Yesterday the Paris Agreement formally entered into force. That means it is no longer a document that is simple a wish list or an expression of “Well we will try and do something like this”, instead it is now legally binding.
Basically what happened is that we are following the articles contained within that agreement itself. It was first signed in Dec 2015, then commencing in about April 2016, the various nations that had signed and disclosed their various intended goals for the reduction of greenhouse gases proceeded to present their instruments of ratification.
That means that they had in effect passed a law that had changed their declared reduction of greenhouse gases into a mandatory legally binding one and hence was actually going to happen. If at least 55 nations did this, and that accounted for at least 55% of the total greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, then 30 days after that at the next annual UN meeting of nations to discuss climate change, it would formally become a legally binding international agreement.
4th November 2016
On 5 October 2016, the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement was achieved. The Paris Agreement will enter into force on 4 November 2016. The first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA1) will take place in Marrakech in conjunction with COP 22 and CMP 12.
Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s climate chief, and Salaheddine Mezouar, foreign minister of Morocco, issued a joint statement:
Humanity will look back on 4 November 2016 as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster and set off with determination towards a sustainable future.
The Paris agreement is undoubtedly a turning point in the history of common human endeavour, capturing the combined political, economic and social will of governments, cities, regions and businesses and investors to overcome the existential threat of unchecked climate change.
It is not a Silver Bullet
It’s not enough. It is of course a bold step in the right direction, but what has been agreed will potentially see an increase in the Global temperature restricted to about 2.7 degrees C (or perhaps 3 degrees) and not the stated goal of 2 degrees C …
The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) said that pledges put forward to cut emissions would see temperatures rise by 3C above pre-industrial levels, far above the the 2C of the Paris climate agreement, which comes into force on Friday.
At least a quarter must be cut from emissions by the end of the next decade, compared with current trends, the UN said.
The report found that emissions by 2030 were likely to reach about 54 to 56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, a long way astray of the 42 gigatonnes a year likely to be the level at which warming exceeds 2C.
Why does any of this matter?
If nothing was done, and we continued to increase greenhouse gas emissions then there will be consequences. Let’s for example examine what is known as RCP 8.5 and also RCP 2.6 and how those are used in one specific scientific paper that was published last week.
These are two of the four Representative Concentration Pathways that are used to explore within various climate models what might happen. For example, RCP 8.5 is where we simply continue to increase greenhouse gases for the rest of this century – basically the do nothing option.
There is a recent paper published within Science last week that is entitled …
The abstract explains …
Only a 1.5°C warming scenario permits ecosystems to remain within the Holocene variability. At or above 2°C of warming, climatic change will generate Mediterranean land ecosystem changes that are unmatched in the Holocene, a period characterized by recurring precipitation deficits rather than temperature anomalies.
Dig into the paper and what you find is that once you get above 1.5°C within the the Mediterranean, the Sahara desert moves north and will radically alter things.
Here is a comparison from the paper that has three diagrams illustrating Now, an RCP 2.6L world, and an RCP 8.5 world
(side note, RCP 2.6L is where greenhouse gas emissions peak right now (between 2010-20) and start reducing, and so enable us to max out with a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees C)
Basically with RCP 8.5, the do nothing option, the Sahara desert will have overtaken all of northern Africa and advanced into southern Spain by 2090-2100.
With RCP 2.6L (drastic action to keep things under a 1.5 degree global increase, and the Mediterranean as it is today survives).
The point the paper is making is that the Paris agreement is not enough to prevent something between the RCP 2.6L and RCP 8.5 happening before this century reaches its end and that beyond 1.5 degrees C increase in global temperature increases we will see a considerable impact.
It is not down to “them” to sort it out
We can’t wait for “Them” to sort it all out, and instead is perhaps down to each of us making small choices that can lead to big things. The New York Times story recounts the following small saga. It is one that might perhaps lead to bigger things …
A common refrain among many executives these days is that they are feeling more social pressure to address global warming — sometimes from within their own families.
Mr. van Beurden of Shell said that a year ago he found his 9-year-old daughter inconsolable, and initially thought it was because he and his wife were leaving the children for a short excursion. But when he spoke to his daughter, he learned that her teacher had talked about dire risks from climate change, blamed oil companies for causing it and suggested that the answer was giving money to Greenpeace.
He said he reassured his daughter that global warming would be addressed and that he would help in the struggle. “She said, ‘Of course, I trust you,’” Mr. van Beurden said, adding, “and in that sense she is different from the rest of society.”
4th November Tweets
Climate change is perhaps the most profound existential threat we have ever faced, and so perhaps it can be argued that 4th November is a rather important step on the road to addressing it.
I’m really not along in thinking along such lines.
— EU Climate Action (@EUClimateAction) November 4, 2016
— UN Climate Action (@UNFCCC) November 4, 2016
"We are still in a race against time. We need to transition to a low-emissions & climate-resilient future."
— United Nations (@UN) November 4, 2016