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The Paris agreement sucks, but the US should have remained in it

Probably at this point all of you have heard about the United States pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. I’d like to make two points about the climate agreement and the administration’s decision to pull the US out of it :

#1. The Paris climate agreement SUCKS !

I consider myself an environmentalist and I have a basic understanding of the catastrophic consequences associated with the destructive behaviors of our species. Climate change, alongside with deforestation and ocean acidification are the biggest and most complex challenges that we face. These issues are all related to each other and all stem from our mindless exploitation of the Earth’s resources and eco-systems. In the case of climate change, most scientists agree that a 2°C  increase in global temperatures is the maximum safe level that would help us avoid catastrophic consequences for human civilisation : famine, flooding, extreme weather etc. Even the parties that signed the Paris Accords with great enthusiasm don’t hide the fact that even if all countries comply we would still exceed the 2°C limit. I’m afraid that this point has not been made nearly enough by the mainstream media while covering the events of last week. Here’s none other than the website of the European Commission stating:

The Paris pledges appear to account for only half of the emission reduction needed in 2030 to keep global warming below 2°C over the long run. … COP21 pledges imply a transformation of the energy system and should bring about a global peak in emissions as early as 2025. However, their cumulative effect will account for only 54% of the mitigation effort in 2030 necessary to reach the objective of staying below 2°C over the long run.

I don’t see how I could praise that agreement while it doesn’t even hypothetically get us where we should be if we wanted to avoid a climate catastrophe. Let’s not forget that the agreement is non-binding, meaning that it doesn’t include any sanctions against countries who fail to fulfill their goals. If the agreement is already vague and allows countries to pursue their environmental targets in the ways that they want to, I think it’s not too much to ask from our governments to give us at least an outline of what we should do to stay below 2°C on the long run.

The problem with this agreement and with our discussion about climate change in general, is that the only topic that we’re willing to talk about is the energy sector and it’s direct contribution to global greenhouse emissions.  If we want to tackle climate change not at 54% but at 100% we’re going to have to talk about the indirect emissions associated with the production and distribution of goods and services. When a company talks about their carbon footprint, they’ll focus on the direct carbon emissions produced by the companies’ facilities and vehicles. What is left out of the equation is often the bigger part of the emissions that were not directly generated by the company, but are nevertheless directly tied to their product.

This comprises those generated by all the emissions of everything a company buys, right back to raw material extraction or agriculture, as well as all the emissions that are produced from everything a company sells or disposes of, through retail, use and end-of-life.

Calculating the extent of these indirect emissions is very difficult, but is an absolute necessity. The carbon tax, with all its flaws is a solution going in that direction, but we need some sort of legislation, that will add the environmental damage caused by production to the bill that manufacturers have to pay.  The whole economy is built around short-term profits without any vision for sustainability. Everything is made in a way to expire and to require the need to be replaced or constantly upgraded. This is the most profitable way to do business, just because the real costs of the production, pollution and disposal are not taken into consideration. We also need to have a transparent market where consumers can see the hidden costs in the products they buy, so that they can really make informed choices. If we take in account the pollution and destruction created by industrial production, we can expect that the market will regulate the economy in more sustainable direction, stimulating innovation and making cleaner technology more competitive.

The Paris agreement is not a solution to climate change, rather it is the first step in the right direction.

#2. The US should have remained in the Paris Agreement

So if the Paris agreement is so incomplete and non-binding, why does it even matter that the US is no longer a part of it? It actually does matter quite a lot. While the agreement doesn’t provide us with a clear path to avoid the climate crisis, it does bring basically every country on the planet to agree on a common threat that we face, and on the need to act urgently. Climate denial is worse than inaction, because it keeps on spreading doubt and misinformation around the facts. Even if the Paris Agreement wouldn’t achieve anything else, at least it moved us away from climate change denial. We’re never going to be able to move forward with our solutions if we can’t agree on the existence of the problems.

All the reasons given by the President, don’t make any sense. Since the agreement was non-binding the US could have easily not complied with it without the dramatic announcement, and there would have been no repercussions. The main reason given was ‘the economy’ and more precisely ‘jobs’, but it is becoming clear even to economists that the future is in renewable energies.  In the context of ‘jobs’ there is no doubt that clean energy creates much more employment. The solar and wind industries are each creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than that of the rest of the U.S. economy, according to a new report published by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The unintended consequence

The election of Trump and the recent pull out of the Paris agreement can actually have a positive effect on the environment. Trump’s announcement managed to put climate change back on the headlines, even though we can expect that the mainstream will get distracted very soon. Having climate change deniers in the administration of the most powerful country in the world is a clear wake up call not only to every other country, but to each and everyone one of us.

Governments around the world are making pledges that they will continue the fight against climate change without the leadership of the government of the US. Of course, let’s not be naive, many of these governments are really happy with Trump’s extreme position as it puts them automatically at a moral high-ground, that they can easily exploit for their own interest, without really committing to any serious solutions.  Even neo-liberals like France’s Macron, are seizing on the opportunity and are now trying to show themselves as pillars of common sense. Even companies like Wallmart are trying to show themselves as concerned about the environment and are making pledges to reduce their direct carbon emissions.

The biggest positive effect that I can see from all this charade is the effect that this can have on ordinary people. Maybe we’ll be able to recognize the urgency and try to find ways to make a difference in our everyday lives. It has become very clear that our governments represent the interests of the polluting industries and not the interests of the people or the planet. It’s up to us to keep the people we elect accountable, and it’s up to us to take our personal responsibility and do whatever we can to change our ways and reduce our personal impact on the environment.

 

 

 

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