The Paris Agreement: Should It Have Been Legally Binding?

“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost.”
Barack Obama

Many people around the world, myself included, are hailing the recent agreement in Paris as a significant victory. Finally the leaders of the nations on our planet have taken a major step toward tackling global warming and climate change.

But I’ve had friends express concern that it wasn’t a binding agreement. In that regard, doesn’t that give nations free reign to actually do what they want and ignore what they pledged to do? All of these nations have stated they’ll try to reduce emissions and will report their progress along the way, but there’s no penalty if they don’t succeed. So is that really a victory?

Although it’s true that there isn’t a formal mechanism of dealing out punishment for those countries that fall short of their commitments, there can be other detrimental effects those nations will feel if they aren’t successful. In this case, social pressure and participation within an international community will have an impact. Since most international agreements rely on countries maintaining good relationships with with each other, the risk of looking badly compared to peer nations is substantial. Unless every nation ignores what they’ve pledged to do, those that do actually fall short will look poorly on the word stage. Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School puts it this way:

The leaders of the world recognize that the consequences of noncompliance are disastrous. We are looking at a wholesale transformation of our global climate. The main incentive here for compliance is not the threat of some civil penalty — non-compliance would mean environmental disaster.

Given how much transparency and reporting the agreement requires, concerned citizens like you and me along with environmental groups will help play the role of watchdog and enforcer. Public opinion will matter. If it didn’t, these heads of state would never have reached this agreement in the first place.

And keep in mind: if it was legally binding, each nation would have had to ratify it in their respective governments. Imagine how supportive Republicans would have been for that! No, I think in this case COP21 got it right. It’s not perfect, and there will be hurdles to overcome, but I think it’s as much as we could have hoped for given the stagnancy and resistance we’ve experienced to date.

Just you wait: this agreement will mark the turning point in the history of our civilization. This will be the time that future generations will look back to and say “That’s when they finally started to take this seriously.”

France Will Not Be Deterred!

“[COP21] will be held because it’s an essential meeting for humanity.”
—French Prime Minister Manuel Valls

In a “F**k you!” to terrorists everywhere, France will still go ahead with the global climate change summit in Paris later this month, this according to Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Despite the terrorist attacks that occurred this past Friday night, killing at least 127 people in their nation’s capital, Valls pledged to move forward with the summit. As Valls put it:

[The climate summit] will be held because it’s an essential meeting for humanity.

He also rightly pointed out this summit will be an opportunity for world leaders everywhere to show solidarity with France after these despicable attacks. As it stands, 118 world leaders are expected to attend the opening day of the summit, being held November 30 to December 11, 2015. Its primary goal: to finally commit to a global deal that will limit our planet’s climbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Many Americans like to point out that the US saved France’s butt in World War II, but if that’s the way to look at it then don’t forget France did the same for the US during the American Revolution. Indeed, France is the US’s oldest ally. Consistent with that long-standing relationship, both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry still plan to attend the Paris summit. In total there will likely be at least 20,000 delegates in attendance, with some estimates anticipating as many as 40,000.

There will, however, be Continue reading

Naomi Klein's New Book on Climate: This Changes Everything

“The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.”
Barack Obama

An important new book is being released on Tuesday, September 16. It’s written by Naomi Klein who previously wrote an international bestseller by the name of The Shock Doctrine. That book provided an explanation of why the climate crisis means that we can’t continue to use the unchecked free-market form of economics so treasured by modern society, particularly those on the right wing of the political spectrum. Its radical conclusion was that we need to restructure our global economy and build a new political system. Radical but not necessarily misplaced if we want a livable planet for future generations. Otherwise the alternative of continuing with business-as-usual would radically alter our planet and our lives. Either way, something radical is going to happen, either by us or to us.

Klein’s new book is entitled This Changes Everything, available in Chapters and Amazon. In this book, Klein argues that climate change isn’t simply another political issue like taxes and health care. It’s a warning to us all that we need to repair our economic system because it’s not working. She provides good evidence that by substantially reducing our greenhouse emissions, we have the best chance to repair things besides our climate. We can also reduce inequalities so prevalent in society, fix our broken democracy, and rebuild struggling local economies.

She is able to point out the desperation of those who deny the science of climate change and the fractured thinking of those who believe we can combat the problem through geoengineering. Most importantly, she explains why the free market hasn’t—nor will it ever—fix the climate crisis, but in fact will only make things worse through more extreme methods of obtaining fossil fuels and capitalism run wild. Continue reading

Canada to US: "Approve Keystone and We'll Cut Emissions"

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”
—President Obama this past June

This past week, CBC News in Canada reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama in August proposing “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector,” in order to secure Obama’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

So far the U.S. hasn’t responded to the letter. And although they were both in St. Petersburg last week for the G20 summit, Syria dominated the discussions so the opportunity to achieve any real progress between the two leaders didn’t happen.

Clearly Prime Minister Harper and his government are very keen to have Keystone XL approved. It’s not the only pipeline to help the Canadian economy but it’s the biggest. And so his letter is trying to appease President Obama and his government that they can work together to achieve emissions targets.

But should approval of a pipeline carrying the dirtiest and most carbon-intense petroleum product on the planet be the reason that Canada works harder to reduce emissions? Continue reading

Obama's New Climate Change Strategy

“We can’t drill our way out of the energy and climate challenges that we face.”
—President Barack Obama

Yesterday President Barack Obama announced his new climate change strategy at Georgetown University, one that will significantly limit pollution from all existing coal-fired power plants.

The President stated that the U.S. must use less “dirty energy,” waste less energy, and move toward cleaner sources of energy. It must also redouble its efforts to reach a new global agreement that will reduce carbon emissions with “concrete action” that he described as ambitious, inclusive and flexible.

And what about the Keystone XL pipeline? Continue reading