The Paris Agreement: A Milestone in Sustainability History

November 4, 2016

Today is a Milestone in Sustainability History.

For the sustainably-minded, today is a milestone – an “unprecedented” event. Its changes won’t be felt immediately, but with time will become gradually apparent. Last month on October 5th, the same day President Obama called the Agreement a “turning point for our planet,” the Paris Agreement was ratified by at least 55 signatories accounting for over 55% of greenhouse emissions, the minimum to take effect. Today on November 4th the Paris Agreement enters into effect. The creation of the Agreement started in December of 2015 when over 190 countries gathered in France at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (called the COP21). They represented more than 95% of the globe’s total greenhouse gas emissions and together, formed what is known as the Paris Agreement.

What is the Paris Agreement?

“The greatest triumph of the Paris climate agreement is that there is an agreement at all.”

– The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer

What makes the Agreement so incredible is that it encompasses nearly every country on the planet, from greenhouse gas emitting powerhouses to small island countries continually threatened by sea-level rise.

The COP21 officially confirmed and reaffirmed the need of keeping the rise in global temperature below 2°C. By the end of the conference, the Agreement ultimately decided on a goal of keeping the average global temperature rise to 1.5˚ C. This is the key to the Paris Agreement, achieving this goal while determining how quickly to abandon fossil fuels, who’s responsible for the damages to the climate, and how to hold countries accountable to their plans.

The Agreement requires each country to submit an “action plan,” an outline in the way they plan to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. With this plan, each country must review every five years starting in 2020 and are unable to lower their emissions target during at any point in time. The finer details are discussed here and the Agreement can be found here.

What does the climate agreement mean for institutions of higher education?

With its main focus to limit the increase in global average temperature, opportunity for institutions arise. Colleges and universities are hotbeds innovation. With heightened awareness on climate change through the Agreement, institutions could have more opportunity to push the limits of climate science, environmental science and sustainability while discovering new methods and inventing ways of helping solve this problem.