Last week, India ratified the Paris climate accord. "Care & concern towards nature is integral to the Indian ethos," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. "India is committed to doing everything possible to mitigate climate change." The EU followed and voted overwhelmingly. Earlier China and the US had also ratified the pact.
The Paris agreement enters into force when at least 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global emissions, have joined it. With the EU vote, those numbers stood at 62 nations 67.2 percent. "The entry into force of the Paris agreement less than one year after its signature is a massive achievement, given that it took eight years for the Kyoto protocol," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said. Few expected that the world would ratify it so rapidly. The milestone drew wide celebration from supporters on Tuesday…tears of joy. Examining reality now will make you break into a sweat of fear.
The first fear is to get the world to actually limit the emissions where the temperature is held well below the 20C above pre-industrial levels, as the Paris agreement calls for. Dr. James Hansen from Columbia University, says that the world in 2016 is at 1.30C, which is already past the safe zone. Hansen believes that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are far too high already and that the planet is as hot as it was in the last interglacial period, over 100,000 years ago. To achieve 1.50C or 20C now probably means developing expensive new technologies, which do not exist, to actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The second fear is political will. Do all the nations of the world have the political will to keep up their promises? In a recent interview with The Post, US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that the ratification of the Paris agreement itself does not guarantee the goal of less global warming. "What I said in Paris when it passed and we all spoke, is that it's a signal to the marketplace, it's not a solution in and of itself," Kerry said. Kerry also agreed that the clock is ticking. "We're behind the curve," he said. "We've got to move faster, because the rate of change is just so dynamic it's scary."
Taking a practical look at the situation on hand, while we need to mitigate and reduce carbon emission, we also need to put in equal efforts on adaptation to a whole new world. Hurricane Mathew is a grim reminder of what is to come. Jorgen Olesen, a professor at Aarhus University in Denmark feels that "It's too late to only think about mitigation," he said. "We probably need to adapt to a 30C or 40C." Glen Peters, a professor at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, agreed. "At the moment, most studies suggest the current pledges put us on a pathway to around 30C," he said. "The current pledges move us away from high end scenarios like 40C, but they are not sufficient to keep us below 20C."
The Paris agreement contains provisions to build up ambition over time, through what has been dubbed the 'ratchet mechanism'. This calls for facilitative dialogues to check if countries are on course in 2018, a global assessment in 2023, a second stock take in 2028. In the meantime, a group of scientists led by Robert Watson, a former chair of the United Nations' Inter governmental Panel on Climate Change, warned last week that the world could cross 1.5 degrees Celsius permanently by 2030 - in less than 15 years - and that the emissions committing us to that outcome could happen considerably sooner than that.
Time for celebrations is over. Now we all need to roll up our sleeves and get down to work. Much needs to be done in the space of mitigation and adaptation. Everyone who lives on this planet need to equip themselves with knowledge of climate change and its effects. Knowledge leads to action. Knowledge dispels fear....