Paris Climate Agreement comes into force as pollution levels reach record high

Anja Bless – Environmental Editor

The beginning of October was marked with the release of both good news and bad news in regards to the future of our climate. On the 5th of October the threshold was surpassed for the number of nations required to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement for it to officially come into force. And, on the 28th of September at the Mauna Loa station in Hawaii it was confirmed that we had officially passed 400ppm (parts per million) of atmpospheric carbon dioxide, with this likely not to recede within our lifetimes.

Passed the point of no return?

There seems little doubt that history books will consider September 2016 as a major milestone in our battle against climate change. At the time when atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are meant to be at their lowest (the end of the northern hemisphere summer) the number of carbon dioxide particles failed to drop below 400 ppm. Keep in mind, the first time the 400 ppm threshold was reached was only in 2013, indicating a steady increase in the emission of greenhouse gases.

Measurements of atmospheric carbond dioxide for the last five years at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. Credit: Scripps Institute of Oceanography Mauna Loa Observatory/Climate Central
Measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide for the last five years at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. Credit: Scripps Institute of Oceanography Mauna Loa Observatory/Climate Central

The measurement in Hawaii confirms fears raised by climate scientists in Cape Grim in Australia who also passed the threshold in May this year – that we are now in unknown territory. Since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has never experienced an atmosphere of 400 ppm of carbon dioxide.

Many are seeing the new readings as cause for panic, 400 ppm has long been seen as the ‘tipping point’, beyond which runaway climate change will take over and we will struggle to undo the damage we have caused. This kind of climate change will cause a cycle of increasingly rapid warning as the polar ice caps melt, only allowing oceans to warm faster, causing the mass carbon dioxide absorption events of seasonal algal blooms to lessen in frequency, causing more warming, causing permafrost to melt and release mass amounts of carbon dioxide, causing the climate to warm further and so on.

Global average temperatures have continued to climb these last 16 months. Credit: Climate Central/NASA GISS/NOAA NCEI
Global average temperatures have continued to climb these last 16 months. Credit: Climate Central/NASA GISS/NOAA NCEI

We are already living through the hottest 16 months on record hottest 16 months on record, in fact the Earth is the warmest it has been for 120,000 years. If humanity is to be able to live on the Earth as it has always been known to us and wishes to mitigate the rapid warming events seen in this century we need to reduce emissions to the point of pre-industrial levels, 350 ppm. In not doing so we will be risking the lives and livelihoods of billions of people, losing natural treasures to the detriment of future generations and experience a climate unbeknownst to us in almost the entire history of the human race.

Luckily, steps towards action are being taken. With the bad news over, let’s consider the good news.

Paris Climate Agreement comes into force

On the 5th of October Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon announced that the requirements had been met for the Paris Climate Agreement to come into force on the 4th of November 2016. 

“This is a momentous occasion. What once seemed unthinkable, is now unstoppable” Ban Ki-Moon said during his announcement.

However, he warned against complacency: “Now we must move from words to deeds and put Paris into action. We need all hands on deck – every party of society must be mobilised to reduce emissions and help communities adapt to inevitable climate impacts.”

The Eiffel Tower Displays Messages As Part Of 21st Session Of Conference On Climate Change COP21 In Paris
PARIS, FRANCE – DECEMBER 11: The slogan “For the planet” is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) on December 11, 2015 in Paris, France. COP21 President Laurent Fabius unveiled the final draft text of a global climate agreement of negotiations in Paris. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

The Agreement required that 55 nations, representing 55% of global emissions deposit their instruments of ratification, acceptance or accession with the Secretary-General for the Agreement to come into force. As of the 5th of October 73 nations as well as the European Union had joined the agreement. These commitments followed that of the US and China (the world’s two biggest polluters) who joined in early September.

The Agreement, adopted in Paris on the 12th of December 2015 and signed by 191 nations, aims to keep the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees.  While the agreement is not legally binding (due to opposition from parties such as the US who were concerned regarding being able to pass its ratification through the Senate) it does require nations to release their targets and report emissions. The Agreement is a landmark deal, easily the most successful climate treaty since Montreal and one of the first to successfully integrate business and non-governmental interests and commitments.

Climate marches for COP21 took place across the globe.

Nonetheless, the current commitments stipulated in the agreement are insufficient to keep warming below 2 degrees, but it is the first agreement with real potential for growth when it comes to fighting climate change and offers a strong base to build momentum. The Agreement also came into force much faster than analysts predicted, indicating the drive and desire for change behind it, and well in time for COP22 in Morocco this November. The Paris Climate Agreement may not be perfect but, as US President Barack Obama stated:

“This gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got.”

And, in a planet where temperatures are on the rise and concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide continue to climb, he may well be right.

To learn more about the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement head to our related articles below. 

Our Last Chance: The United Nations Paris Conference

News Crunch: The Paris Climate agreement

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