Environmental ManagementGordon Matthews

Climate Change: This Could be our Last Chance

by Gordon Matthews

The climate change summit in Paris, which is now entering its final week, could be humanity’s last chance to avoid catastrophic climate change. It is essential that the world’s governments reach an ambitious and binding agreement, committing themselves to action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that the increase in the Earth’s temperature is kept well below 2˚C, preferably below 1.5˚C.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, which is maintained by three well-respected scientific institutes, the Earth’s temperature is set to increase by 2.7˚C if governments implement the measures to which they have committed themselves so far. The Paris Agreement – if there is one – will need to include some mechanism to ensure that governments strengthen their commitments, so that the increase in the Earth’s temperature is no more than 1.5˚C.

The foreign and environment ministers gathered in Paris will have their work cut out this week. Although a draft agreement was published on Saturday (4 December), many clauses have alternative options and much of the text appears in brackets which means that it may or may not be included. There is still a lot to be hammered out.

One of the main sticking points is the extent to which “richer” developing countries such as India should be made to contribute financially towards supporting poorer developing countries which have to cope with the effects of climate chaos (reduced harvests due to drought or other changes in climate; flooding due to rising sea levels and/or heavy rainfall; etc.).

Rich countries will have to pay large sums to help the poorest countries restrict their greenhouse gas emissions and also provide for the basic human needs of their populations. But this pales into insignificance when compared with what we will all have to pay if the Earth’s temperature is allowed to increase by as much as 2˚C.

Those of us who live in more affluent countries should bear in mind that money invested in energy saving measures and the development of renewable energy is not only an investment in our children’s and grandchildren’s future, but will also serve to create jobs in economies which may otherwise be stagnating. The number of jobs created will far outweigh those which are lost in the oil and coal industries.

The climate change deniers, funded largely by fossil fuel companies, are lobbying hard in Paris. They should not be allowed to scupper a deal. Nor should the Republicans in the US be allowed to prevent President Obama from committing the USA to playing its full part in implementing a comprehensive programme of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure climate justice for the world’s more vulnerable populations.

The “Climate Stewards” website spells out the choice which humankind now faces:

“If nations do not agree reductions in GHG emissions in Paris sufficient to keep temperature rise below 2°, there will be rapid, harmful and far-reaching effects on all life on earth. The most vulnerable humans and ecosystems will suffer first and worst. The COP 21 negotiations represent a unique opportunity to protect and enhance the beauty and diversity of the earth so that all its inhabitants can flourish. Let’s pray that they succeed.”

In the Book of Deuteronomy (30:19) the Israelites are told by God: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Now is the time for all the inhabitants of the Earth to choose life, so that our children and grandchildren may live.

In his play, “The Skin of Our Teeth”, Thornton Wilder tells the story of the human family which comes through various calamities – an ice age, war, economic depression, a Great Flood – by the skin of their teeth. Religion tells us that this Earth with the life upon it, especially human life, is of infinite worth. Science tells us that we need to change our way of life in order to prevent catastrophic climate change. If our governments can have the courage to agree and implement the necessary measures, perhaps we will all scrape through by the skin of our teeth.

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