If you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months, you might not have heard of a little thing called the Paris Accords. For those not in the know, the Paris Agreement came into existence in 2016, a unilateral agreement aimed at pressuring United Nations members into mitigating greenhouse gasses, adapting to a rapidly changing environment, and putting a cap on the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, all before 2020. On the surface, it sounds like a utopian step towards a clean future.
Beneath the sunny language and idyllic imagery of a climate-friendly future, however, the Paris Accord suffered more than a few problems as it struggled to get off the ground. For one thing, the accords were not formally ratified by most nations. They are a suggestion, not a legally binding agreement forcing any sovereign nation to conform to its parameters. As a result, a drastic shift in a country’s leadership – like the political and social about-face we saw in the United States last November – can throw this fragile accord into doubt.
The other major problem is that many countries are still taking a page out of Johnny Cash’s playbook and burning, burning, burning. In most Third World countries, Old King Coal still sits on his smoggy throne, regardless of the Paris Accords. China – a country with some of the worst quality air on Earth – has long since struggled with its paradoxical status on the world stage. Despite being a member of the Paris Accords, China and India lean more heavily on coal than almost any other First World country. China is the largest carbon polluter on Earth, with India clocking in at third place just behind the United States.
But even as a reckless leadership threatens to undermine the United States’ progress, the world’s manufacturing hubs are finally starting to clean up their acts as China and India race into the next decade. Greenhouse gas emissions from these two countries have dwindled over the past year, far under the estimates predicted by major climate institutions. By the year 2030, both countries will have cut their emissions by 2-3 billion tons.
Some of the decline stems from naturally occurring technological and economic trends. A decade before the creation of the Paris Accords, China had already peaked in its coal consumption for energy purposes. Over the last three years, coal consumption has sunk across the board. The fast-growing field of renewable energy, combined with a slowing-down of energy demand, has led to the cancellation of almost 100 new coal-fired electrical plants. That’s almost 100 million tons of greenhouses gases kyboshed right there.
In India, this green revolution comes at a time when solar panel prices have hit a record low. Never before has it been easier or more convenient to start disentangling power grids from carbon emissions; in the largely sunny, tropical climate of India, vast solar farms can soak up the photons and transform them into clean and renewable sources of energy. Together, these two countries are working hard to renew themselves in preparation for 2020 – when the needs of the Paris Accord are expected to have been met. While some other countries prepare for a backwards slide into deregulation, India and China frantically work to compensate. The domino effect of carbon deregulation that some pundits predicted in the wake of the US election doesn’t seem to be a reality. Progress may not be imminent, but if nothing else, we seem to be staying the course for the next four years.