Upon arriving back at MSP airport, we learned that the Paris climate agreement was passed. Our group was so happy, some were moved to tears. Finally, a starting point for climate action. We wondered why the others on the plane were not cheering. One woman said she represented the small island nations and she did not think the agreement was good enough.
My view on the agreement is that it incorporated some key elements that were not included at the beginning of negotiations. Added back into the final agreement was the idea that the rights of Indigenous people need to be respected and included as we move forward. The overall goal of keeping the temperature “well below 2 degrees Celsius,” with a target of 1.5 degrees, is in the final agreement. This is a key point for the island nations. The plan to meet again in five years to ramp up the INDCs is also in the agreement; this is necessary to stay well below 2 degrees. We all realize that with the current INDCs we will not meet the temperature goals stated in the text. Finally, I was happy that there is some funding to help with climate disasters, albeit not enough.
As I proceeded to dive back into my normal life at home, I talked to several people about the climate agreement. After getting through the initial, “Yeah, we have an agreement!” I had some interesting conversations. One great question that came up was, “How are we going to do it?” So I talked about renewables, energy conservation, changing lifestyles, communicating with policy makers, growing more trees, and, most importantly, changing how we picture ourselves in the world.
There are so many next steps, but initially I want to explain to people what the agreement means and how we begin to meet the challenge. I don’t want us to get back into life as usual. Or worse, look at how bad China’s emissions are so that we feel fine with what we are doing. After talking to as many people as I can, I will be looking into solar on my school building and writing letters to see why the community solar plan is stalled. My goal is to continue to learn as much as I can, so that I can be a resource for others wanting solar, or wondering what they can do reduce their carbon output.
Attending COP21 had a powerful impact on me, as it probably did on everyone that attended. The stories of those suffering the consequences of climate extremes or continued exploitation from logging companies will stay with me for a long time. I am hopeful because, now that we have an agreement and a goal, we have leverage and a direction for the path down which the U.S. needs to direct our energy resources.