The further evidence that time running out for decisive action on climate

Paris agreement needs to be backed by rigorous transparency and review mechanisms

 

Two significant thresholds on climate change have been crossed this year, with ominous consequences for the future. The World Meteorological Organisation confirmed that the average global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose above 400 parts per million, pointing humanity in the direction of “uncharted territory at a frightening speed,” in the words of its secretary-general Michel Jarraud.

Simultaneously, the UK Met Office announced that global average temperatures are poised to surpass the milestone of one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This breaches the halfway mark towards two degrees Celsius, which has been set as the upper limit to avoid or, at least, mitigate potentially dangerous climate change – including “hotter global temperatures, more extreme weather events like heatwaves and floods, melting ice, rising sea levels and increased acidity of the oceans”, as Mr Jarraud warned.

These interventions by the WMO and the UK Met Office come just weeks before the Paris climate summit, at which world leaders are expected to reach a comprehensive global agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions before it’s too late. They also come in the wake of oft-repeated claims by climate change sceptics and deniers that there has been a global warming “pause” over the past 15 years or so. Yet 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to the WMO, while 2015 is widely expected to register as the hottest ever, partly due to the periodic El Nino effect. The cumulative impact is now pushing the planet through the significant threshold of one degree Celsius of warming, just as scientists have long predicted.

The UN Environment Programme (Unep), in its latest emissions gap report, has examined all of the pledges submitted by 146 countries in advance of the Paris summit and concluded that, even if they were implemented, we would still not achieve the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming at two degrees Celsius. Although the current pledges “demonstrate an unprecedented commitment and engagement by [UN]member states in tackling this major global challenge”, the Unep assessment predicts that the emissions gap in 2030 would still be 12 billion tonnes, which would put the world “on track to a temperature rise of around three degrees Celsius by 2100”. This underlines the vital importance of including in the Paris deal a transparent process for reviewing and reinforcing the adequacy of pledges to ensure that national efforts are accelerated over time.

Against this backdrop, it is unseemly that our own Government’s agenda involves arguing a case for Irish “exceptionalism” so that we would be required to do less, rather than more, in contributing to the agreed EU goal of cutting Europe’s emissions by 40 per cent by 2040.

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