December 2nd, 2018 sees the opening of the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP24, which takes place until the 14th of December in Katowice, Poland, is the supreme body of the Convention and aims to ensure the implementation of the guidelines of the Paris agreement. The goal is to limit global warming to “well below 2C above pre-industrial levels”, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning that a warming of 1.5C is enough to cause weather extremes, sea-level rise and ecosystem disruptions worldwide.
With the last four years being the hottest in the record, it seems that we lag well behind that goal. Even by fulfilling the current pledges of the countries that have signed the Paris agreement, by the end of century the planet would be almost 3C warmer. The IPCC found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the 1.5C limit could be broken within the next 12 years.
The top three greenhouse gas emitters (China, USA and India) contribute almost half of the world’s yearly emissions, and even though China and India signed the Paris agreement, the U.S. withdrew from the pact. The effects of climate change (including climate-driven economic damage, impacts on international trade and human migration) are disproportionally shared and Asian and African urban centres are considered most vulnerable.
However, the recent National Climate Assessment (NCA4) of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) came to confirm the growing pressure of climate change on the U.S. economy. Without efficient measures, trillions of US$ are projected to be lost from property damage, agricultural impacts and recreation services alone.
On November 28th the UN announced that “the Green Bank Network have closed transactions that are expected to mobilize US$41 billion in public and private capital for green infrastructure projects around the globe, effectively meeting their goal of US$40 billion by 2019”. The United Nation’s Environmental Programme claim that there is still room for action to reverse the grim projections: they highlight the increasing commitment of non-state actors (civil society, regional governments) to combat climate change, and they request urgent and bold measures from governments.
Environmental policies do not necessarily come at the cost of development. For example, a report of the Brazilian Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services argues that protecting forests and pristine lands in Brazil would generate more income and preserve important ecosystem services than cutting it down for farming or logging; and a recent publication in Nature Sustainability discusses sustainable agricultural systems that provide environmental improvements at the same time as increases in food production. COP24 will show if countries realize the stakes and commit to drastic, even if belated, measures of prevention and mitigation.
What can individuals do to combat climate change? Do the quiz to calculate ecological footprint, and find out ways you can decrease your impact on the planet!