An Earth Year - things to do for a new cli­mate dea

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

On April 22, the world marked the 45th an­niver­sary of Earth Day, es­tab­lished in 1970 to draw at­ten­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges. Never have those chal­lenges been greater or more ur­gent than they are to­day. The com­bi­na­tion of cli­mate change, ero­sion of bio­di­ver­sity, and de­ple­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources is pro­pel­ling the planet to­ward a tip­ping point, be­yond which ob­jec­tives like sus­tain­able devel­op­ment and poverty re­duc­tion will be more dif­fi­cult than ever to achieve.

Since 1970, sci­en­tists have learned not only that hu­man ac­tiv­ity is the pri­mary driver of en­vi­ron­men­tal change on Earth, but also that it is push­ing the planet be­yond its nat­u­ral lim­its. If we do not make big changes fast, the re­sults could be dev­as­tat­ing.

Global lead­ers seemed to recog­nise this when they agreed five years ago to limit global warm­ing dur­ing this cen­tury to 2 Cel­sius above pre-industrial lev­els – the thresh­old be­yond which we risk trig­ger­ing more dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences of cli­mate change. But strong ac­tion to re­duce green­house-gas emis­sions has not been taken. On the con­trary, emis­sions have in­creased markedly; as a con­se­quence, last year was the hottest year on record.

The world is now on track to de­plete its re­main­ing “bud­get” for CO2 emis­sions, which now amounts to less than one tril­lion tons, in just 25 years. The re­sult would be cat­a­strophic changes like un­man­age­able sealevel rises, dev­as­tat­ing heat waves, and per­sis­tent droughts that cre­ate un­prece­dented chal­lenges in terms of food se­cu­rity, ecosys­tems, health, and in­fra­struc­ture. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble will be the hard­est hit.

We must change course. This Earth Day should serve as a re­minder – and, in­deed, a cat­a­lyst – of what the world re­ally needs: strong and sus­tained ac­tion. For­tu­nately, 2015 may mark the be­gin­ning of just such a change for the bet­ter.

This year, world lead­ers will meet three times to chart a new path for our planet. In July, they will meet in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the Con­fer­ence on Fi­nanc­ing for Devel­op­ment. In Septem­ber, they will con­vene to ap­prove the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals, which will guide devel­op­ment ef­forts un­til 2030. And in De­cem­ber, they will head to Paris to ne­go­ti­ate a new global cli­mate agree­ment.

The out­comes of th­ese meet­ings will shape this gen­er­a­tion’s le­gacy for both the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and eco­nomic growth and devel­op­ment. By de­car­bon­is­ing the global econ­omy and lim­it­ing cli­mate change, world lead­ers can un­leash a wave of in­no­va­tion, sup­port the emer­gence of new in­dus­tries and jobs, and gen­er­ate vast eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

It is up to all of us to en­cour­age po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to do what is needed to se­cure such an out­come. Just as we de­mand that our gov­ern­ments ad­dress risks as­so­ci­ated with ter­ror­ism or epi­demics, we should put con­certed pres­sure on them to act now to pre­serve our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and curb cli­mate change.

Here, the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity has a spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to share their re­search and its po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions. That is why I and the 16 other sci­en­tists of the Earth League – rep­re­sent­ing world-lead­ing aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions like the Pots­dam In­sti­tute on Cli­mate Im­pact Re­search, the Earth In­sti­tute, Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity, and the Stock­holm Re­silience Cen­tre – have re­leased the “Earth State­ment,” which sets out the eight es­sen­tial el­e­ments of a suc­cess­ful global cli­mate deal, to be reached in Paris in De­cem­ber.

First, the agree­ment must re­in­force coun­tries’ com­mit­ment to limit global warm­ing to be­low 2C.

Sec­ond, the agree­ment needs to recog­nise the re­main­ing global bud­get for CO2 emis­sions.

Third, the agree­ment should lay the foun­da­tion for a fun­da­men­tal trans­for­ma­tion of the econ­omy, with deep de­car­bon­i­sa­tion be­gin­ning im­me­di­ately, in or­der to cre­ate a zero-car­bon so­ci­ety by around 2050.

Fourth, all 196 coun­tries in the United Na­tions Cli­mate Con­ven­tion must for­mu­late an emis­sions path­way con­sis­tent with deep de­car­bon­i­sa­tion, with richer coun­tries tak­ing the lead.

Fifth, coun­tries must pro­mote in­no­va­tion in clean tech­nolo­gies and en­sure uni­ver­sal ac­cess to ex­ist­ing tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions.

Sixth, gov­ern­ments must agree to sup­port adap­ta­tion to cli­mate change and to ad­dress the loss and dam­age as­so­ci­ated with it.

Sev­enth, the agree­ment must in­clude pro­vi­sions to safe­guard car­bon sinks and vi­tal ecosys­tems.

Eighth, to help de­vel­op­ing coun­tries fight cli­mate change, donors need to pro­vide ad­di­tional sup­port at a level at least com­pa­ra­ble to cur­rent global devel­op­ment aid.

The good news is that th­ese eight ob­jec­tives are re­al­is­tic and achiev­able; in­deed, some progress is al­ready be­ing made. Last year, to­tal CO2 emis­sions from the en­ergy sec­tor re­mained un­changed year on year for the first time (in the ab­sence of an eco­nomic down­turn). And re­cent re­ports show that emis­sions in China, the world’s largest emit­ter of green­house gases, also did not in­crease from 2013 to 2014.

The tide is turn­ing. De­car­bon­i­sa­tion has al­ready be­gun, and the ap­peal of a fos­sil-fu­el­free world is grow­ing – not only be­cause it would limit cli­mate change, but also be­cause it would be more tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced, demo­cratic, re­silient, healthy, and eco­nom­i­cally dy­namic. This is the right time to move fully onto a more sus­tain­able, ze­ro­car­bon path.

With the right global deal, the world could fi­nally do just that. For the sake of the planet, and the peo­ple who de­pend on it, let us make 2015 Earth Year.

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