We know this September was the hottest it has been since the year 1880 and that 2015 promises to be the hottest year on record. We also know that the World Meteorological Organization has said that 2016 will be the first year when the carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere will average over 400ppm (parts per million). We have measured the 2015 ozone hole over Antarctica and know that it is the third largest ever observed. It is only eclipsed by holes in the years 2000 and 2006.
We know that planning for the climate change conference in Paris the nations of the world have committed to an amount of greenhouse gas emissions that go over the two degree Celsius limit. The two degree Celsius limit is believed necessary to keep the world’s average temperature at a safe level. They have committed to 2.7° C. The commitments now in hand converted to Fahrenheit are a 4.9° increase and are insufficient.
As a world, at the end of 2015, we will pass the average of one degree Celsius (or 1.8°F) warmer temperature measured since pre-industrial times. This places us as halfway to the 2°C level so frequently talked about.
Even while missing the two degree Celsius limit, cynics point out a number of reservations about the commitments. They first object that the commitments are not real. They were designed to solve other problems as a matter of expedience. These commitments are being repurposed to be for climate change.
The biggest case in point is the commitment from China. They claim the smog over Peking had become so bad the reduction they are committing to is really to eliminate smog in Peking. They point out that China has not cut back on its plans for additional coal fired power plants. They state that getting electricity for the entire country is their primary objective and they will not let this year’s commitment get in the way.
The cynics point out that commitments that span decades can easily be changed along the way. While optimists believe the freedom to change them means they will increase the commitments and achieve their goals earlier, the naysayers suggest they will only weaken commitments as the years pass. Critics say we cannot wait long enough to see because it will be too late to stop an additional rise in heat.
The final big criticism is that many of the commitments that have been made are conditional upon assistance the developed countries will provide to underdeveloped nations. Fully 25% of the world’s commitments are tied to receiving aide from developed nations. The underdeveloped nations are saying they will reduce their greenhouse pollution to a certain level if they receive a certain amount of help from a fund established by developed countries.
So far the potential donor nations must live up to providing the $100 billion per year by 2020 in climate financing to which they have committed. Unfortunately, in lots of areas nations are behind in living up to their commitments to fund various efforts. For example, the Congress of the U.S. for years was late in funding the United Nations.
A gross example is India that has committed to reduce its carbon intensity per unit of gross domestic product by 33% – 35% by 2030 compared to its levels of intensity shown in 2005. This is tied to its commitment to source 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources consisting largely of renewables and other low-carbon sources by 2030. This commitment will be achieved after it receives $2.5 trillion from the developed countries over the next 15 years. This $2.5 trillion is their estimate of the amount of money they will have to spend to change their energy infrastructure and plans in order to hit their targets.
So the biggest question that remains is “Is there still time?” This is the most difficult question we have. If you look at our average temperature rise we are halfway to our two degree Celsius limit. Should we be looking to the Paris conference to settle all issues or should we be looking at more decades of questioning?
The answer will probably be that there will be more questioning. There are reasons however to be hopeful. We may be seeing tipping points that are good news and should give us optimism that people will do the right thing to save our planet over the long haul ahead.
The Pew Research Center released its November 2015 World Survey of 40 countries (45,435 respondents) that shows a clear majority response to the question ‘Do you support or oppose your country limiting its greenhouse gas emissions as part of an agreement at the 2015 Paris conference?’ All nations of the world (except Pakistan) responded with their majority support for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The majorities were not small across the countries. Most were greater than 65%. Only Poland, Turkey, Palestinian territory, Indonesia, and South Africa had majorities less that 65%.
In addition, in order to reduce the ozone hole, countries that were parties to the Montreal Protocol of 1987 agreed to take under management the reduction of substitutes for CFCs or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are ozone friendly replacements that are used as refrigerants. Unfortunately, many of the HFC replacements are also very powerful greenhouse gases.
The use of these powerful greenhouse gases has risen as the world replaces the ozone killing CFCs with HFCs. The agreement of the Montreal Protocol countries to extend their management to include HFCs is a boon to fighting climate change. This is in addition to continuing their efforts to reduce the ozone hole. So far these countries have proven effective and tireless at attempting to shrink the ozone hole.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it has adopted new rules for the use and management of HFCs. The Department of Defense also has announced plans to use alternate chemicals at some facilities and on its ships. Both of these efforts will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.
There is also a report that President Obama has 81 U.S. large companies that have signed a pledge committing at least $180 billion to fight climate change. These companies include Intel, Johnson and Johnson, The Hershey Company, Levi Strauss, Nike, and Siemens.
These are all encouraging events that we hope are positive tipping points that indicate more progress in the future. Where human beings are involved, there will always be a good chance that we will do what is right. No matter what happens at the 2015 Paris Climate conference there are hopeful developments that indicate trends that should increase our optimism. We must continue our pressure to make progress on climate change. We cannot afford to give ground and must succeed if we want planet Earth to be a livable habitat.
Use the following links to obtain more information or see the original source documents used to prepare this article.
http://www.nature.com/news/the-week-in-science-30-october-5-november-2015-1.18711 (scroll to second item)
http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/11/05/global-concern-about-climate-change-broad-support-for-limiting-emissions/ (access pdf of entire report)