As of Wednesday, enough nations have formally joined the Paris climate agreement they signed last December to bring it into full effect. This will take place November 4, just a few days before the 22nd session of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gets underway in Marrakesh, Morocco.
The threshold for becoming operational was getting 55 nations accounting for at least 55 percent of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases to join. The count so far is 57. But dozens of other nations are expected to join before the year-long period for doing so ends the day before Earth Day next April. Together, China, the United States, and India emit about 42 percent of the world’s total GHG emissions. All three have formally joined the pact.
The long-term goal of the Paris agreement is to hold emissions at a level scientists think would keep the average global temperature from rising more than 2°C. The aspiration is to keep it from rising more than 1.5°C. The signatories have agreed to move quickly to stop adding to their emissions and to make sharp reductions afterward.
Most nations have submitted the agreement-mandated national climate action plans outlining their reduction plans. That’s progress, to be sure. But as those plans now stand the 2° goals won’t be met. More must obviously be done. The drafters of the Paris agreement recognized this inadequacy and have mandated that each nation update its contributions to cutting emissions every five years. Climate hawks will be doing everything possible to ensure those updates are not fluff masquerading as significant action. Thus, the Paris pact, flawed though it be, is a very big deal after nearly a quarter-century of tedious and often frustrating efforts to get everybody on the same page.
Unfortunately, here in the United States, we still have a very big contingent of people who are not on the same page, who don’t want ever to be on the same page, who would like, indeed, to tear all the pages out of the book entirely. Even more unfortunately, because of the well-funded lies of the fossil-fuel industry, along with its campaign contributions, this contingent is represented by a hefty portion of the Republican members in Congress.
While not all of them fall into category of global warming deniers, this bloc of blockheads has placed obstacle after obstacle in the path of policies that, while far from from doing enough quick enough at least would move us in the right direction to attenuate some of the worst impacts of the changes in climate we are seeing or soon will be seeing. And we can expect these blockers to continue charging down the same dead-end road whether they are in the congressional majority or the minority come January.
What they can’t do at the national level, they will attempt in state legislatures or in the offices of state attorneys general. For example, 27 states and hundreds of companies and industrial groups were this week arguing a case in federal court that they hope will smash President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The plan is designed to cut emissions from coal (and natural gas) electricity-generating plants. Right now, climate activists are optimistic that the foes will lose their case and the CPP will be allowed to go forward. However, that is just one fight. The numbskull brigade is nothing if not relentless.
It’s said by many observers that nobody pays attention any more to party platforms. But platforms can be and are used to push elected representatives to take action they might otherwise be reluctant to undertake. Climate activists should use the Democratic Party Platform adopted last summer for precisely that purpose, a tool to nudge and cajole and hector reluctant Democrats.
That platform doesn’t go nearly far enough, but it mentions climate, climate change and climate justice 44 times in a manner that recognizes the dire situation we’re in and proposes we act seriously to do something about it. So while it could and should be tougher, if acted upon, it would move us in the right direction. We can start work now on making it tougher in 2020 and beyond.
The Republican Party Platform, on the other hand, lays the foundation for the kind of obstruction we’ve come to expect. In other words, more more more of the same ol’ same ol’. Here’s the key language:
Information concerning a changing climate, especially projections into the long-range future, must be based on dispassionate analysis of hard data. We will enforce that standard throughout the executive branch, among civil servants and presidential appointees alike. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution. Its unreliability is reflected in its intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent from its orthodoxy. We will evaluate its recommendations accordingly. We reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which represent only the personal commitments of their signatories; no such agreement can be binding upon the United States until it is submitted to and ratified by the Senate.
This is utterly bogus. No Senate ratification is needed. The United States became a party to the UNFCCC after the Senate gave its advice and consent by an overwhelming vote in 1992. Under the Framework Convention, the U.S. and other signatories agreed to "formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national ... programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change by addressing anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases." The U.S. has been publishing those updates for two decades. Everything contained in Article 3 of the Paris agreement falls under what our nation agreed to do in a bipartisan vote signed by a Republican president 24 years ago.
In a sane nation, a nation where elected leaders actually listen to scientists and pay attention to the news about dwindling Arctic ice, rising seas, worsening storms, exceptional droughts, the northward march of insects and other species, not to mention heat waves and trees that don’t adopt autumnal colors until weeks later than in previous seasons, every member of the Senate ought to be clamoring for the president to send the Paris agreement to them for their unanimous consent … and applause.
Instead we’re stuck with a chamber half-full of greedheads and cowards who refuse to publicly acknowledge the lethal reality of climate change either for the campaign dollars such stubbornness rewards them with or because they really are dumb-clucks.