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The Paris Agreement marks an unprecedented opportunity to quell the tide of climate change, and Iowans have a role to play

Todd Edwards, Stanley Foundation Program Officer
Published April 22, 2016 in Little Village
May 2016

In the wake of the recently released World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Statement on the Status of Global Climate 2015 report, which warns that the world is warming faster than predicted, the Paris Agreement on climate change (the “Agreement”)—negotiated at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—will open for signing at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Earth Day. The Agreement needs a minimum of 55 countries to sign on, that cover at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emission. So far, over 130 countries have said that they will sign.

Since climate change will affect almost every part of our lives, including food, water, energy, transportation, and other economic and social systems, what does the Agreement mean for us here in Iowa?

The latest scientific studies exclaim that accelerated global warming means that without climate action—removing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions—humanity is going to collide with nature in a way that has not been recorded before. This means even graver threats to food and water security and global public health, as well as an increase in climate-related threat multipliers, especially in conflict prone areas. In Iowa, according to data collected by the National Climate Assessment and the American Security Project, this likely translates (but is not limited) to increases in rainfall and flooding that can affect food production and water quality, as well as potential future deployment of military personnel and humanitarian aid from Iowans. Also, US, global, and local economies will be negatively affected due to the devastation to infrastructure and adaptation to climatic change, such as what happened in New York with Hurricane Sandy; in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina; and in Iowa with the floods of 2008.

There is good reason to fear global warming, yet the Agreement gives hope and opportunity for a global collective action that can prevail over looming catastrophic events. With a newly negotiated long-term goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels,” in the Agreement, the world has a chance to prevent the worst. The Agreement was a negotiated consensus of nearly 200 countries for a new and innovative approach to global climate change governance.

The Agreement marks a point in history that acknowledges the differentiation of development agendas around the world. Parties to the UNFCCC pursued a “bottom-up” approach, whereby each country submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, based on their respective capabilities. These statements list what each country is willing to do on climate change. They do not all cover everything that needs to be done. These contributions, if implemented, will not limit global warming to even 2 degrees Celsius, which means there is a lot left to do. However, the Agreement does have a provision for future ratcheting up of national contributions. Nevertheless, there are some simulators that illustrate how difficult it will be to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by nations alone without extra help. It is important to keep in mind, though, that Paris is our starting point. It offers hope when historically we had next to none.

To help explain the signing of the Agreement and what it means for our community, I sent three questions to Tracy Raczek, Senior Advisor, Office of the President of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly. Raczek is formerly of the Climate Change Support Team of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, where she played a crucial role in the UN Climate Summit held in September 2014 around the People’s Climate March.

How does the Paris Agreement give hope to solving the climate change dilemma?

The Paris Agreement reflects, for the first time, a collective responsibility to keep global warming significantly below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and outlines a path for governments to cooperate going forward, including further ratcheting up of ambition to reduce greenhouse emissions in years ahead.

What does the signing of the Agreement signify to folks here in Iowa?

Reaching this global goal will require recalibration of existing economic, energy, and industrial practices. Community involvement is required for this transformation to bring optimal social and economic opportunity.

What can the Iowa City community do to take action on climate change or support global collective action on climate change?

Each person, each community has a deep relationship with the global climate. This does not require every person to be a climate expert or activist. However, everyone can contribute to solutions on a daily basis, and, collectively, they make a significant difference—decisions in personal lives, boardrooms, investment, and the halls of government—from local to national leadership.


This is where Iowa meets the international dialogue on climate change; we can do more and we are not alone. Until the Agreement, individuals, cities, states, businesses, and civil society at large tried to act on preventing global warming, yet I get that there was a sense of helplessness surrounding what one person, one city, or one business could do to halt global warming, when so many nations were not acting on their own.

In addition to the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, in Paris it was agreed that an Action Agenda of nonnational contributions to solving climate change would be recognized. The Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) showcases what is being done around the world by cities, businesses, and communities. What Iowa can do is link arms with others around the world to not only do something about climate change, but also send the right signals to policymakers that we can do more, that we want transformational change—that we will not sit idle while waiting for nature to collide with us. We will be smarter—if not for us, then for the generations to come all around the world.

Here in Iowa City, we now have a platform to make that voice heard. I am happy to see that Iowa City recently joined the Compact of Mayors, which is also showcased on NAZCA. The next article in this series will focus on the Action Agenda and what it means for our community.

This article originally appeared in Little Village, Iowa City’s News, and Culture Magazine.

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