‘Collective ambition’ key to staving off climate crisis’ harshest effects

The U.S. has officially re-entered the Paris Climate Accord.

Looking back to early 2016 at the time the agreement was ratified, an aim was to keep Earth’s mean surface temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius [C] above what it was at the 19th century’s doorstep, the understanding here, of course, being that if kept to that 2 degree Celsius ceiling, the harshest effects of global warming would be avoided.

During the past five years, however, serious reconsideration having to do with the 2-degree-C threshold has been given with the general thinking among experts today being, that even at that established 2-degree-C ceiling, too severe still will be climate’s impacts.

So, there is now overarching confirmation or so it would seem within the scientific community that the year 2100 temperature-rise limit should be no higher than 1.5 degrees C.

And, it goes beyond this even. In fact, as reported by the United Nations Environment Programme in a Nov. 26, 2019 press release, “On the eve of a year in which nations are due to strengthen their Paris climate pledges, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report warns that unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 per cent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5 [degree] C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.”

“‘For ten years, the Emissions Gap Report has been sounding the alarm – and for ten years, the world has only increased its emissions,’ said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. ‘There has never been a more important time to listen to the science. Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic temperatures, storms and pollution.’”

“UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report says that even if all current unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2 [degrees] C, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts. Collective ambition must increase more than fivefold over current levels to deliver the cuts needed over the next decade for the 1.5 [degree] C goal,” the UNEP emphasized in the Nov. 26, 2019 release.

With the annual world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contribution to the atmosphere now at more than 50 billion tons (gigatons), the time to act to address what many are now calling an existential threat is now. “To limit temperatures, annual emissions in 2030 need to be 15 gigatonnes of [carbon dioxide] equivalent lower than current unconditional [Nationally Determined Contributions] imply for the 2 [degree] C goal; they need to be 32 gigatonnes lower for the 1.5 [degree] C goal,” the UNEP in the release further stressed.

Meanwhile, another target: zero net global GHG emissions output by no later than 2050 is being pursued.

The real question is not whether climate change is real and is an existential threat; rather it is if this so-called “collective ambition” as so-referenced in the UNEP press statement will materialize, and in time and to the extent necessary to eliminate that threat.

What the COVID-19 pandemic has unequivocally demonstrated is that with even a modest reduction in pollutant emissions, bluer skies and cleaner air was a collateral effect, unintended as it was, but a collateral effect nonetheless.

Imagine the results if a concerted and sustained campaign, crusade, call it what you will aimed at normalizing both climate and global mean surface temperature, is maintained.

What comes to mind here? Better days ahead, is what.

– Alan Kandel

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