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Another Voice: Paris climate conference may have been our last best hope

By Walter Simpson

We have known since the 1960s that greenhouse gas emissions – especially carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) – are warming the Earth’s atmosphere and we have done little about it. Now, as this year reveals itself to be the warmest year in recorded global temperature history, the chickens are coming home to roost. It is perhaps a cliché to say the Paris negotiations were our last best hope, but it might also be true.

In Paris, 195 nations of the world sought an agreement not to prevent climate change but to slow it down and limit the severity of its consequences. Obviously, climate change is already occurring. Major changes in climate are already unavoidable.

Climate negotiations in Paris were informed by the latest science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has determined that to avoid uncontrollable climate change, most of the world’s remaining fossil fuels must remain in the ground.

The national pledges made in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by varying amounts are welcome and needed and begin to move the international community in the right direction. But they are grossly insufficient to prevent a two-degree Centigrade rise in average global temperature. This is the threshold established by the IPCC to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Poorer developing nations are least responsible for climate change but they are most severely impacted by it. In Paris, these countries rejected the two-degree threshold, arguing that they cannot cope with even the effects of a 1.5-degree average increase. Thus, they called for much deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and justifiably demanded monetary relief so they have even a chance of surviving the superheated climate rushing their way.

The Syria refugee crisis that is overwhelming Europe served as backdrop for the Paris conference. Conference participants were well aware that climate change is likely to unleash far greater migrations as tens of millions of desperate “climate refugees” seek to escape countries made unlivable by extreme temperatures, droughts, famine, floods, forest fires, super-storms and rising sea levels.

A big worry in Paris was that the promises and commitments made by President Obama would come to naught if a Republican was elected our next president. Republicans have aligned themselves ideologically and financially with fossil fuel interests. They reject climate science even though virtually every reputable scientific body in the world accepts it.

Ironically, while the international community gathered in Paris, local meteorologists gushed gleefully about record-breaking warm winter weather and lack of snow. Some reality with weather reports would be appreciated.

Walter Simpson is a local energy educator.