For the past week all eyes have been on Paris. The horrifying sequence of attacks that took place last Friday shocked the entire world, casting fear into the hearts of many about the stability of our freedoms. On November 30, the City of Light will dominate the news cycle for a different reason. The 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) will be taking place in Paris from November 30-December 11. Against the backdrop of global terror, but undaunted, virtually all of the 192 nations on earth will come together to answer another profoundly important question—how to limit global warming to no more than 2ºC (3.6ºF).
There’s nothing sacred or even scientific about the 2ºC goal. Warming of more than 2ºC was designated as “dangerous” by both policy makers and scientists at COP15 (Copenhagen) in 2009. But even 2ºC of warming comes with serious economic, social, and environmental risk. In 2009, it was more a matter of what was economically and politically feasible than what was actually “climate safe.” Moreover, agreeing on a goal (2ºC) was a lot easier than agreeing to meet the goal. In Paris, nations will try to reconcile this difference.
COP21 has openly, by design, focused the Paris meeting on establishing specific, measurable steps to limit warming to 2ºC. That’s why this COP is so important. To demonstrate seriousness, every nation planning to attend the meeting was asked to submit its specific intentions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in advance. So far, 134 nations have submitted their intentions. The U.S. has committed to reducing its emissions by 26-28% (below 2005 levels) by 2025.
That’s a good start, but to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 2ºC this century, greenhouse gas emissions will have to be cut by 80% (globally) by 2050. It is difficult to imagine how our fossil fuel energy use for heating, electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture could be cut by that much in just 35 years. In theory, it’s achievable. But it will take up front investment. It will require transformation of our critical life-supporting systems. If we keep using fossil fuels at the rate we are now, with modest economic growth, we will be locked in to 2ºC in just 17 years (2032).
I encourage our Manomet constituents to keep up with the news in early December on COP21. Security around the event will be extremely high, but most world leaders, including President Obama, have confirmed that they will still be in attendance. There is simply a lot going on in Paris now that has implications for humanity’s security and well-being for decades to come. My hope is that, when this year is over, Paris is an enduring symbol of global solidarity for our climate, and our peace.