The European Parliament approved ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement, taking us well past the threshold of nations and collective emissions needed. The agreement is not legally binding for 30 days. We are on a path to breathing cleaner air; our children are looking at a brighter future.
Many of the participating nations have strong plans to reduce emissions. Beyond words, the key signers are already taking action by implementing energy efficiency, renewable energy, zero net energy buildings, better transportation, and other forms of emission reduction.
If the top five emitters successfully implement their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will peak and fall. The worst effects of extreme climate change will likely be avoided.
The Nations that Will Stop Emission Increase
China’s President Xi Jinping joined U.S. President Barack Obama in ratifying the Paris Agreement in September. China is estimated to produce 29 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, 20 percent of the Paris Agreement inventory, more than any other nation. Their INDC targets its carbon intensity to be 60 to 65 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. China is already the world leader in wind power and solar energy. China’s use of coal peaked last year.
Air pollution is estimated to kill 1.6 million people per year, giving China a strong incentive to take action. Starting in 2017, China will tax carbon emissions from over 30 thousand sources including coal power, cement production and manufacturing.
The United States emits 15 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and 18 percent of the Paris Agreement inventory. U.S. INDC targets a 26 to 28 percent carbon emission reduction by 2025 compared to 2005 emissions. The United States leads the world in energy efficiency. Buildings, which use most of our generated electricity, have switched to LED lighting, efficient heating and air conditioning, superior insulation and windows. Hundreds of buildings are zero-net energy. Record numbers of young workers live in cities car-free using smart apps to navigate between transit and Uber.
The U.S. also does more fracking for oil and natural gas than all other nations of the world combined, with 40 percent of fracking on government lands. This is leading to record methane leaks, which trap 25 times the heat of carbon dioxide. Our next president will either lower methane emissions or raise them through decisions about public lands, pipeline approvals, proposed laws and cabinet positions.
Trump has said that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. However, should he take office next January, the Agreement will be in force and the U.S. cannot legally abandon the agreement until 2020. Unfortunately the U.S. would not be penalized for ignoring our commitments. The agreement would not stop him from shifting from solar and wind to coal, oil, and natural gas.
Clinton stated, “The Paris agreement is testament to America’s ability to lead the world in building a clean energy future where no one is left out or left behind….The next decade of action is critical – because if we do not press forward with driving clean energy growth and cutting carbon pollution across the economy, we will not be able to avoid catastrophic consequences.”
The next U.S. president will lead, follow, or get out of the way.
India ratified the agreement on October 2, the birthday of Gandhi. India emits 7 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, 4 percent of the Paris inventory, and is one of the nations most vulnerable to rising seas and changing monsoon patterns. India targets 40 percent of its electricity generation capacity by 2030 from non-fossil fuels, up from 30 percent today. India plans to install a massive 175 GW of renewables by 2022, but also plans to double coal output by 2020. India targets emission intensity of 33 to 35 percent below 2005 by 2030. India will plant enough trees to absorb at least 2.5 billion tons of CO2.
European Union Parliament of 28 nations has agreed to ratify the agreement. Formal ratification of the EU is expected in days as its individual members ratify. Combined these nations emit 12 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, less than the United States. Germany representing 3 percent of global emissions has ratified. In my detailed article about Germany, I describe their leadership in wind, solar, storage, and efficiency has them on a path to be at least 80 percent renewable by 2050. Wind energy is a big part of our future. Denmark and the United Kingdom lead the world in offshore wind. Europe’s leadership is helping all nations.
Will we have enough Oxygen?
Brazil ratified the agreement in September. The Amazon rainforest, where CO2 is absorbed during photosynthesis, sequesters CO2 and thereby slowing global warming. Brazil’s INDC targets GHG emissions 37 percent below 2005 by 2025; 43 percent by 2030. It will be a challenge for Brazil as drying rivers hurts the hydropower that is 66 percent of its electricity. Brazil targets restoring 30 million acres of forest and eliminating illegal deforestation by 2030.
Indonesia has yet to ratify the agreement. Indonesia is a top emitter of GHG because its forests have been massively slashed and burned, releasing CO2 and methane, for production of palm oil. Over 100,000 fires have been detected this year. Like Brazil, Indonesian rainforests are critical to our survival. Indonesia’s INDC targets a 29 percent emissions reduction by 2030, protection of 31 million acres of rainforest, and reduction of over a billion tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) with international cooperation and financial assistance.
Oceans produce 50 percent of the oxygen that we breathe. Ocean life did not get to vote in Paris. CO2 + H20 = H2CO3 = carbonic acid. The chemistry is one hundred percent certain. The ocean is 30 percent more acidic than 100 years ago and getting hotter. This has lead to a reduction in the phytoplankton that produces 50 percent of our oxygen. We must stop global warming for the sake of living creatures, including our future generations.
Other Nations Matter
When not considering CO2e from rainforest destruction, there are nations with greater emissions than Brazil and Indonesia including Russia, Japan, Korea, and Germany. The emissions of all nations matter, some far more than others.
Russia emits 8 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and likely higher if methane emissions from oil and gas are underreported. Due to its shrinking economy, its emissions will decline as other nations buy less oil and gas from Russia, which has yet to ratify the agreement.
Japan, representing 4 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, has yet to ratify the agreement. Long a leader in energy efficiency, since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it has been a leading nation in installing wind energy.
Is the Paris Agreement a Success or Failure?
As you might expect, an agreement acceptable to all nations is less ambitious than the goals of most leading organizations, cities and states. For example, while the U.S. Congress insists on massive subsidies for oil and gas and refuses to tax carbon emissions, California’s economy is booming since implementing a carbon tax and is well on the way to 50 percent of its energy being renewable. Many corporations are far ahead of states by using 100 percent renewables including Google, Apple, Unilever, Whole Foods, North Face and Goldman Sachs.
Bottoms-up success is far ahead of top-down planning. Reality is ahead of plans.
Some environmental critics are angry that the Paris agreement is non-binding and INDCs not sufficient to keep global warming below a dangerous 2-degree increase. Their concerns are valid. We need only look at today’s billion people who lack food and water, watch record storm destruction, and the tragic Sixth Extinction. Critics correctly point to $5 trillion of annual subsidies and health damage from burning oil, coal, and methane. Despite the Paris Aspirational goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, we are likely to pass 3 degrees of warming. Yet the commitments made in Paris are already creating significant progress.
There will be winners and losers. Winners and millions of new jobs will occur in efficiency, new buildings, soaring cities and smart mobility; losers and thousands of lost jobs will happen in oil and coal-powered electric utility monopolies.
In 1987, 24 nations agreed to an agreement to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that were destroying our ozone shield. The Montreal Protocol was initially signed by 24 nations. Now it has more than 190 signators, and destruction emissions of CFCs have been reduced over 90 percent. The Paris agreement is a major step to a future with less greenhouse gas emissions, more energy efficiency, better transportation, zero net energy buildings, and a massive shift to wind and solar energy.
The Paris Climate Agreement is not the final step; it is an important milestone of progress for humankind.