Letter to the Editor: Forgot about the UN Climate Summit in Paris?

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What you need to know about the Climate Summit

The timer is set to 12 days as the UN Climate Summit in Paris kicked off on Nov. 30 in what many are calling the last great chance we have to create a framework for the future. Since the last meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, the notion that climate change is affecting our everyday lives has become obvious to many.  Extreme weather events like the four year megadrought that has been plaguing California and superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the eastern seaboard, are certain evidence of climate change effects.  Additionally, we saw unprecedented levels of algae blooms off the west coast last summer that produced deadly toxins in the the Pacific.  This biotoxin contributes to a loss of marine life and in turn curbs economic activity.  These are merely a few recent examples of how we are directly being affected by the earth’s warming.  So over the next 12 days President Obama, along with nearly 100 world leaders and thousands of diplomats, will meet and engage in a dialogue in the hopes of getting a collective global commitment to lower carbon emissions.

Goals of the Summit

While the long term goal may be to decarbonize the world’s fuel consumption over the next 80 years, negotiation right now is mainly to determine the best solution to finance developing nations’ efforts to utilize cleaner energy sources.  Emissions data points heavily towards developed countries like the U.S., China, and Russia as the they’re emitting nearly half of the carbon every year.  Developing countries argue without the use of “dirty” energy like coal they cannot support their already weak economy.  Therefore, it is the responsibility of developed countries to fund this demand.  

Earlier summits have failed to close a deal that could have a long term impact.  The Kyoto Protocol in 1992 only assigned emissions targets to developed countries, leaving out at the time China and India.  The Copenhagen deal in 2009 wasn’t signed because many countries wouldn’t back the legally binding enforcement of the agreement.

The difference now is that in the lead up to the summit, more than 170 countries have put forward proposals to reduce emissions.  This includes a step forward in U.S. and China relations where China has agreed to pass emission reduction plans.  

New climate modeling has given us limits as a society that we must stay within.  The most important number is the 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit increase that we cannot reach.  Such a temperature increase will move us into an inelastic state as effects will become irreversible.  This value is terrifying to most of the world but it at least gives us a place to start.  This number tells us that we’re going to have to leave much of the carbon in the ground.  The understanding at this summit is that any deal reached will be a turning point rather than an end in efforts to curb climate change.  We will need to work harder in the future as the realities of this man made disease comes to fruition.  Determining how to use the existing resources and tools will be the biggest challenge ahead.

Why is this important to us?

A deal is Paris could mean a lowering of the project global warming from 4.5 degrees to 2.5 degrees.  Ultimately, this is hotter than we want but it could potentially be an inflection point.  It means we would start to know how to mobilize the money and technology and could create vital reforms in the near future.

Our generation is going to pick up where the last one left off.  Climate change has momentum right now and anything we can do to decelerate it will benefit the future we have to live in.

-Jeffrey Schwartz, ’16

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