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Science: 

Paris Climate Deal: 5 things to know

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After two weeks of heated discussions, leaders from nearly 200 countries have reached a historic agreement on climate change. The deal lays out a global blueprint for the next century, designed to limit further temperature rises around the world while promising to do more to protect vulnerable and developing nations.

According to a widely reported journal published earlier this year, Earth is teetering on the verge of its sixth period of mass extinction – so the agreement comes at a vital point in time. Read on for five of the deal’s biggest takeaways.

Paris climate deal: 5 things to know

1. What has been agreed?

As a top-line agreement, nations taking part in the discussions have pledged to keep the global rise in temperatures “well below” 2C compared to pre-industrial levels. They have also agreed to “pursue efforts’ to limit that rise to 1.5C.

To put that into perspective, a Think Progress report claims that emissions as they currently stand will leave us on track for 3.5C rise, so significant measures will need to be taken. This includes drastically scaling down our reliance on fossil fuels, led by an an effort to get carbon dioxide emissions (primarily the burning of coal, oil and gas) down to zero by 2050.

2. Is it legally binding?

Yes and no. Although nothing binds countries to stick to their pledges, they are required to meet regularly and report on their progress. As noted by the Huffington Post, it’s thought that this approach will at least encourage nations to set and work towards ambitious targets, while an attempt to hold countries to account would likely have been blocked by the Republican-controlled US Congress.

3. Is everyone happy with the deal?

The general feeling is positive, but some commenters argue the deal doesn’t go far enough. Some vulnerable countries, including the Marshal Islands in Micronesia, were pushing to limit temperature rises to 1.5C. It’s argued that this was included as a ‘target’, rather than a pledge, and won’t be taken seriously by the nations where threats are less immediate.

Oxfam’s executive director Helen Szoke was among those who were dissatisfied. Speaking to the Telegraph, she said the deal “offers a frayed life-line to the world’s poorest” and won’t do a quick enough job of cutting emissions.

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Nearly 200 countries met in Paris to discuss the “historic” deal.

Negotiating between so many different nations, however, is no easy feat. There are many right-wing politicians in the US, for instance, which disagree with the science behind climate change. Other countries are reluctant to agree to providing financial aid to help developing nations, while others – including China – resist being defined as a “developed” nation. While China stands by this view, the country hasn’t been uncooperative, pledging $3.1bn to helping poor countries between now and 2020.

4. What can be done?

Arguably the most positive aspect of the agreement is the proposal to meet every five years as part of a longstanding commitment to tackling climate change. That means the signatories are bound to reconvene to report their progress, offering greater transparency than ever before. Countries can restate the same goals in these meetings (the first of which is scheduled for 2020), but if they’re lagging behind then the world will know.

5. Why is this deal different?

The last major agreement on climate change took place in Kyoto, Japan, back in 1992. One major flaw was that only 35 rich countries were included, whereas the new deal looks for a global solution and includes a total of 192 countries. This not only means that developing countries will contribute to the challenge of tackling climate change, but wealthy countries will provide financial support to help them meet their targets.

The deal is also far greater in scope than the Kyoto Protocol, laying out plans to limit temperature rises until 2050. If the targets are met, it should signal the end for our reliance on fossil fuels, making a significant impact on the global economy.

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