What is really at stake

Alfonso Pascale

The conference on climate change that took place in Paris from November 30th to December 12th, 2015, ended with the French Minister for Foreign Affairs presiding over the meeting striking the gavel against the sound block and claiming that “a small mallet that can do great things”. The initial enthusiasm that followed the long days and sleepless nights needed to find an agreement is already starting to wane. Everyone is now analysing the agreement in greater depth, poring over all its details.

The previous Kyoto protocol was only ratified by countries responsible for 12% of the overall emission of greenhouse gases. In 2005, after lengthy negotiations, 152 countries signed the agreement, pledging to limit their production of these gases by 2012. The protocol had been drawn up in this Japanese town back in 1997, but at that time, only 35 industrialized countries resolved to reduce their emissions. And even less were the countries that ratified this agreement: Italy was one of them, but not India or China. The United States backed out of it as soon as Bush became President.

Paris can and indeed must be where the world starts to chart the necessary pathways to reduce climate change: this time 195 countries have signed the agreement, and the European Union has finally been able to negotiate as one. The parties have agreed to "pursue efforts to" limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, and their efforts will be monitored through mandatory inspections, to be carried out every five years. National goals can be revisited, to be "updated and enhanced". In order to achieve these goals, the UN have established a fund of 100 billion dollars, soon to be increased.

Each country that ratifies the agreement will be required to set a target for emission reduction, but the amount will be voluntary, and this is one of the greatest limits of this treaty. However, there is an important clause: the agreement will become legally binding if joined by at least 55 countries that together, represent at least 55% of global greenhouse emissions. Even then however there will be no sanctions issued by the United Nations if a set target is not met. The role and power of society will remain central in ensuring that each country’s efforts go in the right direction and should guarantee democracy and civil growth on a global level.

What is truly at stake is the virtuous combination of technology targeted at decarbonizing production processes and a coherent, committed lifestyle. The world is on the move, and nobody can avoid his or her responsibilities.

Alfonso Pascale

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