When faced with the hustle and bustle of daily political life, it’s easy to forget that human civilisation is in a continued state of jeopardy. Brexit, Trump, Isis, and every other human geopolitical issue all pale in comparison to the continued threat of climate change. Yet despite the known severity of the issues at hand, it took until 2015 for there to be an international consensus where countries agreed to combat global warming. The Paris Climate Accord was lauded as a brave step forward in collectively tackling the issue of global warming. It gave every target a precise goal as to the level of refutation in greenhouse gas emissions were required, and managed to pass the objections of major polluters like China and the US.
Yet a mere two years after its original ratification, it’s now little more than scrap paper. Most obviously, the US has adopted a decidedly archaic approach to science. The Trump administration, spurred on by mercantilist misunderstanding of global economics, myopic nationalism, and flat out denial of science, has decided to pull out of the climate agreement. Trump has said that he did so in protecting America’s best interest, because he was elected by “Pittsburgh, not Paris” – a statement the progressive Pennsylvania city resents, and which will seem much less America–focused once the swing state of Florida becomes a shallow sea.
It would be sufficiently worrying if the only threat to the Paris Accord was the United States’ potential withdrawal, but it is in fact the hypocrisy of the rest of the world which poses the greatest danger. Despite world leaders at the recent G20 summit reiterating their commitment to the Paris Agreement, and the worldwide scolding of Trump for his recklessness, nearly every nation is failing to honour the promises they voluntarily adopted.
Of all the signatories of the Paris Agreement, a mere five percent have actually taken steps to realistically reduce emissions to the levels they have committed themselves to. The rest are either like the UK – where political cowardice is leading governments to do the absolute minimum possible, or like India – where emissions have actually risen as a direct result of government policy. Nearly every country has treated the Paris Agreement with the same level of disrespect as Trump has; the sole difference being that the rest are hypocritical.
All of the aforementioned problems with the Paris Agreement become yet more ridiculous when one considers the pathetically low level of commitment that it required from its signatories. Despite being heralded as a bold piece of environmental legislation, it was incredibly weak, and left emissions so high that even if they were met, global warming wouldn’t have been averted.
Part of this can be attributed to the pernicious existence of independent nations, jealous of their sovereignty, who are unwilling to surrender it even when humanity is faced with an existential threat. This stubborn defence of national sovereignty meant that every nation put national interest over human interest, dragging out negotiations for the agreement beyond the point to which global warming could be averted. This attitude has also prevented an enforcement mechanism on nations to be established, and meant that industrialised nations lobbied high emission levels compared to those recommended by independent scientific studies.
The Paris Climate Accord was made with good intentions, but now appears to be little more than a series empty promises. Humans have been polluting the atmosphere for so long that it would appear we have reached a point of no return. I am not a natural pessimist, but it appears evident that in place of collective progress, we have allowed collective failure in the fight against climate change. Our descendants will damn us for the consequences.