Explaining Paris

Post Paris Refections:

Like many in the climate community, I am elated following the Paris Agreement. This was a moment 23 years in the making! Something that once seemed impossible. Being a part of this class was special: it made us feel like we contributed in some small way.

There was a constant stream of group messages from Paris and watch parties in Durham. As soon as it was released, we all read the text simultaneously with everyone immediately sharing what they learned. What pieces stayed in….What was controversial….Usually referencing a subject or article that they personally cared about. Outside of our text chain, suddenly, the entire world was paying attention to something that we had been zeroed in on for months. We soon became subject matter experts and were placed in an interesting position. Our friends at Duke were now asking us: What Happened? Why does it matter?

To put this into perspective, on Saturday, I got a few texts from business school students. A few screenshots of their phones when they received the news update with a captions that said “you were right”. The majority wanted to let me know that they heard about the deal, but a few wanted to know what I thought. What to say?

I think to fully appreciate the Paris agreement you have to understand the nuances behind the negotiations, the way that climate masks the other geopolitical struggles between nations, the long history of developed versus developing nations, how Kyoto failed, how a bottom up approach is being tested over a top-down, how the US ratifies treaties versus agrees to, well, agreements. So, how to explain all that, especially to those that don’t care about climate? I don’t know but I’m slowly learning.

I try and make 3 simple points.

1. This “really is a big deal”: I start with the fact that it was the largest gathering of heads of state in history and that there has never been anything like this before. The first universal, legally binding climate agreement! If I have more time, I talk about the nuance of legally binding. Targets are non-binding/non legal but the process and procedures are. With more time, I try make the point that Kyoto failed for reasons that this agreement avoids. Even if it hadn’t failed, only had a small percentage of large polluters committing to anything. This has the entire world!

2. 2 degrees with a 1.5 degree aspirational goal, 5 year review of INDCS, and $100BN a year by 2020 floor: I will talk about how important the 1.5 degrees are for island nations. What climate finance means and the differences between mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage. Lastly, what an INDC is and how that approach, while non-binding, is revolutionary.

3. Framework not the targets: Lastly, I remind people that while the targets are incredibly important, the greatest part of this agreement is that we have changed the framework. We have a new way to approach and tackle one of the most difficult problems on Earth. And, it is one that the entire world agreed to. I can’t believe it.

It’s not perfect, but it is my attempt to battle the curse of knowledge and attempt to convey all that we have learned over the last few months, because finally the world is listening!

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