How We Can Help Nations Keep Their Word After the Paris Climate Talks

The U.N. climate change talks in Paris may have ended, but climate change has not. We must encourage leaders to stick to their commitments when it comes to confronting the causes of climate change.

The nearly 200 attending countries' world leaders extended the talks, known as COP21, through Saturday, Dec. 11, as they struggled to agree on a climate deal. In general, their goals are to lower greenhouse emissions, limit the spread of climate change, and deal with the impacts it's already caused.

With $100 billion on the table for developing countries to cut emissions, it's a start, notes NPR. However, as Pennsylvania activist Doug Orbaker mentioned to Groundswell before, we need to make sure the nonbinding treaty is not ignored.

"My expectation of the Paris talks is that it is some wonderful-sounding document with no teeth in it at all, which will then be stuck on the shelves and never opened again," said Orbaker, a retired pastor and missionary who organized a vigil for climate justice last month with his wife Penn Garvin.

"We need to be continually talking with our congresspeople, making sure that our government knows that people in the United States are serious about adopting the measures."

Here's a brief overview of the goals the nations set, as provided by the Telegraph:

  • Countries plan to keep global warming to below the dangerous 2-degrees-Celsius level by cutting greenhouse emissions dramatically.

  • Every five years, each nation has to tighten their plans for doing so. Current plans still have the Earth warming at least 2.7 degrees C.

  • To help with sustainable development and dealing with the problems climate change causes, wealthy countries will give a total of $100 billion a year to developing ones for the next 10 years at least.

  • In 2023, countries will have to show a record of their emissions to hold them accountable, and do that every five years after. Developing countries get more leniency.

As the talks reiterated, climate action benefits everyone, particularly the poor who are disproportionately hurt by climate change by being forced to relocate because of natural disasters, for instance, or food shortages. Here's what you can do now.

1. You've signed the petitions. Now vote.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement just handed over their petition signed by more than 900,000 Catholics to U.N. leaders urging them to cut carbon emissions. Global temperatures need to be kept below the dangerous 2 degree Celsius threshold.

GCCM's Christina Leano agrees that it's important to continue to pressure legislators.

"Given the [2016 presidential and congressional] elections here, it's going to be key to raise the issue of climate change and really elect officials that support policies that promote climate justice," Leano says. "The other thing, of course, is just [ensuring] that the U.S. contributes its portion to the Green Climate Fund."

President Barack Obama pledged $3 billion to the international fund in November to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change. But Congress Republicans have vowed to block the money shortly before the talks began.

Learn how to contact your congresspeople here to ask them to uphold the U.S.' promise to contribute to the Green Climate Fund. You can also get briefed on where presidential candidates stand on climate change here.

2. Join movements in your area.

Tens of thousands in nearly 200 countries took to the streets for the Global Climate March last month asking for world leaders to agree on keeping fossil fuels in the ground and shift to renewables. Now activism's going local.

Those at 350NYC are already a step ahead: they've consistently combined the goal of influencing world leaders at the talks with local leaders in New York City. They actually threw a bon voyage party for the mayor before he left for Paris.

Activist Marilyn Vasta says the group will continue trying to get the city to go 100 percent renewable by 2030. She says policies in New York could model standards for other places from its position as global leader, citing food and tobacco regulations that then spread to other parts of the world.

"It's really critical for New York to have a very strong policy on global warming and do everything we can to stop it," Vasta says.

New Yorkers can keep an eye on their website for upcoming events. Everybody else can check with their local branch of environmental organizations like or Sierra Club.

The GCCM, for one, is hosting a fast for climate justice during the Christian season of Lent, which starts in February. You can sign up to participate on its site at the beginning of the new year. Fall will bring a month of prayer and action called the "Season of Creation" from Sept. 1 through Oct. 4.

3. Reduce your personal footprint.

Environmentally minded religious folks can look to the GCCM's guide for individual parishes to cut down on their day-to-day emissions, which can soon be found on their site.

Leano also urges clergy to address climate advocacy from the pulpit and churches to offer education programs—and opportunities to pray for climate action in specific.

Believers or not, everyone can help with a few basic routine changes—like buying sustainable, biking, carpooling or taking public transportation and getting involved in community solar programs.

Of course, individual actions alone aren't going to be the tipping point where climate change suddenly becomes bearable. They need to compound to create nation- and worldwide change, and that change largely goes back to legislation, as Doug Orbaker stresses.

"All of us pollute, but none of us are major polluters individually. It's going to take law, and it's going to take some cooperation to make law happen," says Orbaker. "It's going to mean that some big companies don't make as much money as they usually make. And that's really going to be unpopular with today's political climate and economic climate, but that's what has to happen."

Adds Leano, "We have a very long fight and journey ahead of us. Especially for those of us in the United States where there continues to be a lot of resistance in providing financial support for an ambitious national agreement that can really steer us on a more sustainable path."