Applauding Paris: Climate Change Conference 2015 Will Go On

Candice Gaukel Andrews November 17, 2015 1
Globally, glaciers are losing ice at an extensive rate. While some glaciers in some areas might temporarily be gaining ice, the long-term trends are all the same: worldwide, about 90 percent of glaciers are shrinking. ©Don Becker, USGS

Globally, glaciers are losing ice at an extensive rate. While some glaciers might temporarily be gaining ice, the long-term trends are all the same: worldwide, about 90 percent are shrinking. ©Don Becker, USGS

Before the terrorist attacks that left more than 125 people dead and hundreds wounded in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015, the city was set to host the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, starting on November 30, 2015. It was just announced that the conference will go on as planned.

I applaud France for its commitment to the global environment amid its national tragedy and mourning. The decision emphasizes that countries are now beginning to realize that putting a cap on rising temperatures is just as important as curbing terrorism if the world is to survive.

And I have hope that finally, with this particular convention taking place in Paris at this precise moment, all of us throughout the world will also understand that.

Not that successful in the past

According to World Wildlife Fund, climate change is causing droughts to become longer, harder and more frequent. ©Shever, flickr

According to World Wildlife Fund, climate change is causing droughts to become longer, harder and more frequent. ©Shever, flickr

Just a few days ago, the World Meteorological Organization released another report stating that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere hit a record high in 2014. Last year on November 4, I wrote to you about how levels of carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, had hit 400 parts per million (ppm). Scientists say that greenhouse concentrations need to remain under 450 parts per million by 2100, which means we need to set a goal of keeping the average global temperature increase to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (or 2 degrees Celsius) above the preindustrial level. Anything higher would change the climate so dramatically that neither humans nor ecosystems could easily adapt.

That’s why many regard the Paris conference as a critical window of opportunity to save the planet before it’s too late. At COP21, the delegates from nearly 200 countries are hoping to reach a historic agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Last week, scientists in the United Kingdom predicted that the global mean temperature in 2015 would mark a one-degree-Celsius rise above preindustrial levels for the first time ever—which researcher Stephen Belcher called a clear move into “uncharted territory” for climate change.

Unusually high rainfall is also a result of rapid climate change. This is the last house on Holland Island, Maryland, after the storms of 2010. ©baldeaglebluff, flickr

Unusually high rainfall is also a result of rapid climate change. This is the last house on Holland Island, Maryland, after the 2010 storms. ©baldeaglebluff, flickr

Unfortunately, the emissions cuts countries have pledged in advance of the Paris conference aren’t enough to keep us within the two-degree limit. If carbon emissions are left unchecked, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world could see a four-degree-Celsius rise by the end of the century, translating into food insecurity, health crises, mass migration and violent conflict over resources. In other words, we’d have a global catastrophe.

A lot of pressure is on Paris. Climate change conferences have not been that successful in the past. Since its inaugural 1995 meeting in Berlin, the COP has convened every year in cities around the world to review the plan of action for stabilizing greenhouse gases. Yet, CO2 levels continue to rise. Last year’s conference in Lima, Peru, did little than pave the way for more talking about climate change.

Now, the time may be right

The Arctic could be entirely ice-free in the summer months by the 2030s, with profound effects for wildlife. Since 2000, the forced migration of walruses and their young to barrier islands has become an increasingly regular occurrence. Last year in Alaska, as many as 40,000 walruses were forced ashore. ©Sarah Sonsthagen, USGS

By the 2030s, the Arctic could be entirely ice-free in summers. Last year in Alaska, as many as 40,000 walruses were forced ashore due to lack of ice. ©Sarah Sonsthagen, USGS

Although no one would have wished for a scenario where the issues of terrorism and climate change would bump up together as they are in Paris now, it is an awakening. The Paris attacks demonstrate how volatile an unstable world can be. Kudos to France for its decision to soldier on with dealing with two of the world’s biggest problems at this time. This may be the moment when world leaders will be especially motivated to push a real greenhouse-gas-curbing agreement through, when climate-change mitigation is actually still feasible.

According to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, a 2013 meta-study compiled almost 12,000 research abstracts published by over 29,000 researchers between 1991 and 2011. Among them, 3,896 articles stated a position on the causes of global warming over the past 50 years: 97.1 percent of them endorsed the consensus that it is human-caused.

So let’s hope we’re done with banning the language of climate change. Let’s hope we’re done with denying that the planet is warming faster than ever due to human activities. For France, for the world, let’s finally demand that all nations come together to do something about it.

If not Paris now, then where and when?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

One Comment »

  1. Rosalia Camacho November 23, 2015 at 8:41 am - Reply

    Good for the world leaders!

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