Humanity has just about run out of time to address climate change. Scientists have pointed out that a rise in temperature of 2°C above pre-industrial levels will put the Earth in dangerous, uncharted territory. Yet we currently are on a path toward an increase of 4°C or more this century. The last chance for action has arrived.
That chance lies in Paris in December next year, when the world’s governments meet for the 21st annual UN climate-change meeting. However, this time will be different. Either governments will agree to decisive action, as they have promised, or we will look back at next year as the year when climate sanity slipped through our fingers.
In 1992, the world’s governments adopted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, promising to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference in the climate system” by reducing the rate of emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. However, though the treaty entered into force in 1994, the rate of emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, has actually increased.
In 1992, global combustion of coal, oil and gas, plus cement production, released 22.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air. In 2012, the most recent year for which comparable data are available, emissions were 34.5 billion tonnes. Humanity has accelerated, rather than controlled, human-induced climate change.
RICH VERSUS POOR
This is now the greatest moral issue of our time. Global fossil-fuel use gravely threatens the poor, who are the most vulnerable to climate change (though the rich are the main cause), and future generations, who will inherit a planet that has become unlivable in many places, with food supply subject to massive shocks.
We are causing this harm in an age when technological breakthroughs enable the world to shift from dangerous fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources, such as wind, solar, nuclear and hydropower, and reduce the impact of fossil fuels by using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
Pope Francis recently put it just right: “Safeguard Creation,” he said. “Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”
Yet, for many powerful interests, climate change remains a game — with the goal being to delay action for as long as possible.
The giant fossil-fuel companies continue to lobby against the shift to low-carbon energy and have used their vast wealth to buy media coverage designed to sow confusion. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in the US, the UK, Australia and elsewhere stands out as playing a particularly cynical and harmful role in spreading anti-scientific propaganda.
Even so, the politics of climate change may be changing for the better — a change reflected in the Pope’s forceful message. Here are six reasons why the stalemate might soon end.
RISING TIDE OF AWARENESS
First, the world is waking up to the calamity that we are causing. Though the Murdoch propaganda machine churns out a daily stream of anti-scientific falsehoods, the public also sees prolonged droughts — in parts of Brazil, California and Southeast Asia, to name a few — massive floods — in Bosnia and Serbia recently — and lethal heat waves in many parts of the world.
Second, the world’s citizens do not want to go down in flames. Public opinion has so far succeeded blocked the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would accelerate production in Canada’s oil sands — a shocking prospect, given that neither Canada nor the US yet have committed to a climate plan.