Sun, Apr 26, 2015 - Page 9 News List

‘Earth Statement’ sets out key elements for global climate deal

By Johan Rockstrom

On April 22, the world marked the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, established in 1970 to draw attention to environmental challenges. Never have those challenges been greater or more urgent than they are today. The combination of climate change, erosion of biodiversity and depletion of natural resources is propelling the planet toward a tipping point, beyond which objectives like sustainable development and poverty reduction will be more difficult than ever to achieve.

Since 1970, scientists have learned not only that human activity is the primary driver of environmental change on Earth, but also that it is pushing the planet beyond its natural limits. If we do not make big changes fast, the results could be devastating.

Global leaders seemed to recognize this when they agreed five years ago to limit global warming during this century to 2°C above pre-industrial levels — the threshold beyond which we risk triggering more devastating consequences of climate change. However, strong action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions has not been taken. On the contrary, emissions have increased markedly; as a consequence, last year was the hottest year on record.

The world is now on track to deplete its remaining “budget” for carbon dioxide emissions, which now amounts to less than 907.2 billion tonnes, in just 25 years. The result would be catastrophic changes like unmanageable sea-level rises, devastating heat waves and persistent droughts that create unprecedented challenges in terms of food security, ecosystems, health and infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, the poorest and most vulnerable will be the hardest hit.

We must change course. Earth Day should serve as a reminder — and, indeed, a catalyst — of what the world really needs: strong and sustained action. Fortunately, this year may mark the beginning of just such a change for the better.

This year, world leaders will meet three times to chart a new path for our planet. In July, they will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the Conference on Financing for Development. In September, they will convene to approve the Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide development efforts until 2030. And in December, they will head to Paris to negotiate a new global climate agreement.

The outcomes of these meetings will shape this generation’s legacy for the natural environment and economic growth and development. By decarbonizing the global economy and limiting climate change, world leaders can unleash a wave of innovation, support the emergence of new industries and jobs and generate vast economic opportunities.

It is up to all of us to encourage political leaders to do what is needed to secure such an outcome. Just as we demand that our governments address risks associated with terrorism or epidemics, we should put concerted pressure on them to act now to preserve our natural environment and curb climate change.

Here, the scientific community has a special responsibility to share their research and its potential implications. That is why I and the 16 other scientists of the Earth League — representing world-leading academic institutions like the Potsdam Institute on Climate Impact Research, the Earth Institute, Tsinghua University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre — have released the “Earth Statement,” which sets out the eight essential elements of a successful global climate deal, to be reached in Paris in December:

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