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What Reentering the Paris Climate Agreement Means

David Langness | Mar 26, 2021

PART 1 IN SERIES The Needs of the Natural World

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Mar 26, 2021

PART 1 IN SERIES The Needs of the Natural World

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Many Americans, myself included, sighed with relief when the United States recently re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA), because its very existence is vitally important for our collective future.

RELATED: 5 Accepted Climate Change Facts – and a Few Unaccepted Ones

This landmark global treaty — the first in human history to include almost every nation on Earth and unite the world in one common purpose — targets the sole subject of climate change in a primarily optional, voluntary way. 

However, despite that relatively paltry, non-binding approach to the problem, the treaty has also demonstrated something much more meaningful: that world leaders can go beyond geopolitics, come together to negotiate in good faith, and commit to hard bargains for the benefit of humanity. 

RELATED: Why Climate Change Compels World Unity

That remarkable fact in itself represents a major breakthrough in human relations on our planet.

The Baha’i Teachings and International Treaties

As the Baha’i teachings advocate, and as Abdu’l-Baha, one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, presciently wrote in “The Secret of Divine Civilization” in 1875, the kind of collaborative international agreement the world’s leaders forged in Paris in 2015 sets up a logical, legal precedent for an even more comprehensive treaty among all nations:

True civilization will unfurl its banner in the midmost heart of the world whenever a certain number of its distinguished and high-minded sovereigns – the shining exemplars of devotion and determination – shall, for the good and happiness of all mankind, arise, with firm resolve and clear vision, to establish the Cause of Universal Peace. They must make the Cause of Peace the object of general consultation, and seek by every means in their power to establish a Union of the nations of the world.

They must conclude a binding treaty and establish a covenant, the provisions of which shall be sound, inviolable and definite. They must proclaim it to all the world and obtain for it the sanction of all the human race. This supreme and noble undertaking – the real source of the peace and well-being of all the world – should be regarded as sacred by all that dwell on earth.

Abdu’l-Baha originally wrote these words long before the community of nations had ever considered any organization like the United Nations, or had even entertained the idea of binding universal agreements and treaties. With this global model in mind, then, we can think of the Paris Climate Agreement as a potential precursor to other more inclusive and definitive global treaties in the future — as one of the crucial steps we need to take as a world community, until human beings can successfully conclude the agreement that finally establishes universal peace.

What Does Re-Entry into the Paris Climate Agreement Mean for the United States?

Because the United States has now re-engaged in this important global treaty, its provisions say that the country’s leaders must now publicly commit to reductions in its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions before the next round of global PCA negotiations take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November of 2021.

The whole world will be watching those pledges.

Why? Because scientists generally agree that we need, as a planet, to cut our CO2 emissions nearly in half by 2030 — a huge task. Also, many of the world’s major nations have already announced their CO2 reduction pledges, but the two largest emitters, the U.S. and China, have not — despite the fact that the Paris Accords called on every country to do so by the end of 2020.

RELATED: How Global Governance Can Address Climate Change

On Earth Day, April 22, 2021, the White House plans to hold a conference to announce U.S. emissions reduction targets, which experts say will need to approach 50% by 2030 to start creating a significant shift in the world’s warming climate.

One Percent Emissions Reductions: Nowhere Near Enough

At this point, six years after the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, things don’t look all that promising. As The New York Times recently reported, new “climate targets submitted by countries to the United Nations would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, according to the latest tally …”

That kind of tinkering around the edges will never meet the Paris goals. The hollow, far-off promises that political and corporate leaders have made so far will not sufficiently lower global temperatures. Some countries like Kenya, Nepal, Britain, Chile, and the entire European Union, have announced significantly increased new goals, but other major emitters like Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and Russia have not.

We Need International Enforcement, not Just Voluntary Cooperation

The Paris Climate Agreement, unfortunately for the future of our climate, does not include any real enforcement powers. The United Nations has no role in that process, either, since the treaty makes the CO2 reduction commitments from each country entirely voluntary. If we don’t achieve the PCA’s main goal of limiting our planet’s temperature increase to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of 1990 levels, the vast majority of scientists concur, we will likely enter a period of dangerous runaway warming and suffer its profound negative impacts.

So the time came long ago, the Baha’i teachings unequivocally say, for the implementation of a system of democratic global governance able to wisely and humanely lead us into the future. The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, writing in the 1930s in his book “The World Order of Baha’u’llah,” put it this way:

Are not these intermittent crises that convulse present-day society due primarily to the lamentable inability of the world’s recognized leaders to read aright the signs of the times, to rid themselves once for all of their preconceived ideas and fettering creeds, and to reshape the machinery of their respective governments according to those standards that are implicit in Baha’u’llah’s supreme declaration of the Oneness of Mankind – the chief and distinguishing feature of the Faith He proclaimed? For the principle of the Oneness of Mankind, the cornerstone of Baha’u’llah’s world-embracing dominion, implies nothing more nor less than the enforcement of His scheme for the unification of the world …

With this unified approach — which the Paris Climate Agreement has shown us we have the ability to work toward and achieve — we could eliminate the world’s wars and stabilize the world’s climate.

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