The celebratory mood was everywhere as politicians and government officials hugged each other and the media spread the good news around the globe. Even Al Gore was in a good mood. To judge by the reactions, the Paris agreement to fight climate change was an astounding success. It seemed as if it gave us near certainty that we could keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the new and more aggressive goal. It seemed as if the planet was now safe for humanity going into the future. But the truth is that what the agreement achieved falls short when compared to the level of the celebrations.
There is, of course, good news to celebrate. The deal was a major diplomatic success, and 195 nations agreeing to a document created to fight climate change is unprecedented and revolutionary. There is the recognition that deforestation and forest degradation play a critical role in the climate crisis, and the implementation of a formal process to meet every five years to critique progress and scale-up financing for poor countries. The agreement is definitely an important step in the right direction, but it is just that, a step.
Let’s take a look at the bad news. Unfortunately there is really nothing binding about the agreement, and even if every country in the world complied with its commitments, it's highly unlikely that the goal of keeping temperature below 1.5 degrees would be achieved. The agreement is in for the most part voluntary and has no mechanism to punish any nation that does not comply. Deforestation was recognized as playing a critical role in climate change, and yet there was not a binding inclusion for Indigenous people or human rights. The words fossil fuels or decarbonization are not even mentioned at all in the agreement. What would we think of a document designed to stop smoking that didn’t even mention the word cigarette?
Industrial agriculture is responsible for almost 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions but not a word is said about it. The oceans—the support system on which all life depends and the largest storage for greenhouse gases—are not even considered. The fact that they are imperiled with pollution while overfishing is out of control and only 1% of the oceans are protected is completely ignored.
The biggest challenge humanity faces is not really climate change, it is understanding the fact that we must fundamentally change the way we live; that we can not continue to live as if there were no limits to planetary resources. Real solutions to climate change are not the solutions people want to hear, and if we are to really win this fight against climate change, we must be ready to face the reality that we all have to change.
We need to reconnect with nature and systematically transform our systems based on the planet's limitations. We must listen to nature—the idea of giving nature a seat at the UN would be a good start, but this was not even discussed. A climate agreement was signed, but there is no indication on the horizon that the burning of fossil fuels, the production of tar sands in Canada, the efforts to drill in the arctic for oil, the rampant deforestation all over the world, or the elimination of wildlife and its habitat, will stop.
I hope I am proven wrong, but so much more commitment and serious action is needed to have a real chance to make our planet safe for us and future generations. I hope the agreement puts us on a path to finding a real solution.
Nicolás Ibargüen is an environmentalist and director of the Planet Initiative of the Americas Business Council Foundation, an organization that supports innovative social and environmental impact projects.
He is the environmental Correspondent for Fusion and Univision.
Nicolás organizes expeditions and events with world leaders to raise awareness about our relationship with the planet. He produced the award-winning documentary “Amazon Gold” and he is a board member of NRDC’s Voces Verdes and the Humane Society International. He was the Editor and Publisher of Poder Magazine.