There is a mixture of hope and cynicism ahead of the COP 21 climate meeting in Paris this November. Hope because the well-being of people and the planet depend on drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cynicism because past meetings have failed to produce anything that would avert a climate crisis—which is where we seem to be headed. But beyond the outcome of this next meeting, a climate agreement will only be part of the solution; the move towards a low-emissions society will require progress on many other fronts.
This is not to say that global climate agreements do not matter. They do. When the international community comes together to seriously commit to curbing CO2 and other greenhouse gases, this is meaningful action to combat climate change. Similarly, it mattered when countries united to ban ozone-harming CFCs in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol. We were able to phase out the use of these harmful substances and prevent us all from getting skin cancer.
But the problem with the ongoing climate negotiations is not that they don’t have the potential to make a meaningful impact, but that countries who participate in them lack the political will and grit to make this happen. While commitments may be international, their implementation takes place in individual countries. The international collaboration to phase out CFCs might seem like a guiding example, however the solution to the climate problem is much more complex and expensive.