Let me start off by acknowledging that the agreement hammered out in Lima on Sunday is truly a huge step forward. Almost 200 nations have agreed to cut back on burning fossil fuels; even the U.S. – greenhouse gas emitter extraordinaire. This really is tremendous.
No doubt the recent U.S.-China climate agreement set the stage for this progress. I hope it’s also a sign that the nations of the world are finally listening to the many, many voices calling for change. And it certainly is an example of global peer pressure at its most effective. Every country has agreed to submit a plan to reduce domestic emissions by June 2015. The plans must detail domestic policies and laws that will achieve emissions cuts, and will be the foundation of a deal to be signed at the climate meeting in Paris in 2015.
That said, the agreement has a lot of problems. Perhaps most importantly, nothing is legally binding. Countries are not required to cut their emissions by any specific amount, meaning they could propose minuscule, and ultimately meaningless reductions. They are not even required to actually submit a plan, even though they’ve agreed to. It they don’t, there are no fines, penalties or any real consequences aside from shaming.
And to further complicate things, it’s beginning to look like the traditional target of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius might not be stringent enough. As with so many other climate agreements, this one doesn’t really seem to have teeth. At least not teeth big enough to take any significant bite out of the climate crisis.
In the U.S we have the very real problem that it will be up to a Republican-controlled Congress to enact the laws and policies that will reduce our emissions. They’ve already made it very clear they’re going to do everything in their power to fight against emissions controls.
So the big question will be, is it enough to know the world is watching and expects action? Can global peer pressure actually force action?
We’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
Image courtesy of Agrant141