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Combating climate change requires smart and urgent action on part of world powers

23:34 | 11.11.2016 | Analytic


11 November 2016. PenzaNews. Paris climate agreement that was adopted at the Climate Change Conference in December 2015 to replace the Kyoto Protocol, came into force November 4.

Combating climate change requires smart and urgent action on part of world powers

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Within the framework of this document, representatives of 195 countries agreed, in particular, to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Meanwhile, Paris agreement is subject to serious criticism as some experts insist on stricter control measures and express doubts about successful implementation of the document’s aims.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report, the countries must reduce the emissions by some 25 percent more than those pledged in the agreement to fulfill their obligations.

2030 emission levels are set to reach the equivalent of 54–56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, which is well above the 42 gigatonne maximum if warming is to be kept below 2°C, the UNEP says.

Even if pledges outlined in the Paris Agreement are implemented and emission forecasts for 2030 are confirmed, the world is on track for a global temperature rise of 2.9°C to 3.4°C by the end of this century, which, according the scientists, can lead to irreversible climate change and catastrophic consequences, such as hunger, poverty, climate refugees and diseases, the UNEP warns.

At the same time, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), today the carbon dioxide levels have already exceeded the pre-industrial level by almost 1.5 times and reached a symbolic red line of 400 parts per million (ppm).

Commenting on the situation, Martin Beniston, Director of the Institute for Environmental Sciences (ISE), University of Geneva, said that further carbon dioxide levels increase will lead to even more climate warming, as a result of an amplification of the greenhouse effect.

“Carbon dioxide crossed a symbolic threshold of 400 ppm in 2015 already, and is continuing to rise at between 1–2% per year. The main cause of carbon dioxide increase is from fossil-fuel combustion: coal, oil, to a lesser extent natural gas, and also from forest fires in the tropical regions. The consequences of rapid warming can be dangerous for certain parts of the world: sea-level rise, disruption of agricultural production, changes to water availability and quality,” the climate researcher told PenzaNews.

In his opinion, this issue deserves much more attention of the international community.

“Some efforts have been made through improved energy-efficiency technologies, carbon trading, switch to renewable energy technologies; also carbon taxes and other financial mechanisms to make fossil fuels less attractive economically. However, the progress remains relatively slow and much more effort would be needed in political and economic terms, if we are to reach the ‘+1.5°C’ target negotiated at Paris Climate Change Conference,” the expert said.

People need to change their consumer behavior, in particular in the energy sector, he said.

“This is principally through energy efficiency in the building and transportation sector. For this last sector, consumers should try to use public transportation rather than individual vehicles; but for the moment, many large cities have inadequate mass transportation systems,” Martin Beniston explained.

According to him, the main obstacle to achieving the target of the Paris Agreement will be the inertia of many economic sectors.

“I rather see some positive developments by industry and technology, with possibly a limit of 2.5°C–3.0°C to future climate warming by 2100. This is better than +4°C or +6°C, but there will be numerous negative impacts that will disrupt socio-economic activities and lifestyles in many parts of the world,” he said.

In turn, Bradley Opdyke, Research Scientist at Research School of Earth Sciences, the Australian National University, disagreed with the statement that the 400 ppm barrier was breached.

“Equilibrium sea level at this carbon dioxide concentration is more than 20m above present. The good news is it will probably take several thousand years to reach that level,” the scientist said.

According to him, progress is rapidly being made to switch away from fossil fuel power sources to the tune of several hundred billion US dollars per year. Though if we were really taking this seriously that number would be in the trillions, he added.

“The Paris agreement is a good one on the political front, but it is just a first step. In order to really confront the problem, we need to keep being proactive, set up more wind mills, photovoltaics, and switch to electric cars,” Bradley Opdyke said.

From his point of view, positive change will continue to accelerate.

“In ten years, electric cars may be the dominant vehicle on the road and coal fired power stations extinct,” the expert suggested.

In turn Piers Forster, Director of Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds, UK, said that carbon dioxide levels are rising at about 2 ppm per year simply because we are burning coal, oil, gas and wood that emit carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

“In fact our emissions are making levels rise at 4 ppm per year, but the trees and oceans are being kind to us and absorbing an extra 2 ppm each year, meaning the rate of change in lower than it should be,” the British scientist stressed.

According to him, the impacts of climate change are damaging crops and communities now and it will steadily get worse.

“Carbon dioxide and other emissions such as methane have caused a temperature rise of 1°C for the globe, much higher temperature changes in the Arctic, with loss of ice and more rainfall at high latitudes and droughts and heatwaves at lower latitudes,” Piers Forster explained.

However, we can change things, he stressed.

“For the next 10 years or so we are more-or-less locked into further rises in carbon dioxide but beyond then – it is in our power to change. The Paris agreement was a huge success. I’m confident things will change going forward. The last weeks have seen international agreements on aviation and HFC gases. Coal fired power stations are being replaced. Renewables are taking over around the world,” he said.

According to him, further steps to improve the climate situation are largely dependent on the location of the state and its circumstances.

“For example, the main thing Russia could do would be to decarbonise its energy supply, moving from coal to gas and ideally renewables, but also look at using carbon capture technology with coal. The other important thing is probably residential heating, looking at ways to reduce heating bills and make heating greener, such as communal biomass heating schemes,” Piers Forster said.

Meanwhile, Duncan Marsh, Climate Policy expert at The Nature Conservancy, called 2016 both a very encouraging and a very sobering year for the world’s response to climate change.

“The adoption of the Paris Agreement was a tremendous breakthrough for international cooperation, establishing a framework in which all countries will be acting to address the risks from climate change. On the other hand, the UN Environment Program released an assessment highlighting the gap between international commitments made by governments and the actual emissions reductions required to stay below dangerous global temperature rise. And this year the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere became about 45% above the level prior to industrialization in the 1800s,” Nature Conservancy expert reminded.

The need to take smart and urgent action to reduce emissions and develop economies sustainably remains as high as ever, he stressed.

“Recent progress on climate change has been quite remarkable. The Paris Agreement is not only groundbreaking: it is significant that enough countries rapidly moved to ratify it so that the Agreement entered into legal force in almost unprecedentedly rapid timeline. […] And the last month has seen two other very important agreements: first, governments meeting in Montreal agreed to a strong plan to reduce emissions from airplanes under the International Civil Aviation Organization. This was closely followed by a separate agreement on October 16 to phase out the potent greenhouse gases, known as hydrofluorocarbons, used in refrigerators and air conditioning. Such cooperation and political commitment will be essential to the world’s efforts to rein in emission and protect our planet,” Duncan Marsh said.

According to him, the focus rightly turns now to implementing the goals that have been set forth in these agreements.

“In order to achieve objectives, countries must exert leadership and adopt smart investment strategies that aim to grow economics while reducing emissions. We are seeing very promising developments already: the costs of renewable energies like solar and wind power has reduced dramatically in recent years, and in many places these renewable sources are already cheaper than oil, gas and coal,” the expert said.

In his opinion, natural systems, like forests, wetlands and agricultural practices also can work to reduce global emissions.

“Addressing climate change presents opportunities for innovation in all facets of human life – in how we produce and use energy, design buildings and cities, and conserve and use land. New thinking and science in these areas can address climate threats while contributing to healthy lands and waters, safer communities and strong economies,” Duncan Marsh concluded.

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