Happy Earth Day–Let’s Make Paris Count

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Today, over 160 countries are expected to sign the Paris Agreement–a celebration for Earth Day. This new climate agreement has been much ballyhooed and much derided. The reason for the dichotomy of opinions is simple: with it, we take a great step in the right direction with historic pledges to cut emissions and yet we still fall far short of what we need to do, both because the promised emissions reductions are not enough and because the agreement has no teeth.

Reading the Paris Agreement, one cannot help but hear the echoes of the 1992 Kyoto Protocol. The Paris Agreement, enumerating many fundamental points remaining to be worked out (again) as it is implemented (from emissions monitoring to international carbon trading to technology transfers) leaves the reader with a sense of déjà vu. Haven’t we been down this road before?

We have. But that may be a good thing. We aren’t (re)starting from scratch. The Kyoto Protocol may have failed to solve the climate crisis but it taught us more about how to do it. We learned the challenges and limitations of an international climate agreement. We saw where carbon trading worked—cases in which a market based system put real money into projects that reduced carbon emissions at a low cost while creating jobs in developing countries. And we saw where carbon trading didn’t work—cases of bogus projects that were simply designed to game the system for financial advantage, without any benefit to the environment. With the Paris Agreement providing a restart, we can rewrite the rules with all those lessons in mind, building on successes and more aware of vulnerabilities.

Further, the Paris Agreement emphasizes transparency. And isn’t creating transparency and accountability actually more important than obtaining a “binding” commitment to reduce emissions? After all, how can a commitment be “binding” if we do not know whether it was met? Let’s take a little bit of Ronald Reagan’s advice when it comes to international agreements: “trust but verify.”

Most importantly, though, the Paris Agreement is not a solution in itself. Instead, it is a framework on which (or, perhaps, around which) we can build a solution.

It remains up to us to make Paris count. And nothing would move us forward better than the United States adopting a plan to reduce its emissions by 100% by 2040 and 150% by 2060—especially one that, like Pure Cap-and-Dividend, is pre-wired to work in conjunction with an international agreement.