The mean annual temperature globally in 2014 was up about 0.7 degrees Celsius over the base year 1972, marking the 38th consecutive year since 1977 that the yearly global temperature was above average.
A 1-degree rise in temperature is projected to impact negatively the production of crops such as corn and wheat. Risks for food security become especially significant when local warming exceeds 4 degrees Celsius, the upper estimate for global average warming by 2100. At 4 degrees Celsius, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) warns that climate change becomes the “dominant driver of impacts on ecosystems.”
Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use and cement production, in kilo tons per year, rose from 15 million in 1972 to 35 million in 2013. Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, there’s enough extra CO2 and other gases in the atmosphere to keep the planet warming for a long time.
Global mean sea levels have risen by about 60 millimeters (2.36 inches) since 1992, threatening the future of low-lying islands such as the Marshall Islands, Fiji, and the Maldives, as well as parts of Asia, particularly Bangladesh. These places represent only 2 percent of the earth’s land, but are home to 10 percent of its population—some 600 million people. If rising sea levels inundate these regions—particularly during storms—land will become unusable and inhabitants will be forced to relocate.
The number of droughts, wildfires, floods, and landslides rose from fewer than a hundred in 1972 to about 300 in 2014. This included a 1997–1998 El Niño that resulted in worldwide drought and flooding; a 2003 European heat wave that caused 72,210 deaths; a 2010–2011 drought in Queensland, Australia, followed by massive flooding; and ongoing droughts and wildfires in 2014, affecting roughly 240 million North Americans.
For varying reasons, Earth Summits from Rio in 1992 to Copenhagen in 2009 have made little substantive progress. The delegates now in Paris for the Conference of the Parties (COP21) must think unconventionally to succeed with their final accord. Their goal is to cap global temperature growth by 2100 at the lowest possible increase over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, which is essential to keeping ice caps from melting and causing disastrous rises in ocean levels.
The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the over-arching treaty under which the Paris talks are occurring. Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada and member of Parliament, is attending the conference along with Canada’s new Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and others.
May explains: “The agreement is an attempt to set up a system for frequent reviews to press each time for deeper emission reductions, more help with adaptation, more financing for the developing world, and great sharing of new technologies to move the whole world off fossil fuels. This is referred to as the ‘architecture’ of the agreement. … And it matters that we choose the right long-term goal—holding levels of warming to below or to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
President Obama appears at press time to have committed only that the United States “will reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels within 10 years from now,” whereas Canada has taken a stand for 1.5 degrees C in the final accord.
Noting that the dividing line is now equity, May stresses, “This treaty must be about more than climate.” “It must set all nations on a path to a fairer world.”
In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” launched the environmental movement and led the United States to ban the pesticide DDT. Since then, environmental advocates have explored the complex problem of climate change.
In 1988, Bill McKibben made a compelling case for the crisis of global warming in “The End of Nature.” Elizabeth Kolbert followed in 2006 with “Field Notes From a Catastrophe.” Al Gore re-sounded the alarm with “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Although each has helped shape current American opinion on global warming, none has galvanized America into demanding concrete change in quite the way Carson did.
What’s needed beyond Paris is renewed political will by governments of all levels. They should determine where they want to be by 2050 and then work back to plan the needed technological route.
Entire economies need to be electrified through car batteries, hydrogen, and wind turbines. Strict building codes to reduce energy demand in new buildings need to be enacted and enforced. We citizens all have a role and must make smarter environmental choices in our daily lives.
The Paris accord can be a significant forward step in a long battle. We must all continue to encourage our different levels of government and make Earth-friendly personal choices.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.