Active Voice: Paris Climate Accord and ACSMís ActivEarth

By David R. Bassett, Jr., Ph.D., FACSM

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

David R. Bassett, Jr., Ph.D., FACSM, is chairperson of ACSM's ActivEarth Task Force and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport Studies at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He has examined data on the use of walking, cycling and public transit in various countries and cities, and studied their relationship to rates of obesity and diabetes.


The 2015 United Nations Climate Change conference was held in Paris, France, from November 30 to December 12. The resulting Paris Climate Accord is a historic agreement involving 195 countries. For the first time, all countries have agreed to a long-term, lasting framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Worldwide, temperatures have already increased by one degree Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. The goal of the climate accord is to ensure that temperatures increase no more than two degrees Celsius. To that end, developed countries have committed to reducing their carbon footprints and providing financial assistance to developing countries through a climate donor fund. Developing countries are encouraged to limit their growth in emissions and reduce it over time.

The Paris Climate Accord calls for nationally determined climate targets that will be monitored at regular intervals. The climate accord has no penalties for countries that fail to meet their targets, but it provides transparency rules that will encourage countries to meet their goals. All countries must report on their greenhouse gas emissions and tell what they are doing to curtail them. This is the first-ever, universal, legally-binding climate agreement.

What are the implications of the Paris Climate Accord for ACSM and its membership? Clearly, the accord leaves little doubt that human-made greenhouse gases contribute to global climate change, and that we need to take action. Concepts and planning for ACSMís ActivEarth began as early as 2012, and past ACSM President Janet Walberg Rankin, Ph.D., FACSM, made this her legacy initiative. ACSM officially launched the program in 2014 with the aim of improving public health by promoting sustainable transport like walking, bicycling and public transit. The transportation sector produces one-third of our nationís total carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion, so promoting alternative forms of transportation is consistent with helping the USA to meet its carbon emissions goals. In addition, active transportation reduces dependence on foreign oil, provides an economical option for mobility and makes Americans healthier and fitter.

The USA, with its larger land mass, has cities that are more sprawling than their European counterparts, making it more difficult to get around without a car. However, 27 percent of all trips in 2009 were one mile or less, a distance that is easily covered on foot or by bicycle. Taking the bus or train also is a smart way to travel and usually involves walking at either end of the journey.

The concepts and principles of the accord can help ACSM make major strides forward. One way that ACSM members can support the Paris Climate accord is through the American Campuses Act on Climate (ACAC). Launched by the White House on November 19, 2015, its purpose is to provide colleges and universities with a means to move toward sustainability. As of December 10, 2015, a total of 318 higher education institutions had signed on by taking the ACAC pledge to promote clean energy and climate action. Encourage your college or university to sign the pledge - this is an important step toward a low-carbon energy future and will enhance sustainable practices on campus!

The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) has a program that recognizes institutions of higher education for promoting and providing a bikeable campus. Their Bicycle Friendly Universities program dispenses gold, silver or bronze designations to campuses based on their current level of support for cyclists. It recognizes that colleges and universities are well positioned to lead the way in promoting bicycling. ACSM members should get involved in promoting active transportation on their campuses, and in their communities. Low-cost perimeter parking, pedestrian signage, covered bike racks, cross-walks and bike lanes are some of the things that encourage more people to walk and bike.

Editorial Note: Learn more about President Obamaís action plan on the Paris Climate Accord at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change. For more on what ACSM is doing to support a healthier planet through ActivEarth, see: http://activearth.org/ and past ACSM President Janet Walberg Rankinís September 9th, 2014 SMB commentary on ActivEarth at http://multibriefs.com/briefs/ACSM/ACSM090914.php.