The Paris Climate Accord Is a Big Deal
November 6, 2016
Rebecca Leber / Grist & Naser Haghamed / Al Jazeera
On Friday, November 4, 2016, the landmark Paris climate agreement officially entered into force. The news will surely be buried under a mudslide of US election coverage, but it shouldn't be. Paris was a big deal. As proof of the importance of this moment, a new coalition of climate groups -- the Global Muslim Climate Network -- has come together to tackle climate change in the Muslim world.
The Paris Climate Accord Is a Big Deal, Now More than Ever
Rebecca Leber / Grist
(November 4, 2016) -- On Friday, the landmark Paris climate agreement officially goes into force. The news will surely be buried under a mudslide of US election coverage, but it shouldn't be. Paris was and still is a BFD.
Last December, world leaders reached what's been called the first truly universal agreement on climate change, because the signers account for virtually all of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions. More importantly, it marked the first time top polluters like China, India, and the US found a way past old divides and down a shared path toward a low-carbon future.
Now that agreement is taking effect much earlier than expected. Often countries take not just months but years to ratify major international deals. It took eight years to activate the Kyoto Protocol. But the Paris Agreement was ratified by enough countries for it to become binding in less than 11 months.
China, India, the European Union, and dozens of other nations got the job done fast in part because they wanted Paris on the books before the US presidential election -- not because it will change Donald Trump's mind about opposing the deal, but because it sends a clear message: The world is behind climate action. You better be, too.
The Chinese government has even taken the unusual step of saying that the next US president needs to take Paris and climate policy seriously. "I believe a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends," said China's climate chief Xie Zhenhua. "If they resist this trend, I don't think they'll win the support of their people, and their country's economic and social progress will also be affected."
We'll Always Ignore Paris
Although the rest of the signatories to the Paris deal have been paying close attention to the United States, our politicians and media outlets have not been paying attention to Paris in return.
Just three days after the Paris Agreement was signed last December, CNN hosted a primary debate between Republican presidential contenders in which Wolf Blitzer neglected to ask anything about the climate deal (though Trump and John Kasich disparaged it without prodding).
That was just a taste of what would follow. In the three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate this fall, not a single question about climate change was asked (though Ken Bone did ask about energy and the environment).
Throughout both the primary campaigns and the general election, climate change has gotten little attention, and the Paris Agreement almost none. Did it matter whether candidates would work with our allies to make the 187-country deal a success or pull the legs from under it? Apparently, it didn't.
But Americans Need to Know: Paris Is Huge
It is a BFD that world leaders have agreed on ambitious goals: holding global warming to below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and ideally 1.5 C, which scientists say is needed to ward off the harshest impacts; peaking emissions as soon as possible and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050; spending hundreds of millions to help poor nations adapt and transition to climate change.
It is a BFD that countries once lukewarm on climate action have rallied around this agreement. Even a developing nation like India, which still needs to bring electricity to millions of citizens and help them out of poverty, is committing to a cleaner energy future.
It is a BFD that the US and China found common ground in the lead-up to Paris and made the deal possible, forming a new bond around their shared efforts to fight the biggest threat facing humanity.
It is a BFD that the world's nations have committed to remaking the entire global energy system. Rich nations are basically asking (and helping) developing countries to do something no developed country managed: Leapfrog coal, oil, and gas in favor of renewable energy. It's no coincidence the oil industry is suddenly mindful of renewables again.
Yes, Paris Is Imperfect
Of course, Paris has a lot of flaws and shortcomings, and as the world works to implement it, many what-ifs and hazards lie ahead. The most important components -- emissions cuts and finance -- aren't legally binding, so the carefully negotiated deal could be eroded by political shifts. Brexit could make it more difficult for the EU to meet its promises.
The Philippines is waffling on whether it will formally join the agreement, even though it signed on last December. And, yes, the US election could send the whole process reeling.
Since the agreement is largely non-binding, it's critical that the review process be as transparent as possible, because international peer pressure is essential to ensuring countries don't miss the mark. For exactly that reason, countries don't have a particular incentive to be transparent -- which is one of Paris' main challenges going forward.
Even if everything goes as planned and nations follow through on their first-round commitments, that alone won't be enough to fend off the worst impacts of climate change. Countries will need to keep setting and meeting tougher goals, which will get increasingly difficult and expensive.
Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement is an essential, powerful start to what will be a long, fraught process.
