Conservation & Science

A time for hope: First international climate accord reached at COP21

Delegates at the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP21, have spent the past two weeks negotiating an international agreement to slow the pace of climate change, which threatens the health of the global ocean – and our survival. Now nearly 200 nations have agreed to address the underlying cause:  carbon dioxide emitted by human activities. They have agreed to reduce their production of greenhouse gases over time.

John Kerry: 'A victory for all the planet, and for future generations.'
John Kerry: ‘A victory for all the planet, and for future generations.’

“It’s a victory for all the planet and for future generations,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. He added that the pact will “prevent the worst, most devastating consequences of climate change from ever happening.”

The ambitious agreement sets a goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius, with incentives for investment in clean-energy technology and provisions to hold nations accountable for making progress toward greenhouse gas reduction targets.

A voice for the ocean

Initially, the global ocean, much of which lies outside national boundaries, was missing from the core structure of COP21. Thanks to a grassroots movement led by Mission Blue and others, the sea was not voiceless.

For the first time, protection of ocean ecosystems was specifically mentioned in the climate agreement .
For the first time, protection of ocean ecosystems was specifically mentioned in the climate agreement.

The final agreement approved today notes “the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans…when taking action to address climate change.”

States including California, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New York have signed pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80-95% below 1990 levels, share technology and scientific research, expand zero-emission vehicles, improve air quality by reducing short-lived climate pollutants and assess projected impacts of climate change on communities.

Hundreds of U.S. companies have pledged to make new investments that will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

In the private sector, 154 companies have signed the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge.  These companies have operations in all 50 states, employ nearly 11 million people, represent more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue and have a combined market capitalization of over $7 trillion. As part of this initiative, each company expressed support for an ambitious Paris Agreement and announced significant pledges to reduce their emissions, increase low-carbon investments, deploy more clean energy and take other actions to build more sustainable businesses and tackle climate change.

More than 311 colleges and universities representing over 4 million students have made climate action pledges as well.

What can I do?

We can choose low-carbon transportation options.
We can choose low-carbon transportation options.

Taking action to address the causes of climate change brought the world community together in Paris, in ways that hold more promise than resulted from earlier climate negotiations.

As nations, government and businesses resolve to tackle climate change, there are things that each of us can do as well. They may seem like small steps but when embraced by many people, they will make a difference:

  • Choose alternative transportation – any option besides driving alone in a petroleum-powered car. Walk, bike, carpool, take the bus or train. If you do drive, choose a fuel-efficient vehicles such as a hybrid or electric car.
  • Refuse, reduce, recycle – in that order. Buy only what you need, make it last, and use it up before you buy more.
  • Use less fossil fuel energy. There are many ways to save, from choosing energy-efficient appliances to turning off lights and putting on a sweater before you turn up the heat. Ask your power company to source more of your electricity from renewable sources. Consider solar upgrades for your home.
  • Eat less red meat and dairy; raising them produces a whole lot of greenhouse gases. If  animal protein is part of your diet, choose chicken, eggs or seafood. Which seafood items have the lightest climate impact? We should know more in about a year. The Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is working on a new greenhouse gas standard that will assess the carbon footprint of seafood production. Hungry for seafood now? Oysters, clams and mussels have very low carbon footprints.
  • Get involved. Urge your elected officials to protect marine habitats and wildlife so that the ocean can be more resilient in the face of climate change. Elect leaders who share your values, and make sure your representatives know you support climate action. Get involved locally to create a cleaner, healthier community.

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