Our Opinion: Climate change accord offers hope for planet

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The climate change accord reached in France can easily be nitpicked into its constituent pieces but it is the big picture that matters — 195 nations agreed that global warming is a real and present danger.

Nations large and small, rich and poor, agreed that the burning of fossil fuels is endangering the planet's health, and they established a road map to address this real danger. The (primarily American) deniers — left behind by science and clinging only to ideology — will obstruct but the world as a whole will be moving forward.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the accord reached Saturday night outside of Paris is that no nations received exemptions from taking action. Past environmental accords put the onus on economic powers like the United States, but in this agreement, every nation accepted some responsibility for change.

Critical to this shift was the acknowledgment by China, a major polluter and long-time obstacle to climate change reform, that it needed to clean up its act. China, its major cities choking on air pollution, has learned its lesson the hard way, and in France, its example brought along other nations like India that had been skeptics on global warming and the need to address it before it is too late.

It is, of course, too late to a degree, as the melting glaciers are beyond repair and rising sea levels threatening island nations will not return to what used to be normal. Scientists agree that even if every nation meets the environmental goals established for it the resultant curb in greenhouse gas emissions will only be half of what is necessary to stave off a dangerous increase in global temperatures in the years ahead.

However, if the nations live up to the agreement, meet their emissions targets, and revisit them in four years to update them, the climate change that is fueling droughts, floods, destructive storms and shortages of food and water will be slowed and its impact reduced. Under President Obama, the United States has moved from obstructionist to leader in saving what the president described Saturday as "the one planet we have." For this far-reaching accord to reach its full potential and not succumb to inertia, the United States must continue to lead in the years and decades ahead.


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