Arizona environmentalists attending Paris talks hope agreement is only the beginning

President Obama and other world leaders met in Paris this week to discuss climate change. (File footage screengrab)

Arizona environmental experts attending the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris are expecting a substantial agreement to reduce global warming. And they hope it’s just the beginning of a worldwide commitment to save the planet before it’s too late.

Approximately 150 world leaders are gathered in Paris working together to create a universal climate agreement to lower greenhouse-gas emissions and prevent further destruction due to climate change.

“This is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet,” President Obama said kicking off the talks on Monday. The 21st annual conference will be in session through December 11.

Arizona residents Natalie Lucas, Karina Gonzalez and Sonja Klinsky are among the thousands attending the UN Climate talks this year.

“These negotiations are intended to put all of the pieces together so that we will have a functioning global agreement,” said Klinsky, Assistant Professor at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability.

The conference takes place in a new location each year. The conferences are intended to create an agreement that all countries can commit to, to make universal climate better.

“The main goal of this year is to figure out how nations can come together to come to a shared agreement, which is trying to limit global warming overall below 2 degrees Celsius on average,” said Natalie Lucas, Executive Director of Care about Climate.

Experts say that warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius would have catastrophic effects on the planet.

“At this point I think we are about 2.7 so what they hope is that there will be a path, some sort of pathway to decide what – we are going to keep checking back every five years – what we can do more, and hopefully we will keep it under or as close to that 2 degrees as we can,” said Suzanne Tveit, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Arizona coordinator.

In the past, UN Climate talks have not always gone according to plan. The last real agreement was the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. However, this year seems to be different

“They’re trying to make a new agreement now that involves all countries to try to address this issue because if we don’t, collectively we won’t be able to halt the symptoms and the consequences of climate change,” Lucas said. “They’ll come up with an agreement that generally says, they’re going to work toward these goals of trying to reduce climate change and global warming in general.”

Lucas said she thinks one of the most important parts for the attendees is to bring the information back home to their countries and communities so that they can work together in achieving their climate goals.

“If somebody doesn’t play the game, it means everybody suffers,” Tveit said.

Before the negotiations started, countries had been submitting pledges known as ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.’ These pledges work as a written commitment to try to reduce emissions by a stated amount.

“One thing that it is important to note is that although we have seen substantial pledges from countries, the amount of emissions they have pledged to reduce is still insufficient.” Klinsky said.

Karina Gonzalez, youth delegate with SustainUS, said the talks so far have been busy and “overwhelming” but the graduate student is calling attention to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of countries that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“The Climate Vulnerable Forum, which is made up of 43 countries, just agreed to fully decarbonized by 2050 and are pressuring other nations to do the same. Doing so would keep warming under 1.5 degrees C.,” Gonzalez said.

Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, and 2015 is on track to be the warmest year of all, according to President Obama.

“The United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said in an opening speech at the conference.

The United States emission reduction pledged a 26 to 28 percent reduction by 2025.

Lucas said she thinks that the U.S. is going to reach its goal.

“The reason is because President Obama did this in a very creative and very constructive way,” Lucas said. “We have the Clean Power Plan, which is suppose to reduce emissions across the board. We’ll switch more away from coal, help renewable energy sectors, and then reduce the national gas consumption and overall make our plants and things more efficient.”

Sandy Bahr, Director for the Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter, noted that Obama said no matter who is the next U.S. President, there will be enormous pressure from the public and from other world leaders to follow through with U.S. commitments.

“The people of our country want action,” Bahr said.

According to Tveit, the United States government doesn’t seem to be satisfying all citizens though when it comes to taking climate action.

“They’re doing the EPA regulations but there has been pushback on that,” Tveit said. “So we’re getting there, but there has been a lot of pushback from Congress and I think whatever is decided in Paris for the United States they’re going to push back more.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. House passed two resolutions aimed at stopping Obama’s tougher Environmental Protection Agency standards. Two identical resolutions were passed last month by the Senate. Obama has said he will veto them.

“International climate talks are significant because they send a clear signal to all governments, industries and individuals that climate change is an important issue and that there is universal agreement that action needs to be taken,” Klinsky said. “International agreements help us learn from each other, coordinate across industries or governments, and make it more economically efficient to take climate action because we can work together. However, the real action that actually reduces emissions and deals with impacts from climate change happens at the city, state and national level.”

In order to help the country reach its climate emission goals, Arizona needs to be working together as a state rather than separate cities, according to Lucas.

“In Arizona, we have to do a 39% reduction by 2030 and that is one way we are trying to implement it,” Lucas said. “But we have to even go further than that to actually reach the (country’s) goal of 26% reduction or we won’t make it. So it’s up to us as society to make sure our country’s uphold their pledges and that we enable them to hold their pledges.”

Arizona environmentalists hope that the negotiations this year will be successful.

“‘Success’ at Paris will look like a global agreement in which all countries commit to taking some climate action,” Klinsky said. “Paris needs to be seen as a beginning point for rapid increases of domestic climate action, not an endpoint!”