Here’s Why You’re Hearing About The Paris Climate Change Agreement Again

Typos, magic numbers, big moves by China and the U.S.—it’s been a big few weeks for the treaty

A Chinese man wears a mask to protect against pollution as he visits Jingshan Park overlooking the Forbidden City in heavy smog in Beijing, China on December 8, 2015—a few days before COP21. Image via Getty images by Kevin Frayer

On December 12, 2015, the world did something remarkable: 180 countries came together in Paris for COP21 (here’s a refresher) and agreed to fight climate change, outlined in a document called the Paris Agreement. We solved climate change and saved the planet—right?

Well, the Paris Agreement was a huge step, but just the first of many that will actually compel countries to deal with climate change. (Not that the first step was a small one: In Paris, countries only agreed at the eleventh hour after lawyers, diplomats, and scientists pored over every. Single. Word.)

In order for us to actually come close to saving the planet, there are two more steps we need to take: Signing and joining.

What’s the difference?

The Paris Agreement is not officially a legally binding document, meaning none of the 180 countries that agreed to the final text face any real penalties if they decide not to follow through on commitments to reduce carbon emissions or fund the efforts of poorer countries to adapt to the damage already done by climate change.

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]The Paris Agreement is not officially a legally binding document.[/quote]

However, countries had the option of signing the agreement as a first signal to their citizens of their commitment to fight climate change. On April 22, 2016, a ceremony took place at the United Nations headquarters in New York to mark the moment. That day, 180 countries participated.

Among those who signed were some of largest polluters on the planet: The United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia. A historic step to be sure, but we aren’t done yet.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) with Xi Jinping (centre), President of the People's Republic of China, and Barack Obama, President of the United States, attend a special ceremony for the deposit of instruments by China and the United States to join the Paris Agreement. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Wait—didn’t everyone already join?

Joining, or ratifying, the agreement is actually an entirely different step in the process. The document is nothing if not steeped in comprehensive, far-reaching diplomatic and legal language. And in the context of this document, climate change ceases to be a mere environmental issue—it’s political. So language choice is important.

Equally important, of course, is the science. Climate scientists argue vehemently that limiting global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius is the ideal in order to avoid more frequent, more devastating natural disasters, droughts, floods, and climate-related environmental damage.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]The correction of a typo eliminated the legal need for the Obama administration to pass the Paris Agreement through Congress.[/quote]

The politicians—along with the oil, gas, and manufacturing sectors—won out in the end and countries agreed to keep global temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius because it requires fewer cuts to emissions.

Much like estimating how many games your team must win in order to make the playoffs while taking into account competitors’ wins and losses, a magic number was calculated by those in charge: 55. That’s 55 countries, accounting for 55 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, must ratify the agreement for it to “enter into force”—that’s legalese for “officially on the books” and science talk for “how many countries have to work on reducing carbon emissions for this to have any real impact.”

So, has anyone actually joined? Are we there yet?

Some of the early joiners at the April 22 event included island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans like Fiji, Maldives, Seychelles, Tuvalu, and Kiribati—as well as one of the least developed countries in the world: Somalia. For the island nations, it was an obvious and quick choice: Get the ball rolling on joining or our countries will sink into the ocean as levels continue to rise. Somalia, too, had an easy decision having been historically plagued by droughts and subsequent famines.

None of these 23 countries who joined early emit large amounts of carbon—their output only makes up about 1 percent of global emissions combined—so for several months, we were still far from that magic number.

Over the summer, though, countries with larger emissions rates like Norway and Peru also joined. And the real progress came last week when the U.S. and China ratified the agreement. They are two of the largest emitters of carbon and arguably the most visible during the climate negotiations process, along with India.

As of now, 27 countries accounting for 39.08 percent of global carbon emissions are on board.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

A Congress full of climate deniers won’t be a problem?

In addition to making headlines because the U.S. is one of the world’s largest polluters, the announcement was noteworthy because President Obama bypassed Congress—and he was able to do so due to a matter of grammar.

In the last moments at the COP21 venue in Le Bourget on the outskirts of Paris, the U.S. delegation realized there was a typo—small but sweeping in its implications—in the final text. The word “should” in one of the key paragraphs in the agreement needed to be replaced with the word “shall.”

Sound silly? Those of us at the conference may have thought so when world leaders spent nearly two hours at the very last moment correcting the document, fearing further objections on seemingly small matters.

But the word “shall” would have legally obligated wealthy countries to cut carbon emissions, while “should” merely implies that these countries will try to do so. With “shall,” the Obama administration would have needed to submit the Paris Agreement to the Senate, as with prior global treaties. There, it would surely have died in the process—or at the very least, stalled for years beyond Obama’s time in office.

So, what now?

In Paris, the UN stressed the importance of “entering into force” by 2017. The process to transition global economies away from fossil fuels is complicated and will take years—not just because of politics, but everyday practicalities like stemming job losses by retraining people so they have “greener” skills, scaling up renewable energy alternatives by building new infrastructure, and finding the money to help developing countries adapt to all the climate damage that they are already facing.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]For the island nations, it was an obvious choice: Get the ball rolling or our countries will sink into the ocean. [/quote]

According to experts, we are on pace for at least 31 countries to join by the end of the year, accounting for 58.4 percent of global carbon emissions. But India, Russia, the UK, and the European Union will need to join in order to attain the required 55 percent and 55 countries.

If we reach the magic number by October 2016, we could see the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement—giving us a fun new acronym, CMA1—as early as November 2016. That’s when the next round of climate talks, COP22, will take place in Morocco. There, matters of finance and new programs will be discussed.

If we don’t reach the magic number in time, CMA1 will have to happen in 2017.

The big question for the moment is how to encourage wealthy countries to pledge $100 billion in annual funding by 2020 with a promise to continue funding beyond that, to help poorer, developing nations. But if a country full of climate deniers and a manufacturing juggernaut can join a deal to save the planet, anything is possible.

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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