Climate change: will self commitment save us?

Our planet is getting warmer and warmer. 2014 was the hottest year on record, with a global temperature of 1.03 degrees Fahrenheit above the average, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Yet, despite some recent promises and commitments, what we are doing to stop global warming may be not enough — and we may be too late anyway.

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Having a warmer world might sound good to some of us. I even heard some jokes about that. After all, who dislikes good temperatures?

But many experts agree it is not. And what are we doing to stop this trend? Last year was full of events organized to make governments aware of the problem, and foster some actions on the matter. This effort reached its climax in December, when Lima hosted a round of climate talks that gave birth to the first draft of an accord to stop global warming.

Yet, it may be not enough.

Some days before Christmas I talked about the topic with Professor Christiaan Both, expert on climate change at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands). This is an excerpt of my interview.

Professor Both, how close are we to the point of no return?

The idea is that if we are going above the two degrees increase in temperature, then we may get into a kind of positive feedback loop. The permafrost on the Tundra is going to melt and there will be a release of CH4 gas, a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. We may rapidly go into a 6 degrees increase in temperature, and that would be devastating for many ecosystems of the world, but also for human population.

Will the world leaders ever agree to halt climate change?

I think only when disaster is going to really strike then there will be an agreement. Personally, I am afraid that we are already too late.

With Professor Both I also discussed the Lima climate talks. He was skeptical about the real practical utility of something that, to the most, looked like a summit designed to give the world’s population the impression that every country is working to stop climate change.

Everyone in Lima, more than 200 countries, signed the accords. Strange enough, since history shows that, when it comes to reducing emissions — that would mean reducing the size of some industrial activities, basically acting against our capitalistic model of compulsory steady growth, controlled by powerful lobbies — everyone frowns or shrugs.

And indeed, there may be a specific reason for this incredible willingness. It is the fact that no one is forced to do anything specific:

The conference of the Parties,

Decides that the protocol […] shall address in a balanced manner, inter alia, mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building, and transparency of action and support; (here the full text)

The Parties decided to set a deadline for the 31st of March, in which every ratifying country will have to “commit to specific greenhouse cuts” through “nationally determined contributions” in light “of different national circumstances.”

Whereas it is understandable that not every country can stand the same level of emissions cuts, what is stated in the Lima accords is that everyone has the chance to decide for themselves — and it is easy to expect a general low level of commitment.

This freedom of action may be the reason why more than 200 countries ratified the paper.

Anyway, the United Nation Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) published a schedule for 2015, that will lead to the “Paris accord”:

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The most important step will be first day of November. Then, the real size of the expected “ambitious national commitments” — as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called it — will be calculated. And we will know how many decided, by themselves, to take the first step to halt climate change.

by Emanuele Del Rosso

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