A Tale of two accords
It was the best of times, which ultimately resulted in the worse of times. I remember being a kid and all that was talked about for a while was the Kyoto Protocol (or, as I remember it being called, the Kyoto Accord). Which was an international plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. It was meant to be a an extension of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and was based on scientific evidence that 1) global warming was occurring, and 2) humans were the main cause of said global warming. Each country that signed on to this protocol was expected to do what they could in order to reduce their emissions. The first commitment period ran from 2005 to 2012. Of the 36 countries that participated, 9 had to resort to special flexibility rules because they just simply could not meet their targets. The 2008-2009 recession helped lower emissions for most developed countries, but even so, global emissions still rose by 32% between 1990 and 2010.
I know we haven't heard about this one in a while, but it is still ongoing. The current phase is called the "Doha Amendment" and there are currently 37 countries which are signed up to it. Canada and the United States are NOT participating in this one, which is why it hasn't been on many people's radars. What IS on people's radars, though, is the (relatively) new and shiny Paris Accord. A few months back it was in the news quite a lot, which triggered my nostalgia for the Kyoto Protocol and also got me to thinking about different countries and what they were doing to combat climate change. It's been talked about for quite some time, and countries seem to be making efforts--at least on paper--to reduce their emissions, but we only seem to be plummeting further and further into a noxious abyss, from which scientists are now saying we can never return. So what are we collectively doing now? It is useful? Which countries are "winning" the climate change game, and who and how many are "losing"? I aim to find out.
Let's move on to 2015. A UNFCCC conference was held near Paris, France, where members decided that more needed to be done in the fight against climate change. It was quite successful; 196 state parties voted for an agreement, of which 189 parties actually signed on. Thus, the Paris Agreement (again, accord) was born. Its goal is slightly more specific than that of the Kyoto Protocol. All countries must work hard to meet their intended targets in order to keep the global average temperature from rising 2.0°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and preferably, below 1.5°C. Many large and important countries pledged to reduce their emissions including, Canada, the EU, Australia, China, Japan, Brazil, Russia, and even the United States much to the elation of the masses, I'm sure. There is one additional caveat that I think is worth mentioning here, which is that rich countries should also use their wealth to help developing countries manage their emissions.
#45 made a splash in 2017 when he announced that he intended to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. The decision enraged many since the US is the world's second biggest polluter after China. Trump cited "unfairness" as the reason for getting out of the accord, "The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production," (Trump, 2017). Like most of his statements, something just doesn't ring true about this one. Would America really suffer that much from simply following a few rules to reduce their emissions? I'm not an economist, but even if jobs were lost in certain sectors, wouldn't they be created in others? Jobs from oil and gas could be transferred over to green energy production, for example, and the lower cost of renewable energy should offset some of the loses from trade. And also, the fate of the world kinda trumps the loss of a few million dollars to the economy.
Trump went on to explain that he expects the US economy to take a financial hit to the tune of $3trillion and the loss of 6.5million jobs, a number that I was unable to find being supported anywhere. Certain sectors would suffer loses, the oil and gas industry in particular, which Trump feels is singularly insupportable. After all, he did promise to revive the industry, and he even tried to pump life back into the practically dead coal industry. On the other hand, there is actual evidence that unfettered emissions could cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars in the future due to an increase in natural disasters, slowed economic growth, and deteriorating public health. There is some good news: even though the US federal government isn't actively trying to reduce the country's emissions, individual states, cities, and people are. US emissions dropped sharply in 2019 and have been traveling on a general downwards trend since 2005, though the reason may come as a surprise to some. Americans are generally burning less fossil fuel and are switching to natural gas and other forms of renewable energy to--and get this--SAVE MONEY. So the president of the United States, in all his wisdom, is desperately trying to save industries that his people are naturally moving away from. Although the US has accidentally managed to reduce their emissions, it still isn't enough to satisfy the demands of the Paris Agreement. The US will be officially out of the agreement in November of this year, just before the elections. If Trump doesn't get re-elected, the next president will have something like 30 days to re-sign the agreement. Of course, this depends on the elections NOT getting postponed. Man, 2020 is a mess.
