What Is the Paris Climate Agreement?

Signing ceremony logo via un.org

You’ve probably heard it mentioned frequently, and it appears right at the top of our list of goals, but you may be wondering — what exactly is the Paris Agreement, and how does it apply to your garden?

On April 22, 2016 and in the months following, 197 parties joined in signing the Paris Agreement to strengthen efforts in combating global climate change.  The Agreement’s aim is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” To achieve this, the Agreement required all signatories to put forward their “best efforts,” or unique climate reduction plans known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  Nations are expected to strengthen and report on their success in the following years.

The Paris Agreement identified crucial aspects necessary to address climate change, including temperature goals, global peaking of emissions, adaptation and strengthening resiliency, education and public awareness, as well as others.

The United States: Commitment and Withdrawal

Through an executive action, President Barack Obama signed the United States’ commitment to reduce carbon reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025.  In June of 2017, President Trump signaled his intent to withdraw for the Paris Agreement. However, the structure of the agreement requires three years of participation before officially withdrawing. The earliest that the United States could formally do so is November 4, 2020. Despite the federal government’s intention of withdrawing, many businesses, nonprofits, cities, communities, organizations, universities, faith groups and other entities have signaled their intention to honor the commitments made by the US.

Heads of delegations pose for a group portrait at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), which led to the signing of the Paris Agreement. Le Bourget, France, November 30, 2015. Credit: Presidencia de la Republica Mexicana via Flickr

We Are Still In

After President Trump expressed his intention for withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June of 2017, numerous cities, communities, organizations, universities, faith groups and tribes created the We Are Still In movement. The campaign declares a commitment to uphold the Paris Agreement standards and the responsibility of acting to prevent further climate change. We Are Still In is a diverse coalition with bipartisan and cross-sectoral support demonstrating their environmental leadership to fulfill the United States climate reduction commitment. Organization of the We Are Still In coalition strategy efforts and Administration is led by The World Wildlife Fund Climate Nexus and Ceres. More than 3,900 mayors, CEOs, governors, tribal leaders, college presidents, faith leaders and others have decided to take on this role of environmental leadership. We recommend joining their number as a first step toward pledging your commitment to address climate change.

The Three Emission Scopes

Precisely categorizing and tracking emissions when calculating a carbon footprint is vital. A three-scope emission system was created to help organizations calculate their carbon footprint. The system is divided into three tiers, called “scopes,” which focus on where greenhouse gases are released. The first scope includes all of the direct emissions released onsite which includes fuel combustion and consumption. The use of gas boilers and fleet vehicles, and air-conditioning leaks are also included in the first tier. Scope 2 emissions includes all indirect emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the organization. Emissions produced indirectly include purchased electricity, heating and cooling, and steam generated offsite. Scope 3 is categorized by all other indirect emissions related to activities by the organization which include employee travel, commuting, solid waste disposal, wastewater treatment, and from transportation and distribution with purchase electricity. Placing certain organizational activities into each scope can be useful for accurately measuring impact.

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Diagram credit: VitalMetrics Group

Next Steps: Complete Energy Audit

Creating innovative solutions starts with one question: Where do we begin? When pursuing reduced emissions, the first step is to complete an energy audit. The audit will provide an opportunity to analyze current emissions and energy use patterns throughout the entire organization.

Many different types of audits exist today; two examples are a preliminary audit which focuses on a period of time or a detailed audit which focuses on financial estimates of energy, technology, or control savings. Energy assessments are a systematic approach to increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption. Local electricity companies can finish the audit with suggestions about reducing energy usage and replacing faculty technology.

The Climate Toolkit will publish a future blog post to dig deeper into energy auditing so you can find a solution that works for you. We look forward to helping you reduce your emissions and honor the Paris Climate Agreement at your institution!

If your garden would like to join the conversation, please download and complete our survey and return to ceo@phipps.conservatory.org.

Deep Dive: More Resources

The following resources helped us write this story. We recommend them for those who wish to dig deeper into this topic.

  • The EPA provides a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resource document that explains the sources of GHGs, global emissions, national emissions, facility-level emissions, and the carbon footprint calculator. This is a useful resource to begin to  calculate an individual’s carbon footprint.
  • The United Nations for Convention on Climate Change explains what a Nationally Determined Contribution is. Each party of the Paris Agreement is required to create an outline for their greenhouse reductions.
  • This resource explains the steps taken during the Obama administration to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon emission in the United States. The United States’ Paris Agreement INDCs are also listed on this source.
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