The historic importance of the Paris Agreement of 2015 was about joining forces of almost all countries of the world in defending the climate.
After 13 days of coordinating the gruelling negotiations, the then French Foreign Minister, socialist Laurent Fabius, declared that the adopted agreement was „fair, sustainable, dynamic, balanced and taking different interests into account”. It sounded very optimistic, but was is certainly a great success as the leaders of as many as 195 countries signed this very complicated document. And even if two years later Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement, never before had such a large part of humanity become involved in the fight against environmental disaster.
However, by necessity, the Paris Agreement is one big compromise. Small island countries in the Pacific or the Atlantic, such as the Kingdom of Tonga, initially put the matter in an extremely dramatic context: if the average temperature rises by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era, they will simply be flooded by rising ocean levels. On the other hand, however, large producers of fossil fuels such as Saudi Arabia and India did not want to hear of „halting the increase in CO2 emissions”.
Eventually, everyone signed a neat, though not entirely clear, formulation that the goal is to limit climate change „clearly below 2 degrees Celsius” and at the same time „efforts will be continued” to ensure that the temperature does not grow more than by 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Since many countries, such as America and Poland, did not want to take on too far-reaching legal obligations, it was agreed that the commitments that 186 countries eventually made would be „voluntary”. At the same time, however, the implementation of the declarations they made would be reviewed every five years, and each country would have to make more far-reaching commitments on this occasion. The first, non-binding discussion on this subject is to take place already at the summit in Katowice.
The measures to be taken to reduce greenhouse gases are also a great compromise. In order to „reach the climax of carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible”, everyone has to act in a way that is convenient for them. Some countries, as for instance Poland, may focus in particular on the expansion of woodland, others on the reduction of poisonous industries or the development of (costly) technologies for the storage and destruction of harmful gases. Everything will be taken into account.
Division into “the rich” and “the poor”
Still in 1992, the UN established a very clear boundary between „developed countries” and „developing countries”. This essentially exempted the latter from participating in the fight against climate change. The logic was simple: since Europe and America reached a high standard of living in the 19th and 20th centuries at the expense of the environment, now the same ‚opportunity’ cannot be denied to Chinese or Indians.
But Barack Obama stressed from the very beginning of the Paris negotiations that this reasoning is no longer valid, since China had become the world’s largest economy (taking into account the real purchasing power of national currencies). He pointed out that already in 2013 the total scale of carbon dioxide emissions of the PRC was almost twice as big as in America, although per capita it still remained three times lower.
According to the reached compromise the developing countries were only to ‚continue their efforts to combat climate change’, while the developed countries should ‚develop the latest green technologies’ and ‚set themselves absolute targets’. At the same time, it was agreed that from 2020 onwards „The „rich” will provide „at least” $100 billion a year to the „poor” to finance the costs of the fight against climate change.
But perhaps the greatest success of the Paris Agreement was the gradual change in environmental awareness around the world. Because today, just three years later, China has become a leader in some environmental technologies (e.g. electric cars), because it has realised that, regardless of international negotiations, climate change is a direct threat to them.
In the same way, regardless of the defence of the Polish mining industry, the fight against smog has become a fundamental element of public debate in Poland in recent years. Moreover, it has become clear that the development of new environmentally friendly technologies can be an excellent driver of growth and not just „a cost”, which has to be shifted upon others. So maybe Fabius in Paris wasn’t so naïve after all?