It's not just global emissions which will be affected by the US's withdrawal from the agreement; It also sets a bad example for other countries. As a kindergarten teacher, I can sense whenever pettiness and whining are about to erupt. I can practically hear, "Well if the US isn't doing it, I don't want to either!" and "THEY produce way more greenhouses gasses than I do, so I shouldn't have to participate if they aren't!" And do you remember that other caveat of the agreement that I mentioned earlier? Many developing countries are depending on financial aid from the US to build the right infrastructure in their countries to reduce their own emissions. The US peacing-out from the agreement could create a domino effect that will sabotage the whole thing. I hate to say it, but the US is kind of like the center of the world, and we need their commitment in order to save it. Two of the world's biggest emissions producers are China (28%) and Russia (5%), and both of those countries have beef with the US and often use tit-for-tat tactics against the other super-power... But enough of bad examples, eh? Let's take a look at some countries who are doing the Paris Agreement the right way!
Contrary to what Trump says, the American GDP has increased over the past few years while emissions have decreased. Many other countries are also growing their economies while reducing their emissions, and by staggering amounts. From 2000-2014, the UK decreased their emissions by almost 100 million metric tonnes and still managed to grow their GDP from $2.1 trillion to $2.7 trillion USD. Ukraine is probably one of the most stunning examples of this, with a 29% decrease in emissions and a 49% increase in their GDP. Many countries' leaders believe that economic growth is linked with industry, and industriousness is only possible through the use of excessive amounts of fossil fuels. This is simply not true for many developed nations, as they have successfully "decoupled" their economy from harmful emissions production.
Let's look at the UK shall we? How have they achieved their tremendous success? In 2019, the UK enacted legislation to reduce their emissions by 100% (from 1990 levels) by the year 2050. In order to do this, they have planned on making changes to sectors both large and small to reduce their countries' emissions. On the smaller side of things, the government is offering incentives to individual households to upgrade their energy and gas meters to "smart" meters, install solar panels, and to use renewable heat sources. On the larger scale of things, the government will promote low-carbon power such as nuclear power and wind energy. In addition, they are also planning on looking at carbon capture and storage; they plan on creating carbon sinks to take the carbon out of the air and use it for manufacturing fuel, inks, pencils, fibres... you name it! It's got carbon! The government will also re-visit their decisions on fracking and fossil fuel production, to make it as clean and efficient as possible. Many Eastern European countries have also successfully decoupled their GDPs while slashing their emissions. Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania have all done an absolutely smashing job at meeting their targets. The Ukraine especially has succeeded in reducing their emissions and growing their GDP. They have an absolutely fantastic environmental and economic plan to help them zoom towards a prosperous and ecologically friendly future. Like many other countries, their action plan includes moving away from fossil fuels and investing in clean energy like solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear. They're also planning on installing and using more energy efficient technologies to reduce energy waste. They also went as far as tackling their transportation sector. Every year the transportation of goods and people account for about 28% of the world's total CO2 production. If you want to read more about the Ukraine's action plan, click here.
Look, nobody said it was going to be easy; we're all going to have to make an effort to save the world. Many countries have already had a lot of success in reducing their emissions and their economies are recovering and growing. I ain't gonna lie, recent data looks very promising, but many countries didn't do so hot between 1990 and 2000. However, with modern technology, growth is possible. If powerful countries like the US decide that they're above helping out, then other countries will probably follow suit and opt out of the Paris Agreement. Just think about it: life isn't about profits, whose economy is better than whose, or even who creates the most pollution. Life is about living! And if we don't agree, together, to change our ways, we'll all be dust. If you're reading this, there are many things that you can do as an individual to reduce emissions, but the best thing you can do for the world is to support politicians with a strong environmental protected plan, and whose parties adhere to the provisions put forth by the Paris Agreement.
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