Red: current commitments (NDC) of the signatory countries of the Paris Agreement at COP22 lead to global warming estimated at + 2.6 ° C.
Blue: the ideal curve to stay below 2 ° C and reach + 1.5 ° C before the end of the century (-7% per year from 2018 to 2040, -20% per year thereafter).
From 7 to 18 November 2016, an international conference under the framework of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) was held in Marrakech, Morocco, under the acronym COP22 (the 22nd Conference of the Parties, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference). The previous year, the COP21 held in Paris, France, had given rise to the Paris Agreement, which pledged to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C, hopefully to 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels. This agreement of principle entered into force on 4 November 2016. The COP22 was therefore nicknamed “the COP of Action.” Between good intentions and reality, how much is clear?
There were many warning signs that this meeting would, like COP23, be nothing more than a preparation of COP24 in 2018, when the first concrete steps would be taken. Of course, most NGOs, including those I represented, regretted that the implementation of truly effective measures would take so long.
Indeed, we are more than 10 years behind in coping with global warming, which seems to have accelerated suddenly in recent decades. Yet the IPCC was not really alarmist in 2014 in its fifth progress report (AR5: Advancement Report 5). Why is there such a gap between the advancement of climate change recognized by the IPCC and scientific publications published since 2006?
We do not yet have a clear answer from the IPCC. Its research will obviously be focusing on obscure areas, such as atmosphere-ocean exchanges. For example, the Polar Pod project proposes to explain the role of the austral ocean in the climate machine.
A good sign for science – but for the planet?
When we see how fast climate change is actually progressing, it comes as a great shock. Watching the global warming rate grow by more than 1° C, or seeing the dislocation of the Antarctic polar cap already in 2016, when these phenomena were not expected until twenty years later or more, is most disturbing. But we must appreciate having the means to foresee, observe and understand what is happening. Moreover, we are lucky to have the political and technological means to fight climate change. We just need the will to do it. But what arsenal is at hand for this battle?
The political toolbox
COP22 was mainly a concretisation of measures for implementing the Paris Agreement. There were no new fundamental decisions, but many initiatives. From the protection of the oceans to the protection of oases, from the promotion of clean energy to sustainable agriculture, solutions for adaptation and mitigation of climate change abound. What is missing is basically a plan that takes into account the time required to achieve results.
Several options were suggested. We need not wait for COP24 in 2018, but should take advantage of the June and September conferences in Bonn leading up to COP23. We need to decide on the best actions and financing methods for achieving the goal of limiting global warming to well below + 2 ° C, or preferably + 1.5 ° C.
The inclusion of the other sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the COP conferences does not mean that climate (SDG 13) is not a top priority. Indeed, all the conferences on other SDGs made the point that climate change poses the greatest threat, not only to peace and global governance, but also to all other SDGs. Any progress on other SDGs will be useless if the attenuation below + 2 ° C fails, because global warming beyond this point would neutralize all other advances. COP22 was only a partial failure, as it enabled us to measure the gap between the good intentions of the Paris Agreement and the truly necessary effort. It’s the difference between the current commitments (red) and the blue curve. (See Figure 1.)
From cynicism to responsibility
We will pass briefly over some hypocritical statements, unfortunately repeated by countries like Germany as recently as the last press conference. “Germany is proud to share its model of sustainable development,” German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks declared. But Germany has refused to cease to mine and burn coal, although coal accounts for 25% of global GHG emissions. We must denounce cynicism of this sort. Unfortunately, Germany is not the only such country.
Achieving the target goal of +1.5° C is still possible, if action is taken quickly. This means reducing GHG emissions by 7% per year by 2018 (see chart above). Each year of delay would result in a + 0.1° C overrun. This rate of reduction must be attained by 2023 at the latest. After that, the probability of catastrophic global warming would be too high.
- Get states to give a firm commitment on a coal exit date, stopping the construction of new coal-fired power plants by 2017 and preparing for the replacement of old coal-fired power plants with clean power stations.
- Invest in renewable and clean energy, including nuclear energy.
- Impose strict emission standards on power plants, buildings and vehicles.
- Penalize by taxation all research and exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbons with low EROI (energy return on investment).
- Stop overfishing, reduce industrial livestock farming, and switch to sustainable fish farming and agriculture that minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
- Plant trees, especially equatorial and tropical forests, mangroves and oases, but also green belts around cities and blue forests.
- Limit urban expansion, improve urban density and the resilience of cities.
- Protect the Arctic and Antarctica from the overexploitation of natural resources by draconian international land and sea protection treaties applicable beyond 70° north latitude and 60° south latitude.
- Prepare for the future by integrating climate education into curricula at all levels, from primary school to vocational training.
We cannot temporize any longer. COP22 marks the beginning of the time for action. Fortunately, climate science today gives us information about the causes and evolution of climate change. Although we cannot foresee the future, scientific research provides the knowledge to make informed choices and identify solutions. The year since COP21 has been long enough to demystify some ideas and dispel any doubts. The main solutions are identified, affordable and published in well substantiated scenarios. Everyone can become involved in climate change action or education at their own level, so that we keep global warming to below +2° C. If we let it go to +2.6° it will be too late to save our planet.
by Stephan Savarese, President of Saving Our Planet
Translation by Julie Wornan
This article was first published in Technica n° 617.