Right direction: Paris Agreement marks a global shift for climate

When our children’s children look back to what we did to keep our planet livable, they may see Paris as a turning point.

David Suzuki

When our children’s children look back to what we did to keep our planet livable, they may see this year’s United Nations climate conference in Paris as a turning point.

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) may have been our last chance for a meaningful agreement to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy before ongoing damage to the world’s climate becomes irreversible and devastating. Government ministers, negotiators and world leaders spent the first two weeks of December creating a guide for the next stage of humanity’s action on climate change.

Nations that met in Paris are responsible for over 95 per cent of global emissions. On Dec. 12, following multiple rounds of long meetings, they revealed the final text of the Paris Agreement.

Though far from perfect, it’s a significant achievement. When nations last attempted a global climate pact — in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark — negotiations broke down and the resulting declaration was considered a failure. The Paris Agreement, in process and outcome, is a dramatic improvement — a product of the growing urgency to act on the defining issue of our time. It’s the first universal accord to spell out ways to confront climate change, with Canada and other industrialized nations required to transition from fossil fuels to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 and developing nations by about 2080.

Before meeting in Paris, governments drafted plans to reduce national carbon emissions beginning in 2020. One COP21 negotiation goal — a review mechanism to encourage countries to improve targets over time — was achieved, giving hope that reductions will keep global temperature rise below the 2 C limit beyond which science indicates the consequences of burning fossil fuels will become catastrophic. Present commitments won’t quite get us there, but the called-for improving of targets every five years will get us closer. Past experience shows that once a commitment is made to address a crisis, many unexpected opportunities and solutions result. The agreement also acknowledges that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 C should drive future goal-setting.

Canada’s delegation had the added goal of rebuilding the country’s reputation as an environmental leader. For years, we received countless “Fossil of the Day” awards for short-sightedness and stonewalling negotiations.

Responding to calls from citizens countrywide, our delegation returned to a more co-operative approach, advocating for inclusion of human rights and indigenous knowledge, along with recognition of the critical importance of the 1.5 C goal. Canada still received two “Fossil” awards, for lacking emissions-goals ambition and limiting availability of funds for “loss and damage”.

But compared to some nations, our country was a positive force.

The world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, China, was criticized for trying to water down requirements for a common emissions-and-targets reporting system and opposing a process to require countries to update emissions-reductions goals every five years, advocating instead for voluntary updates.

Compromises produced a final product that falls short of assigning liability for past emissions and providing dependable “loss and damage” payments to nations already suffering from the effects of climate change.

Ongoing pressure is also needed to ensure targets are met and become more ambitious over time. Despite these shortcomings, the Paris Agreement is a leap forward in the fight against climate change. Funding for vulnerable and developing nations, plans to ratchet up ambition at regular intervals and recognition of the role of indigenous knowledge will play major roles in future action.

The first step in realizing stronger goals for Canada begins now. Our government promised more ambitious targets and a framework for cutting carbon pollution and expanding renewable energy within 90 days of the conference, by March 11, 2016. We’ve learned Canadian leaders will stand up for important issues, but we need to push them to be as ambitious as possible. I believe Canada’s commitment will inspire people at all levels of society to propose ways to speed up our shift to clean, renewable energy, and reduce waste through greater energy efficiency.

The global community has taken a big step to get human civilization back on track. It’s up to us to ensure that the planet we want — with clean air, safe water, fertile soil and a stable climate — stays within reach, for our sake and the sake of our descendants.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Climate and Clean Energy Communications and Research Specialist Steve Kux.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Just Posted

From left: Thomas Kuecks, David Lane, John Ivison, Denis Berger, Rod Gray, and James Kuecks are Cabin Fever. Catch their performance on the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre website. (Ashley Foot photo)
A&E column: Music Festival winners, CVAC awards, and Cabin Fever

The latest from the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley MLA Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

BC Green Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

The city-owned lot at 361 St. Julien St., which has been home to a temporary homeless site for more than a year, will be sold and plans are to build a three-storey mixed-use development there, Peter de Verteuil, Duncan CAO explained at a recent council meeting. (File photo)
New development planned for homeless site in Duncan

Lot on St. Julien Street would see three-storey building

Historian and longtime Citizen columnist T.W. Paterson photographs the historical wreckage of a plane on Mount Benson. Paterson recently won an award from the British Columbia Historical Foundation. (Submitted)
Cowichan’s Tom W. Paterson wins award for historical writing

British Columbia Historical Federation hands Recognition Award to local writer

This electric school bus is the newest addition to the Cowichan Valley School District’s fleet. (Submitted)
Editorial: New electric school bus good place to start

Changing public transit like buses to electric really is important.

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Most Read