The Paris Agreement: What Does It Mean?

minitorreHuman civilization has never been static. The constant pursuit of economic, technological, physiological, and cultural progress has drastically changed the landscape of our planet. Nevertheless, the modern and globalized society we recognize today has a distinct beginning in the early 1800s with the Industrial Revolution. By harnessing the energy produced from the combustion of fossil fuels, humans were suddenly capable of producing goods at a much larger scale than ever before. This process coincided with the largest growth in human population in history, permitting the proliferation of dependence on the fossil fuels industry.

Fast-forward to the late 20th century. The consumption of non-renewable energy had accelerated the manufacturing capabilities of industrialized nations and the ever-growing demand for energy in the developing world was well-documented. Study after study linked the use of fossil fuels to an increasingly violent series of environmental calamities which led the delegations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to collaborate in order to protect the planet and its inhabitants from experiencing more devastating complications due to greenhouse gas emissions. The deliberations, combined with extensive research over the course of 20 years, reached its summit at the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris (which took place in December 2015) in which the world nearly unanimously decided to coordinate their efforts to avoid contributing to climate change.

The Paris Agreement, the only globally comprehensive climate agreement of its kind, was enacted this month in order to bring a new vision for the future of energy production worldwide. The agreement aims to hold the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. As citizens around the globe continue to experience the disastrous effects of climate change, governments and world leaders have proven that they will take the challenge of safeguarding their populations seriously. Of the 193 countries that have signed the agreement, 103 have ratified the agreement through their respective legislative processes. Although the language of the agreement is explicit and comprehensive, it is quite special in that in features a “bottoms up” approach which allows for each country to select its own carbon emission goals, allowing for the plan to work well for individual nations. The structure of the agreement allows the various populations, cultures, and economies involved to find their own best way forward, while affirming the need to conserve biodiversity in both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

Each member state is bound to limit the quantity of known extractable fossil fuels used within its borders. These restrictions are elaborated specifically to prevent irreparable damage to the planet. Globally speaking, this is represented by the majority of the known reserves remaining unburned. As a result, public and political pressure has been placed on multinational corporations to create a global marketplace for renewable energy sources. In fact, the adoption of the Paris Agreement caused a USD $3.4 trillion divestment in the fossil fuels industry, the fastest divestment movement in history. The vacuum that has been created can and should be filled with robust public and private investment in sustainable, diverse, and proactive solutions to the problems associated with climate change.

Not surprisingly, the most immediate and most threatening effects of climate change can be seen along the coastline in developing nations. Combined with shoreline erosion, water pollution, and the acidification of the oceans, the rising sea levels continue to be one of the most alarming phenomenon in a rapidly changing marine ecosystem. The global community should be compelled to explore alternative fuel sources. As wind and solar energy is proving to be costlier than previously conceived and hydropower and tidal energy are limited to specific regions, the search has commenced for new possibilities. A tremendously promising sector is the growth of aquaculture projects that allow for organic marine biomasses to be converted into energy. The biofuels derived from algae, for example, are entirely biodegradable, non-toxic, and carbon neutral. This means that the combustion of the fuel is entirely offset by the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed by the algae while it is growing. Many companies around the world are rushing to develop algae into a fuel source due to the fact that it is already abundant, renewable, powered by sunlight, and leaves no carbon footprint behind.

Providing developing nations with the tools necessary to elaborate successful algae farming establishes a dynamic value chain that can be beneficial to all parties involved. We have a small window of time in order to preserve the beautiful, vibrant, and flavorful planet that we were given. Together we have the unique opportunity to make a lasting change that future generations can be proud of as we move toward a more inclusive and productive future.

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