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When Political and Physical Realities Collide

Published in the Boston Globe

Get ready for some high-powered hugging. On Friday, some 60 heads of state and government will gather at United Nations headquarters in New York City to officially sign the climate change pact known as the Paris Agreement.

When it was unveiled in Paris last December, the headlines were euphoric. A “major leap for mankind,” said one. Another declared that the pact marked the “end of the fossil fuel era.”

But there were dissenting voices, too: James Hansen, arguably the most respected climate scientist in the world, called the agreement “a fraud really, a fake,” because “there is no action, just promises.” And in Paris, thousands of climate activists took to the streets to protest a deal they said was so weak that it would lead to catastrophic levels of warming.

So who’s right? Is the Paris Agreement a historic political breakthrough or is it a potential ecological disaster?

It’s both.

The deal really does reflect significant diplomatic progress, with the United States and China no longer pointing fingers at each other and instead collaborating to champion the agreement. All major emitters, including newly industrialized economies, are committed to taking action, though the deal directs countries that have been major polluters for more than a century to lower their emissions faster.

The agreement also locks in an extremely ambitious target of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius — 3.6 Fahrenheit — while pursuing “efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C.” (To put that in perspective, we have already warmed the planet by roughly 1 degree Celsius from where it was before humans starting burning coal on an industrial scale.)

Read the rest of the article in the Boston Globe

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