Next week, representatives from over 190 countries will begin a two-week conference aimed at addressing the increasingly important issue of climate change. The so-called COP21 Conference is considered by many as a major opportunity for all countries to establish a concrete framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully turn the tide on rising worldwide temperatures and prevent the catastrophe that our planet is heading towards.
Recently the UK Meteorological Office stated that for the first time ever the average global temperature this year had reached more than 1 degree above pre-industrial levels. Along with this the UN said last year record emissions of carbon dioxide and methane were reached. Both of these facts are extremely worrying, with weather-related natural disasters becoming more frequent; reduced rainfall leading to droughts and lower crop yields; and rising sea levels amongst some of the terrible consequences of this rise in temperature. This also means that we are halfway to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the internationally agreed rise above which warming would be extremely dangerous.
It is predicted that at the current level of emission, 65 million people in South America will fall into extreme poverty due to lower crop yields within 15 years, and the UN quoted a figure stating that 200 million people will be displaced by rising sea levels in 35 years time, leading to a refugee crisis that would dwarf the current one that results from conflict in the Middle East. The leader of the Maldives, a group of low-lying countries in the Indian Ocean famously told that world that “you can drastically reduce your greenhouse gas emissions so that the seas do not rise so much … or, when we show up on your shores in our boats, you can let us in … or, when we show up on your shores in our boats, you can shoot us. You pick.” This summarises the problem that the world is facing, and now more than ever, we need a united response from world leaders in order to solve this problem.
What is COP21?
Since 1992, world leaders have met frequently at large conferences to discuss the implications of climate change and plan for the future. There have been a number of these conferences which are viewed as more important than others, amongst them the Copenhagen Summit of 2009, which was meant to be a major step forwards in international agreements concerning climate change, but instead failed as world leaders lacked political will and arguments over how much responsibility developed countries should take for the current situation hampered any consensus. No agreement was reached and rising temperatures and emissions continued.
We are all in the same boat on this issue, and we will all sink together unless world leaders find an agreement very soon.
The Paris conference is viewed as especially important in light of the data on rising world temperatures, a recent call to action over climate change from Pope Francis, and commitments made in the lead up to this conference. Countries were all encouraged to propose strategies on how they would each cut their carbon emissions, and astonishingly, most countries have actually submitted these plans. Countries representing 90% of greenhouse gas emissions have put forward their plans, amongst them the EU has said it will cut emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels. Similarly, by 2030, the US has promised to cut emissions by 27%, and China has agreed its emissions will peak by 2030.
These are obviously very positive steps, however there is still a way to go. Analysis has said that these pledges will still lead to between a 2.7°C and 3.0°C rise in worldwide temperatures, well above the ‘safe’ limit. Hope is that once an agreement has been reached in Paris it could be improved every year at subsequent climate conferences. However the most difficult issue at the conference will be funding. Many developing countries feel that as most of the current global warming was caused by countries that are now developed, and these countries did not have any limits on them whilst they were developing, these developed countries should help them by providing money to fund investment in renewable energies and to cope with the adverse effects of climate change. This will likely be the most problematic agreement during the conference, but hopefully with enough political will and motivation governments will resolve this and realise that we are all in the same boat on this issue, and we will all sink together unless they find an agreement very soon.
What can I do?
Now more than ever, we need to put pressure on politicians to take action. Most people in the world would probably agree that we need to take more steps to avert this looming crisis, however in the end it will be the governments that decide what happens. An online petition has been started to put pressure on politicians to take meaningful action at COP21, so far receiving more than 600,000 signatures from around the world. The very least you can do is click on this link and sign the petition.
On the eve of talks beginning in Paris there will be marches to demonstrate support for action on climate change in many cities worldwide. Geneva is hosting one of these marches, and people will gather at 13:00 this Saturday 29th at Place des 22 Cantons (in front of cathedral next to Cornavin train station) and march until 14:00 to Parc de Bastions. Find out more about this here. This will be a great opportunity for people to come out and show real support for a resolution on this issue.
A third way you can help solve climate change is simply by doing little things everyday. Turning off the light when you leave a room can save the equivalent of 4 days of lighting throughout the year. Don’t leave your computer plugged in the night, turn off devices that are on standby, recycle everything that you possibly can, and carpool with other students as opposed to every student having one car (hopefully this will also go some way to solving the traffic situation). These are all extremely simple things you can do, but if more people start taking these small steps they will really add up to make a big difference.
It is still possible to avert this extremely dangerous crisis, but for this to happen we all have to work together to solve it.
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