Now that a global climate deal exists in the wake of the COP21 climate summit in Paris, the real work begins for the 196 participating nations—and for Fordham Law School, Professor Paolo Galizzi said this week, shortly after returning from Ghana.
The climate change solutions called for in the agreement provide Fordham Law with an important new opportunity to promote sustainable development by supporting developing-country efforts to better access and engage climate measures going forward, said Galizzi, Director of the Sustainable Development Legal Initiative (SDLI) at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.
“We at Fordham, with our strong partners and relationships in Africa and around the world, can contribute to ensure that African countries and other developing countries take full advantage of this agreement to deal with climate change as best they can,” Galizzi said Monday.
The Paris climate agreement features a stated goal of limiting planetary temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, in hopes of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Attaining this temperature goal, which some scientists doubt is possible at this point, would require nations to transition, in future decades, from polluting energy sources such as coal and oil to renewables like wind and solar. The deal is also noteworthy for its inclusion in the preamble of references to human rights and gender equality with respect to climate change actions, Galizzi said.
The agreement does not include specific implementation measures for reaching the 1.5-degree Celsius mark, any mention of the annual $100 billion developing nations requested to offset the expense of the energy transition, or any proposals on air or shipping emissions. Still, the agreement’s mere existence, after years of failed attempts at a global climate pact, provides the world a much-needed framework to make progress on this vital issue, Galizzi noted.
“This is the best that could be achieved at this particular moment in history,” Galizzi said of the Paris deal, describing it as more ambitious than he expected. “I would hope people don’t think the problem has been solved. This is simply a starting point for more action.”
Galizzi spent the past week in Ghana assisting on climate change–related issues in his capacity with the Leitner Center. African nations are happy the summit produced an agreement, particularly one that addresses climate justice, the professor said. However, there is disappointment that the final text did not mention the financial aid developing countries sought to begin their transition from polluting energy to renewable energy.
“With all international agreements, I don’t think anyone walks away having achieved everything they wanted,” Galizzi said. The agreement will be up for ratification in 2018, for which it will require the support of either 55 percent of nations or nations that cause 55 percent of emissions. If ratified, the Paris agreement would go into effect in 2020.
Whether the measures each country develops post-Paris will be sufficient will depend on how they handle climate change according to their own circumstances and development needs, as well as what they communicate to the climate change secretariat, Galizzi explained. Future agreements could produce more clearly defined implementation measures, and domestic governments could act to take more aggressive approaches to reducing greenhouse gases. Galizzi pointed to the five-year reviews agreed upon in the COP21 pact as a positive means to review climate progress.
The United States’ role in future climate agreements is an unknown, Galizzi said, even though the nation played a pivotal role in the creation of the Paris agreement. The Obama administration has made it clear that it does not view this as a treaty and thus does not need Senate approval for ratification. However, should a Republican president take office in 2017 it is possible, if not likely, that the United States could walk away from the pledges it made in the deal, Galizzi said.
Whether the United States moves forward with its pledge or not is unlikely to prevent others from carrying out their obligations. According to Galizzi, the United States leadership has been critical, and one would hope this pressing environmental and economic challenge will see the United States in the front row, regardless of politics. “After all, planet Earth is the only one we all have, whether we are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, political, or apolitical,” he said.