The endless drama of climate change (not to mention international negotiations) is, let's be honest, less sensational than the drama of the election. Slow, incremental change is a tough thing to fathom, much less to get excited about. The latest poll, the latest insult, and the latest email leak are easier to grasp and more fun to follow.
Even if it's not as entertaining as a political campaign, what really counts is moving the clean-energy transition along as fast and seamlessly as possible. The Paris deal that comes into force today is helping the world do exactly that. That's big, and that matters.
The Muslim World Has to Take Climate Action
Naser Haghamed / Al Jazeera
(November 4, 2016) -- For years now, a strange paradox has existed within the Muslim world. On the one hand, Muslims -- who represent more than a fifth of the global population -- live in some of the regions most affected by the changing climate; from Turkey and the Middle East with their increasingly intense droughts to the floodplains of Bangladesh and Indonesia.
On the other hand, many Muslim-majority countries continue to contribute to climate change by burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil in copious amounts. With support growing rapidly among Muslims for economies powered entirely on renewable energy and several countries already leading the way, that could all be about to change.
The problem posed by climate change is so urgent that we simply cannot focus on its negative impacts without proposing concrete solutions and doing our best to implement them.
A Fossil-Fuel-Free World?
That is why, following an initial August 2015 declaration from leading Muslim thinkers calling on all followers of Islam to lead the way to a fossil fuel-free world powered entirely by renewable energy, April 2016 saw the birth of the first ever Global Muslim Climate Network (GMCN) -- a coalition of Muslim climate groups including Islamic Relief Worldwide, Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, GreenFaith, academic experts, Islamic scholars and philanthropists that have rallied together to tackle climate change.
The GMCN is composed of a variety of groups working in a very broad range of Muslim-majority countries. All of them have a part to play in implementing the solutions to climate change, just as all strands of society will have to work in tandem.
The ever-falling cost of solar energy in Muslim countries blessed with abundant sunshine -- a new world record was set just two months ago in Abu Dhabi -- means it is now cheaper and easier than ever for governments to power their economies entirely on renewable energy sources, for example.
With coal as one of the biggest contributors to the three million premature deaths caused annually by diseases linked to air pollution, governments and Islamic financial institutions such as the Islamic Development Bank can also contribute by shifting financial flows away from the almost 175 gigawatts' worth of coal plants currently proposed in Muslim-majority countries and towards sustainable and clean energy, integrating the UN's Sustainable Development Goals into the Islamic financing compliance processes (PDF).
Individual Muslims and Muslim communities are and will continue to be vital to this transition if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, as 196 countries pledged to strive to do as part of last December's Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
As part of its Clean Energy Mosques campaign, the GMCN is calling on every mosque in the world to take concrete measures to reduce its energy consumption -- for example by using LED lighting with sensors and improving insulation -- and switch its energy source to solar.
Such actions give mosques an opportunity not only to help tackle climate change, but also to reduce their costs.
Short and Long-term Plans
Countries such as Jordan and Morocco are already leading the way in this respect. Four hundred of Jordan's 6,300 mosques were powered with solar energy last year while Morocco, home to the world's largest concentrated solar plant, recently announced it is encouraging a staggering 600 mosques to reduce their impact on the environment and climate by 2019, 100 of which will be completed by the end of this year.
Up to 70 percent of the initial investment costs for that project are being provided by the Moroccan government's Ministry of Islamic Affairs itself, together with the German government.
Morocco is also the host country of the COP22 conference, the next set of climate negotiations taking place next week as nations work out how to use the framework of the Paris Agreement to catalyse future action on climate change.
At the negotiations, countries will have the opportunity to make progress on longer-term plans for weaning economies off greenhouse gas-producing forms of energy generation, on plans detailing how countries will adapt to the climate change that we know we will already experience, and on a plan for financing this transition.
The economic and financial motives for stemming climate change now -- before it causes even more damage -- are well documented.
Climate action is also overwhelmingly a matter of living one's Muslim faith, with its emphasis on charity, protection of human life and care for this Earth, a gift from Allah.
The Quran makes our responsibility to the Earth and each other clear when it states "And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth", and that "Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others."
That is why GMCN will be encouraging mosques the world over to follow the main mosque of Marrakech's lead and devote prayers to the protection of our world in a "Green Friday" on the middle Friday of the COP22 negotiations, November 11.
Let us therefore work together to tackle climate change for the good of our economies, our people, and our faith. As the work of the GMCN aims to show, the solutions are abundant and open to us all, if only we are willing to explore them.
Naser Haghamed is CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide, an independent humanitarian and development organization with a presence in more than 40 countries worldwide.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
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