Today is the first day of COP22, the twenty second annual meeting of international climate change negotiators. This year’s conference is like none of the previous ones, because – this time – there’s an international climate agreement in effect. The Paris Agreement entered into force last Friday, November 4th.
That agreement has the support of all 195 negotiating parties, and has already been ratified by one hundred parties, accounting for nearly seventy percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that it has entered into force within less than a year puts it in the company of just a handful of other U.N. agreements.
Which all begs the question, what’s left to do?
The answer: plenty.
The Paris Agreement is a marked departure from previously attempted agreements in that it doesn’t tell nations what they need to do to address climate change. Rather, it allows each party to set their own goals, and establishes a process for reporting progress and setting new, more ambitious goals on a regular basis.
At this year’s talks in Marakech, Morocco, negotiators will begin the touchy business of laying out some of the ground rules for that process. Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of U.N. climate negotiations, has also identified five key areas that need to be addressed, including financing and other capacity building to help developing nations meet their goals and adapt to inevitable impacts of rising seas and increasingly extreme weather.
Underlying all this hard work, though, is a deep understanding amongst many in the scientific community that, no matter how much gets done in Marakech, there will be even more to do. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels, but many acknowledge that we are likely to overshoot that mark. In fact, some argue we've already gone too far, if our goal is a stable climate system.
That means we will need to suck greenhouse gases back out of the atmosphere in order to re-stabilize the climate in a more hospitable state. At the moment, the best “technology” we have to do that is planting trees, although serious – and creative – effort is going into everything from putting greenhouse gases back into the ground to turning them into plastic chairs for Ikea.
George Woodwell, founder of Woods Hole Research Center
Phil Duffy, president and executive director of Woods Hole Research Center.