The difference 2 degrees makes
With only a month left in the year, the United Nations Climate Change Conference convened in Paris yesterday. There was one figure on everyone’s mind: 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
More than 40,000 people, including delegates from 196 countries and representatives of international organizations, universities, businesses and environmental groups, are attending the conference, which is to be one of the most important meetings in the history of humanity.
The goal is to find ways of limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which experts have cited as the limit before disasters like droughts, floods, rising sea levels and the extinction of plants and animal species become ubiquitous.
If a new system is launched by both developed and developing countries actively participating in greenhouse gas reduction, the goal of holding the temperature increase under 2 degrees Celsius is not impossible. But in order to do so, the globe’s net greenhouse gas emissions need to be zero between 2060 and 2075.
The 2-degree objective was proposed not by climatologists but by Yale professor and economist William Nordhaus in 1977. It is a realistic compromise that considers the cost and effects of preventing global warming.
It does not mean that nothing will happen if the temperature rises by only 1.9 degrees or that all catastrophes will be thwarted. Even if the 2-degree goal is met, small islands will still be severely impacted by climate change.
At any rate, the 2-degree goal was officially adopted at the Conference of the Parties in 2010, and currently, more than 180 countries have submitted the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations.
However, analysis of the INDCs submitted as of the end of October shows that the global temperature is expected to increase by between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
So the countries have to be encouraged to reinforce the emissions control goals. The United Nations will receive reduction progress reports from each government every five years and urge modifications if necessary. It hopes to constantly add pressure because the slower reduction plans are implemented, the harder they become later.
The efforts will bear fruit by 2100, which is not so far away. The children who were born in 2000 are now in high school, and they will turn 100 in 2100. Many of them will survive and remember how their parents’ generation responded to climate change.
Let’s hope that the results of the negotiations from Paris, which will be announced on Dec. 11, will not make us feel ashamed when our future generations look back on them.
The author is the editorial writer and environmental news specialist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 30, Page 32
by KANG CHAN-SU