The Unity College community is lauding passage of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change agreement in Paris.
Ministers from 195 countries adopted an agreement, decades in the making, which aims to help the world abandon fossil fuels this century. Specifically, it aims to stop global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius in what many are calling the most ambitious climate change agreement in history.
“The devil, of course, is in the details, but we are heartened that the message has gotten through,” Unity College President-elect Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said, “the message being that business as usual with respect to carbon fuels is not sustainable for the planet, harms human health and the ability of future generations to thrive, and is also bad for business.”
Khoury noted Unity College was the first U.S. college to divest its portfolio of investments in the top 200 fossil fuel producers, sparking a movement in which institutions have pulled more than $3.4 trillion from the sector, according to National Geographic.
Since Unity decided to fully divest in September 2012, more than $50 billion in divestment pledges have come from the higher education sector, including Pitzer College, Syracuse University, Hampshire College, Sterling College, College of the Atlantic, Green Mountain College, San Francisco State University, Stanford University, the University of Dayton, Humboldt State, Chico State and California Institute of the Arts, the University of Maine System, and the University of Hawaii.
Unity College President Stephen Mulkey, a noted climate scientist who has criticized industry-funded academic studies attempting to cast doubt on climate change, said the Paris agreement was an urgent milestone.
“While there is much uncertainty about how climate change will play out, one thing is very clear from the data,” Mulkey said. “Climate change will be the defining environmental factor of what will come to be seen as the environmental century.”
He cited recent data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research indicates that global temperatures could be 9 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit higher by 2100, leaving “a planet that is not consistent with civilization.”
Given that outlook, “I don’t know how the stakes could get any higher,” he said, praising “determined leadership from negotiators in Paris as well as our own board of trustees for coming to a decisive statement and call to international action.”
Several conditions set these negotiations apart from previous climate talks, Unity College Sustainability Director Jennifer deHart said: “One was the high degree of citizen activism before during and after the Paris conference.”
DeHart cited social media campaigns such as #EarthToParis, in which dozens of Unity College students, faculty, and staff participated, as creating “an urgent atmosphere for the negotiators.”
“Unity College students joined the international movements to let world leaders know that they were being watched,” deHart said. “The expectation of accountability may very well have been a big contributing factor in ironing out this historic agreement.”
As negotiations continued into overtime on Saturday, a contingent of Unity College students joined a climate rally in Boston attended by hundreds, which Ryan Park ‘16, a Wildlife & Fisheries Management major from Torrance, Calif., called “a great community experience of like-minded, yet diverse group of people with the goal of spreading the word of environmental and social justice for all.”
The Paris agreement establishes a long term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, all countries commit to putting forward successive and ambitious, nationally determined climate targets and reporting on their progress towards them using a rigorous, standardized process of review.
The agreement provides assurance to developing countries that they will be supported as they pursue clean and climate resilient growth. The deal builds on the unprecedented participation of 187 countries that submitted post-2020 climate action targets in advance of the meeting, and establishes a framework to ratchet up ambition by driving down global emissions in the decades to come.
This new global framework lays the foundation for countries to work together to put the world on a path to keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius and sets an ambitious vision to go even farther than that. This Agreement sends a strong signal to the private sector that the global economy is moving towards clean energy, and that through innovation and ingenuity, we can achieve our climate objectives while creating new jobs, raising standards of living and lifting millions out of poverty.
The Paris Agreement is also the culmination of a broader effort by nations, businesses, cities, and citizens to reorient the global economy to a path of low-carbon growth – progress that will accelerate as a result of the Agreement’s provisions on mitigation ambition, transparency, and climate finance.
In providing a summary of what it called “an ambitious agreement,” the White House noted a piece of the agreement called the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge, in which 311 colleges and universities – including Unity College — representing more than 4 million students, demonstrated commitment to climate action by joining the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge.