Earth has been around for about 4.6 billion years, and it experienced many changes during that period of time. Its history, including the development of ecosystems, can be unravelled by looking at life's remnants in its rock layers. Geologists have marked each period with a meaningful title, such as Cambrian, Jurassic, Holocene and Pleistocene.
Today, scientists argue that we have started a new and even more historic period in the Earth's story: the Anthropocene. For the first time in the planet's history, one species is its primary designer – humans. And this species has a very destructive behaviour. We are destroying our own species' future. We are on the verge of the point-of-no-return. Unless....
Can we stop the process depicted in the animation above?
Well, yesterday, after several earlier attempts which failed miserably the World's 195 leaders reached an historic agreement on climate change at the COP21 in Paris. An agreement by the way that – due to its last minute effort – shows that humans as a species lack a considerable amount of responsibility towards future generations. Already in 1972 the Club of Rome said there was a limit to growth, and that precautionary action would suit us. Nobody listened or acted accordingly. Despite increasing evidence piling up showing that our lifestyle would in the end make it impossible for Planet Earth to support our continued existence, it took us nearly 55 years! to agree on serious measures.
Some highlights of the 12 December 2015 UN press release read:
An historic agreement to combat climate change and unleash actions and investment towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future was agreed by 195 nations in Paris today.
The Paris Agreement for the first time brings all nations into a common cause based on their historic, current and future responsibilities.
The universal agreement’s main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The 1.5 degree Celsius limit being a significantly safer defense line against the worst impacts of a changing climate.
To reach these ambitious and important goals, appropriate financial flows will be put in place, thus making stronger action by developing countries and the most vulnerable possible, in line with their own national objectives.
The Paris Agreement and the outcomes of the UN climate conference (COP21) cover all the crucial areas identified as essential for a landmark conclusion:
Mitigation – reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal
A transparency system and global stock–take – accounting for climate action
Adaptation – strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts
Loss and damage – strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts
Support – including finance, for nations to build clean, resilient futures
The new agreement also establishes the principle that future national plans will be no less ambitious than existing ones, while climate action will also be taken forward in the period before 2020, including ratcheting up climate finance to USD 100 billion by 2020.
Countries will submit updated climate plans – called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – every five years, thereby steadily increasing their ambition in the long-term.
The agreement comprises a robust transparency and accounting system, which will provide clarity on countries’ implementation efforts, with flexibility for countries’ differing capabilities.
Probably the most important decision of the agreement is that it is legally binding, but the agreement will only enter into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55% of global emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification. When will this be achieved, and how will the countries be held accountable?!