations. This is the concrete commitment of these countries that they want to preserve the planet by ending the reliance of their economies on fossil fuels.

All countries will need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global temperatures from rising to 2 degrees Celsius. The scientific community believes humanity must avoid this to prevent the worst effects of climate change: stronger storms, hotter droughts, sea level rise and extinction events.

This deal will also promote the use of trillions of dollars to adapt to climate change. These include technologies such as sea walls, soil management (similar to what lumads use) and renewable energy sources. Starting in 2020, developed countries should also send an annual budget of US$ 100 billion to developing countries to achieve this aim. The goal is to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

But how did climate change become everyone’s problem to begin with?

The Origin of Climate Change

According to the Bible, God made the world for five days and light was at its center. On the sixth day, he made man and deemed that one day, he would be good enough to harness the power of summer’s day. For hundreds of years, we have used coal as a main source of energy. Coal is a fossil fuel that was formed from plants that died millions of years ago and it has been powering homes and economies. Once burned, coal releases carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere.

Now we are experiencing the effects of too much carbon dioxide: global warming. Most scientists believe that humans have caused the climate to change. With our help, the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million (ppm), the most in our recorded history.

The history of the Earth is divided by epochs distinguishing one time period from another. We live in the Holocene period which began approximately 10,000 years ago. However, some scientists have started naming this period as the Anthropocene: a period when the ecosystems of the Earth ecosystems are being altered heavily by man.

Less Reliance on Fossil Fuels

Is it too late to cut down on our usage of carbon? The world is now at its highest point of coal consumption. China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, pledged to reach peak coal by 2030. Some countries are leading the charge toward renewable energies such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal. The small nation of Costa Rica prides itself for having used 100% renewable energy non-stop for 255 days. Nordic countries in the EU (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) are leading the transition to clean energy. Germany is following suit by increasing its usage of solar and wind energy. Countries in Africa are encouraged to leapfrog energy development entirely so as to avoid a carbon-based market and establish a green economy.

Here in the Philippines, calamities like super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) turned the country into a continuous reminder of the negative effects of climate change. Presently, there are now developments to boost disaster preparations and investments in renewable energy.

What's left of an ICU in Ormoc, Leyte after the onslaught of super typhoon Haiyan in 2013
What’s left of an ICU in Ormoc, Leyte after the onslaught of super typhoon Haiyan in 2013

Bump on the Road

However, there are other countries where climate action is restricted. In the United States, Republicans in Congress block climate change initiatives by the Obama Administration including the Clean Power Plan, an initiative meant to steer the US economy away from coals and toward renewable energy. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative-led government is reducing its subsidies for renewable energy and is focusing on gas instead.

Brazil and India are using coal to develop their growing economies. Energy-rich Russia seems to be paying little attention to the problem.

Even with its commitments, China has been burning up to 17% more coal a year than the government previously disclosed. 2017 is the target year for its long-anticipated carbon trading system but that only refers to a preliminary regulatory rollout: a small and delayed step towards nationwide implementation. In short, it may not happen as quickly as everyone is hoping.

Outside Government

The fight against climate change cannot be done by national governments alone. Local governments, private groups, scientific communities and ordinary citizens also have roles to play.

A current legislation in the US state of California ambitiously requires 50% of state electricity to come from renewable energy by 2030. 80 major cities worldwide from Rio De Janeiro to Tokyo are expected to work together to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 645 megatonnes by 2020. 81 multinational companies, including Unilever, Nestle, and Apple, have pledged to curb greenhouse gases and invest in clean energy. Scientists are studying our climate. Innovators are developing ways to reduce the cost of renewable energy and to capture and store carbon. Entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Elon Musk are investing in sustainable technologies like smart cities and electric vehicles.

As recent as this weekend, thousands of people are marching worldwide to call for climate action.

However, while some are fighting climate change, others are investing in ways to delay actions against it. A study showed that energy heavyweights like ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers funded initiatives to mislead the public on climate change. On a similar vein, Volkswagen got caught over cheating on emissions tests in the US.

