The United Nations has long recognized that climate change is a scientific fact, that it is caused by human activities, and that by working together, the people of the world can effect real change in protecting our planet.

In December 2015, 195 nations gathered in Paris for COP 21, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, and now they have made history with the adoption of a binding international climate change agreement.

Click here or here to read additional historical information behind COP21.

Key Outcomes from the Paris Agreement

Perhaps the most striking feature of the agreement is the goal to keep global temperature rise at or below 1.5 degrees lower than pre-industrial levels. While scientists have widely agreed that 2 degrees is the key to preventing major climate disasters, more recent consensus and research indicates that a more aggressive limit of 1.5 degrees may help to prevent severe and long-lasting effects such as the melting of the entire Greenland ice sheet and the inundation of island nations by rising seas.

Additional important notes from the agreement:

Preservation of forests, including payments for tropical countries if they succeed in reducing or limiting destruction of their forests due to logging, or clearance for food production.

Developed countries will be required to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance and supporting developing countries' efforts.

Mutual trust and confidence will be enhanced by a transparency framework for global accountability.

A clear message has been issued that most of the existing reserves of coal, oil, and gas must stay in the ground. Because we know that the fossil fuels that have already been extracted, will be burned, offsets must be made by planting new forests and eliminating further deforestation.

Countries will be legally required to come back every five years with new reduction targets for emissions that will be evaluated. This keeps a tighter schedule than some countries wanted, but will increase global accountability.

Unfortunately, text regarding indigenous rights was removed from the final versions of the agreement, due to concerns about legal implications if climate change is judged to have violated those rights. As indigenous peoples stand to be among those most significantly affected by the progression of climate change, this is a major disappointment and unacceptable to the indigenous people who attended COP21 and held a strong presence throughout the discussions.

Moving Forward

As with any agreement among widely diverse parties, there are both strong and weak points to the agreement. But overall, it represents a massive step forward in global progress toward mitigating climate change. The recognition of the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit on global warming, as well as the requirement for 5-year check-ins for all countries, are aggressive parameters. This should give everyone hope for a brighter and more sustainable future for all of us.

Photograph of Eiffel Tower by Alberto Otero Garcia