Editor’s note: On Nov 30, government officials and global citizens from around the world gathered in Paris, France, to try to finalize an agreement on addressing the existential threat of global warming. The goals of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, are to craft an international agreement to combat climate change (keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius) and accelerate the transition to low-carbon societies and economies.

This is the  fifth and final in a series of guest blog posts by Gary Payton  of Sandpoint, ID, an active ICL member and the 2015 recipient of the Keith and Pat Axline Award for Environmental Activism, ICL’s highest award for activism. Gary traveled to Paris as part of the delegation from the Presbyterian Church (USA), an historic mainline Protestant denomination. While in Paris, Gary is posting reflections on the progress, challenges and spirit of COP21.

It was an emotional moment when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gaveled approval of the Paris Agreement last Saturday night. During 13 demanding days, representatives of 195 nations at the Conference of the Parties, 21st Session (COP21) hammered out an historic agreement intended to slow the onrush of human-caused climate change, assist developing nations in adapting to impacts, and accelerate the transition to low carbon economies.

Key points of the Paris Agreement include:

  • Goals: Keep the rise in average global temperature to "well below" 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and aim to limit the rise to 1.5 C (2.7 F).  By some point after 2050, human-caused emissions should be reduced to a level which forests and oceans can absorb.
  • Targets: Countries agree to set national emission reduction targets every five years. One hundred and eighty nations brought targets to COP21. The review mechanism will continue to "bend the curve" downward by reviewing and strengthening the targets.
  • Financing: Wealthy countries should continue to offer support to poor countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The current pledge is to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 into the Green Climate Fund.

My Paris experience as an official observer gave me new understanding of the requirements for us in Idaho, the U.S., and across the world as follow up to the agreement.

  • Now, not just the future:  My word choice in describing climate change impacts has changed forever. Conversations with aid workers from the Philippines (Typhoon Haiyan Hainan, 2013), students from Southern Africa (drought, now), and visitors to the Native Alaskan village of Shismaref (coastal destruction, now) have driven home a sense of urgency as never before.
  • Government responsibility at all levels:  National representatives shaped the Paris Agreement, but much of the progress toward reducing CO2 emissions will happen at state/province and community levels of government. ICL continues to promote energy efficiency programs and the replacement of dirty energy with clean sources. As members, we have the opportunity-even the responsibility-to advocate for Idaho’s Clean Power Plan with our elected officials.
  • Businesses will bring technical solutions:  Let me be blunt. There are jobs in the clean energy sector. With Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg launching the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, the question remains how will Idaho business leaders take advantage of this piece of the new economy? We know of Sandpoint’s Solar Roadways-where else will Idahoans see possibilities?
  • Engaging Young Adults:  COP21 was energized by the participation, passion and demands of young adults. Their generation may not have caused the advance of climate change, but they will be living with immediate impacts and serve as leaders in developing and applying solutions. As a regular attendee of ICL’s annual conference, Wild Idaho!, it is my hope that we seize the opportunity to bring more 20- and 30-somethings into active ICL life. Nurturing future leaders seems a critical role for the experienced seniors of today.

The Paris Agreement represents a milestone in decades of work by government officials, scientists, environmental activists, and average citizens. It adds momentum to our collective efforts to address the causes and impacts of climate change.

Each of us as citizens of the world has a responsibility to live more lightly on the planet. The time for denial is past. The time for our renewed actions is now-government, business, faith community, NGOs, and individuals.

Me? My next small step is to offset the carbon emissions of my flight to and from France through a contribution to Climate Stewards, and then to keep telling the story. What’s yours?

Gary Payton

Read Gary’s first, second, third and fourth posts in this series.