Six years ago today, nearly 200 nations signed the Paris Climate Accord, where they agreed to keep the rise in global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Scientists say that threshold is an absolute minimum to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. "We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”
As he wound up the recent COP26 in Glasgow, Guterres had that harsh warning for the 200 countries who had gathered to talk climate change — and how to slow it down.
Hanging over the summit was the deadline of 2030 for a drastic reduction of greenhouse emissions that was set six years ago at COP21 in Paris.
Former executive secretary of the U.N. Climate Convention, Christiana Figueres, remembers it as a historic event.
“It was a real breakthrough for the United Nations to have a completely unanimous, legally binding pathway for decarbonizing the global economy," Figueres said.
Secretary of state at the time, John Kerry signed that agreement for the U.S.
“It really was an exciting moment when 195,196 countries come together simultaneously, all wanting to move in the same direction, understanding the stakes," Kerry said.
2015 was the hottest year on record. Scientists pointed to that as sure proof that global warming was real and serious.
But that record keeps on getting broken as the planet gets hotter year by year.
The World Meteorological Organization says the planet has been propelled into uncharted territory, with rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and “relentless” extreme weather events.
The WMO warns that “extreme” weather is the new normal.
Nonetheless, both Figueres and Kerry remain optimistic.
“We are moving in the right direction," Figueres said. "The question is the timing, and I do feel that everyone came out of Glasgow with a renewed sense of timing.”
Kerry is now President Biden’s special envoy for climate.
He was back in Paris this week as part of a whistle stop tour of Europe to reassure leaders the U.S. is back in the game, after former President Donald Trump shut the door on climate issues.
“No one country can save this. Everybody has to act,” said Kerry.
That was also perhaps the main takeaway from the Glasgow summit — as developing nations pleaded with their richer neighbors not to be complacent with what has been achieved, but to keep pushing hard to meet that 2030 deadline, to save the planet.