Photo by: Alex Price/Our Voices. Taken at the 1500km multi-faith climate journey to Paris, the @peoplespilgrimage
Photo by: Alex Price/Our Voices| Taken at the 1500km multi-faith climate journey to Paris, the @peoplespilgrimage

[Entry 113, The SubSelfie Blog]

We Paved Paradise

There was once a promised land. Where there were meadows of green and earth of brown; where fish played on rivers and birds rested on tree branches all year round. Where cool air breezed through mountaintops and an eagle looked down from a cliff to a land brimming with life.

Thousands of years since our expulsion from paradise, we did all right. We discovered cures for diseases. We built great cities and erected monuments immortalizing our greatness. We conquered land, air, and sea. We even stepped on the moon as we continue to gaze into the stars. With all that we have, it seems we are capable of building another paradise.

Except that we are not.

Our rapid expansion changes the delicate environment from an Eden to a hell on earth. You see, development does not come without a cost. Ever since the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 1850s, we have pumped greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, forever altering our landscape. What are the effects? We can only guess. Storms and floods will become more powerful. Droughts will become more deadly. Forest fires will become more frequent. Entire species of plants and animals will become extinct. Glaciers will melt which will cause sea levels to rise worldwide, affecting cities near rivers and island nations like ours. There will be a worldwide refugee crisis. Famine and disease will take the lives of millions. Civil wars will push governments to the limit. This is just a scenario of what could happen. It is the end of paradise, and we have been long warned of its possibility.

The world’s two most powerful heads of state, US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, have conceded: climate change is real.

Scientists have connected climate change to recent phenomena like super typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) which devastated the Visayas region in 2013. The super typhoon, the strongest storm recorded to make landfall, killed at least 6,300 people. Total damage cost up to $2.86 billion.

Reeling from the loss of his hometown of Leyte, former Philippine climate change commissioner Yeb Saño made an emotional plea for climate action at a UN event on climate change in Warsaw, Poland. Two years later, Saño leads a group of eco-warriors on a 930-mile walk to Paris. The French city is where all the world leaders will come together for the yearly United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Yeb Saño leads an interfaith, multi-cultural pilgrimage from the Philippines to Paris.
Yeb Saño leads an interfaith, multi-cultural pilgrimage from the Philippines to Paris.

It is interesting to note that before the climate change conference, an ISIS-claimed attacks in Paris killed over 120 people. The attacks are connected to the ongoing civil war in Syria which continues to displace hundreds of thousands of refugees. But ISIS isn’t the only force driving them away; the Center for Climate Security in Washington asserted that climate change worsened the drought in the Middle East, which has increased poverty and led to surging migration.

Climate change is a threat multiplier that could make global challenges worse if left unchecked.

2015 is still on its way to becoming the hottest year on record. And even with nations pledging to cut carbon emissions, the world temperatures are still on track to reach 2.7 degree Celsius by 2100. There is still a long way to go if we want to go back to the Garden of Eden. Certain world leaders and climate activists are already taking the necessary steps, sometimes literally, to put us on the green track. We just need to follow. It is necessary that we do.

[Entry 109, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Authors:

Justin-Joyas-author-profile-SubSelfie-com

Justin Joyas is a contributor for SubSelfie.com and was part of the original roster that founded the site. Presently, he is a User-Generated Content Producer for YouScoop and GMA News. He also studied Mobile Journalism at  Konrad Adenauer ACFJ. He’s a newsroom ninja and protector of the realm who also wanders a lot. Literature 2008, DLSU. Read more of his articles here.

Bam Alegre.
Bam Alegre is the founder of SubSelfie.com and writes from time to time as a guest contributor. He is a News Reporter for GMA News since 2012.  Previously, he worked behind the scenes as a Segment Producer for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho and 24 Oras. He is also the vocalist and guitarist of the band No Parking. Broadcast Communication 2007, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.

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