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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Our Moment of Truth Has Arrived

The Deep Decarbonization Report published yesterday makes some very serious points that underline the gravity of climate change:
Our moment of truth has arrived. Twenty-two years ago at the Rio Earth Summit, the world's governments recognized that humanity was changing the climate system profoundly, posing risks for human wellbeing and sustainable development prospects. They adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) two years later, and resolved to protect the planet and promote sustainable development by stabilizing "GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."
Yet, more than two decades later, GHG emissions are stil far from stabilizing. In 1994, at the first Conference of the Parties (COP1) of the UNFCCC, CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and direct CO2 emissions from industrial processes were 23 bil ion tons (gigatons or Gt), and the CO2 concentration stood at 358.8 parts per mil ion (ppm). By 2013, at COP19, global CO2 emissions had soared to 36 bil ion tons, and CO2 concentrations stood at 396.5 ppm.
Every country has signed on to fight against human-induced climate change, but the world remains dangerously off course from the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC. There is, as of yet, no prospect of stabilizing GHG concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced climate change. The Parties to the UNFCCC have now had 19 annual meetings since 1994. These COPs have borne the world's hopes and disappointments in our collective inability to date to head off a growing catastrophe.
At the 16th COP held in Cancun in 2010, the world's governments committed to a new and clear target: to keep the global rise in mean surface temperature below 2°C compared with the pre-industrial average. The COP added a proviso that the 2°C limit may be revised downward to 1.5°C in light of available science. The 2°C limit is the world's most explicit, and many climate scientists would say last-ditch, effort to operationalize the goal of avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.