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As Paris Treaty Hits Threshold, Climate Groups Demand Bolder Action

Calls for action come as renowned economist warns that global economy is set to "self-destruct" if the world continues burning fossil fuels

The Paris agreement reached the requisite number of signatories as studies continue to confirm that greenhouse gas emissions are still skyrocketing. (Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr/cc)

The landmark Paris climate treaty finalized last year has reached the requisite number of signatories and is set to go into effect in 30 days—but environmentalists are not planning to let world leaders simply pat themselves on the back.

The European Union on Wednesday became the latest body to sign onto the agreement, which requires nations to take measures to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5°C, a threshold which climate experts say the planet is already on track to reach.

In a televised address, U.S. President Barack Obama described the accord as "the best possible shot to save the one planet we've got," and said, "If we follow through on the commitments that this Paris agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet."

However, the announcement comes as a slew of new studies find greenhouse gas emissions are still skyrocketing, fossil fuel use has made the world hotter than it's been in 115,000 years, and the Earth will warm 2°C or higher in a decade absent radical, systemic change. Likewise, renowned climate scientist James Hansen warned Thursday that the Paris agreement will not solve climate change.

So a broad array of watchdogs—from the environment to the business sector—say they are not going to let world leaders off the hook.

"The true test begins now: how will governments live up to their obligations and do their fair share?"
—Tamar Lawrence-Samuel,
Corporate Accountability International

"A legally binding international climate deal is a vital step, but this is no time to stop and pat ourselves on the back. Scientists have warned that we have already passed a key threshold, and people across the globe are facing killer floods and droughts. What matters most is action now, rather than later," said Asad Rehman, a campaigner for the U.K.-based environmental group Friends of the Earth International.


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Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, associate research director at Corporate Accountability International, also said, "The true test begins now: how will governments live up to their obligations and do their fair share?"

Wealthy countries like the U.S. "are responsible for this crisis yet are not doing their fair share to cut emissions and support the just transition from fossil fuels," Lawrence-Samuel said. "And we know why—the fossil fuel industry is interfering in climate policymaking to suit its interests. A critical first step in solving the climate crisis must be protecting policymaking from fossil fuel industry interference. Parties must kick big polluters out."

To that end, on Thursday, a major new report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate called on world leaders and financial institutions to invest in sustainable infrastructure to make the renewables sector viable against fossil fuels.

"Yesterday the Paris agreement reached the required number of countries and emissions to enter into force," said commission chair and former president of Mexico Felipe Calderón. "We have agreed on a global climate agenda, now we should act on it. Investing in sustainable infrastructure is the wisest decision we can take for our future. Not only can it deliver on the goals of the Paris agreement it is also the best growth path forward."

Commission member and renowned economist Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, who helped make climate change a global priority with a 2006 cost analysis, also warned Thursday that the global economy is set to "self-destruct" if the world continues burning fossil fuels.

Investment in renewable energy "will set off innovation, discovery, much more creative ways of doing things," he said. "This is the story of growth, which is the only one available because any attempt at high-carbon growth would self-destruct."

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