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The Paris Agreement: A Step Towards Clean Environment and Better Health

by   -  May 9th, 2016

by Pirotehnik, despositphotos.com
by Pirotehnik, despositphotos.com
2015 was the hottest on record, breaking the previous records set in 2014. 2016 is set to break those new records yet again. This cycle of global warming comes at a huge cost when we’re dealing with droughts and heatwaves, superstorms and hurricanes, wildfires and other severe weather; not to mention putting elderly and children at risk because of the effect of extreme weather. Beyond that, the World Health Organization estimates 7 million premature deaths happen each year thanks to outdoor pollution. Whether looking at this from the point of view of saving the earth, or potentially saving lives—innovations in the way we handle energy, the earth, and the overall impacts we have are huge.

The science behind global warming and the related causes are irrefutable; we are the cause and if we want a planet to leave to future generations, we need to start acting like the responsible party we are, pull up our big boy/girl pants, and set to work. Here in the United States, there tends to be two different camps of thinking; those who understand the science and those who can’t remember what science is, how it operates, or why it’s useful. Seriously, it’s that bad. Unfortunately, the latter camp tends to block a lot of the progress for the group who sees the impending doom unfolding in the evidence before our eyes.

Earth Day, 2016 - April 22nd marked the year-long window in which countries around the world can sign the 2015 Paris Agreement. While a record breaking number of countries signed, in order to bring the agreement into International Law, at least 55 countries (read as Parties in the agreement) representing 55% of the worlds global emissions must sign the agreement to keep warming to 2˚ C between 2020 and 2030, which translates to a total world limit of around 3.6 trillion tones of greenhouse gases. Making this type of a move will potentially impact our agriculture and food supplies by reducing droughts and removing harmful toxins from our farming culture.

So far, 177 countries have signed the agreement, however, at the time this article was written, only 16 Parties representing 0.04% of global emission have technically joined the agreement. Which means we’re still a long way off from having anything go into effect. Both Canada and the United States signed the agreement at the UN Summit in New York, but neither have joined as of yet.

So what’s the difference between signing and joining? A bunch, actually. By signing the agreement, a country is basically saying they plan to join, but have further approval processes they must carry out within their local governments before they can officially join. Hypothetically, this could mean it may take a while before approval, or they could even end up backing out, depending on how things go. Ultimately, each country who signed must ratify the treaty domestically and provide an instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession to the UN in order to officially join. Once the 55/55 threshold has been met, the treaty will go into effect 30 days later. When this threshold might be met is currently anyone’s guess. It could be as early as late this year, but only time will tell.

If the United States and Canada were to join this year, that would mean nearly 20% of the global emissions requirement has been met between us alone. Add China into the mix, who has suffered greatly in terms of air pollution, and we’re at nearly 40%.

When it all comes down to it, though, many skeptics feel the Paris Agreement is window dressing – merely a way to show support without actually having to take the drastic action necessary to reduce emissions and slow global warming. However, it’s undeniable that the Paris Agreement is a step in the right direction—and it’s much needed.

Presidential Candidates & The Paris Agreement

With 2016 being an election year here in the United States, whoever takes over as commander-in-chief will likely play a big role in our involvement with policies supporting the Paris Agreement. This of course, makes the US a key concern for the Paris Agreement and its future execution. President Obama is expected to treat the agreement as an executive agreement, needing only his approval to join sometime later this year. If he does so, this will make it harder for a subsequent Administration to undermine our involvement, should the elected Administration have a difference of opinion. However, it doesn’t negate all the effects that could happen, should the presidency switch to someone who is less informed.

Donald Trump – Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, believes global warming is an elaborate hoax developed by the Chinese so the US wouldn’t be competitive in manufacturing jobs. He’s also frequently mocked the normal change of seasons (early spring in New York, for example) as an argument against global warming, so it’s unlikely we’d see much support for the Paris Agreement under a Trump Administration. He also wants to appeal Obamacare, open up healthcare costs to the free market economy, and rely on Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

Hillary Clinton – While a step up from the Republican candidates listed above, Hillary Clinton’s stance is that global warming is mostly driven by carbon dioxide from power plants. As one of the Democratic candidates vying for the Presidency, she has mentioned she will follow the initiatives set in place by the Obama Administration and happens to be a supporter of the Clean Air Act’s mission to curb power plant emissions. However, Clinton has supported fracking in the past, and even voted for drilling off the Florida coastline. This, of course, lends for some concern to those in the United States who feel her understanding of climate change may not be advanced enough. According to Clinton’s website, her administration does have a plan in place to increase renewable energy, cut waste, and reduce American oil consumption by a third. Her plan, according to the site, is in response to the pledge President Obama made at the Paris climate conference. When it comes to healthcare, Mrs. Clinton supports the Affordable Care Act, and would like to expand it further. She also likes the idea of reducing out of pocket expenses and lowering prescription costs, as well as rewarding those who live to a higher quality of health.

Bernie Sanders – As another Democratic Candidate, there’s no denying the best in terms of championing environmental causes is Bernie Sanders. With a 95% lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters, he’s by far the most vocal about global warming and promises to take the Obama’s Administration’s work a step further. According to Senator Sanders’ via his own website, he has said, “The scientists are virtually unanimous that climate change is real, is caused by human activity, and is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world. And, they tell us, if we do not act boldly the situation will only become much worse." Sanders even has a detailed plan for how his Administration would handle climate change and do its part to reverse the effects our country has on it. In regards to healthcare, Senator Sanders is the only candidate to promote the idea of Medicare for all—giving affordable healthcare to all American citizens, regardless of their income. He believes healthcare is a universal right for all human beings.

Much is at stake when it comes to finding a solution to the climate change crisis. Should we sit back and do nothing, the environmental, economic, and overall health impacts will be devastating not only for the United States or Canada—but globally. While the Paris Agreement is a fantastic start, leading the global community in the right direction, it may end up being too little, too late. Particularly as far as American politics are concerned. Should the 2016 Presidential Election go sideways, there’s no telling how the treaty, and the world overall, may be impacted. As an American citizen with her eye on the implications this election has, I sure hope reason prevails and a President with true environment and forward-thinking vision is elected. If not, we’re all likely doomed.

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Carissa Andrews is an passionate author and freelancer from Minnesotan with a focus in creative writing.

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