Paris Climate Agreement

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^Top image: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (second left); Christiana Figueres (left), executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; Laurent Fabius (second right), minister for foreign affairs of France and president of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21); and French President François Hollande (right) celebrate the signing of the historic Paris Climate Agreement in April 2016. The agreement went into effect on Nov. 4, 2016. Credit: © Mark Garten, UN Phot

Yesterday, November 7, officials from around the world gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, for the 2016 United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference, or COP22. COP22 is an acronym for the 22nd annual session of the Conference of the Parties. The meetings come on the heels of the Friday, November 4, entry into force of COP21’s Paris Climate Agreement. One hundred countries—including the two considered to be the greatest polluters, China and the United States—have ratified the agreement for nations to report their greenhouse gas emissions.

Most scientists believe that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming. Global warming is an increase in the average temperature at Earth’s surface, specifically the warming observed since the mid-1800’s. If it continues unchecked, it may melt ice on land near Earth’s poles, raising sea levels; lead to widespread droughts; and cause certain plant and animal species to become extinct. Natural processes have caused Earth’s climate to change in the distant past. But scientists have found strong evidence that human activities have caused most of the warming since the mid-1900’s. These activities include the release of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where the gases trap heat like a blanket around Earth.

Countries that have ratified the Paris Climate Agreement must assess and report their emissions levels every five years. However, they are not obligated to lower emission levels. Officials hope that such “name and shame” practices will encourage countries to do their best to reduce emissions. Now that the agreement has entered into force, the Marrakech conference is being called the “COP of Action.” Talk has shifted from finger-pointing and negotiation to working out action plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

In some cases, action plans have already been developed. A few weeks ago, in the African country of Rwanda, officials agreed to phase out the production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s). HFC’s are a type of molecule used as a refrigerant in air conditioning and refrigeration systems. They were originally designed as a replacement for chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s), which were found to damage the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Unfortunately, HFC’s were later discovered to be incredibly potent greenhouse gases, up to 12,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Scientists estimate that the phase-out will prevent 0.9 °F (0.5 °C) of warming during the next century alone. Also last month, aviation industry officials met in Montreal, Canada, and agreed to cap the emissions of greenhouse gases on international flights. The pact is not as strict as many scientists had hoped, and will only take effect in 2021. Nevertheless, it serves as a first step in controlling the greenhouse gas output of an industry that has largely resisted regulation.

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