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Climate of emergency

Opinion

December 21, 2015

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On December 12, nearly 200 nations approved the Paris Agreement. The 32-page document spells out humanity’s new, official plan to confront the crisis of climate change.

Public demonstrations across France were banned under the ‘state of emergency’ imposed after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Activists defied the ban, saying that same phrase, ‘state of emergency’ that describes the planet’s climate. Protests, at times violently repressed by police, occurred throughout the two-week United Nations summit, as people from around the world demanded a fair, ambitious and binding climate treaty to avert the worst consequences of global warming.

The conference opened with the largest gathering of heads of state in history. Dr. Hoesung Lee, chair of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of almost 2,000 scientists that publishes the world’s scientific consensus on climate change, addressed the leaders, saying:

“The climate is already changing, and we know it’s due to human activity. If we carry on like this, we risk increasingly severe and irreversible impacts: rising seas, increasingly severe droughts and floods, food and water shortages, increased immigration from climate refugees, to name just a few.”

Just about everywhere on the planet, climate science is accepted as fact. It is only in the United States, the largest polluter in world history and home to some of the wealthiest and most politically influential fossil-fuel corporations, that climate-science deniers are given credence.

Climate scientists at the IPCC have provided different global-warming scenarios, describing what the world might look like if the planet warms to varying temperatures. We have already warmed one degree Celsius over preindustrial levels, with devastating impacts. The Paris Agreement’s central tenet is the pledge to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Centigrade above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Centigrade above preindustrial levels.”

These seemingly small differences matter. With a rapid decarbonisation of the global economy, with a rapid shift to non-polluting renewable energy, we could limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In this scenario, small island nations can survive the expected sea-level rise. At 2 degrees Celsius, polar ice melts, water warms and thus expands, and global sea levels rise more than 3 feet.

The 1.5 degree goal was included in the Paris Agreement, but, as George Monbiot noted, “it’s almost as if it’s now safe to adopt 1.5 degrees Centigrade as their aspirational target now that it is pretty well impossible to reach.”

Asad Rehman, of Friends of the Earth, explained that equity red line as “support for the most vulnerable, the poorest people, who are really losing their lives and livelihoods and who are going to deal with ever-increasing climate impacts, mostly because of the responsibility of rich, developed countries who have grown fat and rich from carbon pollution.”

In the Paris Agreement, this support is called “loss and damage”, meaning financial payments from the rich countries to poor countries suffering severe impacts of climate change. “Rich countries, who are responsible for this crisis ... now want to shift the burden of responsibility from the rich to the poor,” Rehman added. “Unfortunately, the legacy President Barack Obama will leave here is a poison chalice to the poor...”

A broad coalition of climate action organisations has promised an aggressive year of direct action to hasten the end of the fossil-fuel era. As Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace told me, “Most of us in civil society never said ‘the road to Paris,’ we always said ‘the road through Paris.’”

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Climate change and the road through Paris’.

Courtesy: Commondreams.org.

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