The Layperson’s Guide to climate change; what you need to know in 2020.
Understanding the impact of climate change can be a little bit of a learning curve. And, it’s a hot topic these days, occasionally promoting political polarization. Next time you get into one of these discussions, you’ll be able to hold your own.
Better than that, though? As a result of educating yourself, you’ll be able to Make a difference by curbing your carbon footprint.
So. What does it mean when world leaders talk about carbon markets? What is the Kyoto Protocol? And what was so significant about the Paris Agreement?
These and many other questions arise whenever news about climate change surfaces.
Global warming and global cooling are cyclical in nature.
The OSS foundation tells us that during the past one million years, the world climate has oscillated between warm periods and ice ages.
However, human activity over the past 150 years has disrupted this natural and relatively slow cycle. This disruption has actually accelerated global warming and each year is getting warmer compared to the last. This is the climate change that countries around the world are trying to fight and stop.
There was a need to establish a clear goal and define what it means to stop climate change.
The upper limit for temperature increase that scientists came up with was 2 Degrees Celsius. Why 2 Degrees?
There are two aspects to setting this threshold: scientific and political.
The scientific aspect is that if the planet’s temperature increases more than 2 Degrees Celsius, most of the island nations, such as Malta, would submerge, either completely or partially. Additionally, most of the coastal cities in the US, China, India, South Africa, and Europe would also lose significant low lying regions. Essentially, vast tracts of hospitable land would disappear. Moreover, we would also see an increase in the duration and intensity of droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other weather phenomena.
Even though, scientifically, those are the reasons why the number is significant. It wouldn’t cause a massive uproar in a lot of non-coastal regions.
This is where the second aspect of setting this goal came in- political discourse regarding climate change required countries of the world to agree on a number.
They needed to choose a threshold significant enough, so as to get every country on board. 47 countries of the United Nations are island nations, so they readily agreed to any efforts to stop climate change.
There were many landlocked nations that were still reluctant. However, diplomatic efforts made them realize that if 47 countries flood, it would create a huge refugee crisis in land-locked countries. And this maneuvering helped get many landlocked countries on board as well.
Now that we understand the main goal of all climate agreements, let’s take a look at a few significant treaties that are mentioned repeatedly in the news.
The first term to remember is the UNFCC or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is a non-binding international treaty with 197 countries as its signatory.
This is the treaty that explicitly mentions limiting global temperature increases by 2 Degrees Celsius.
However, as mentioned, this is a non-binding treaty.
The UN needed something to operationalize this treaty and make countries accountable.
So, in 1997, Kyoto Protocol (KP) was adopted by the developed nations of the world. KP as it is called is binding on signatory countries. Per the protocol, all signatories were required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by 2013.
They further agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13% by 2020. Via KP, the developed countries agreed that since they had been significant emitters of greenhouse gases for the last 150 years, they’d take on more responsibility.
This agreement was codified by the phrase, “Common But Differentiated Responsibility”.
This also meant that each country was required to come up with its own goals related to reducing emissions.
As a result, it took all the countries nearly 8 years to ratify this protocol. So, the Kyoto Protocol actually came into force in the year 2005.
Of course, by then countries like China and India had become significant contributors of greenhouse gases as well. So, to bring all the new emitters on board, KP was amended so as to provide 3 services:
- Reporting and Verification services: So as to ensure that goals of countries could be clearly verified.
- Flexible market-based mechanisms: So as to aid developing countries via technology transfers and financing. Also, developed countries were allowed to accomplish their emission reduction goals by helping other countries.
- Compliance services: So as to establish quality standards that would provide transparency and credibility to the carbon market.
What is the carbon market?
The carbon market is a market in which carbon emissions are treated as a commodity and countries can help each other reduce emissions.
In simple terms, every time countries help other countries, they get points. Every time countries reduce emissions, they get points and vice-versa.
Let’s talk about the Paris Agreement.
While the Kyoto Protocol was limited to a few countries, the Paris Agreement is all-encompassing.
Due to the delay in enforcing KP, an urgent situation had been created and all countries needed to come on board so as to stop climate change. All the countries of the world signed the Paris agreement on November 4, 2016; fifty-five of the major economies responsible for 55% of the world’s carbon emissions ratified the agreement, thereby bringing it into force.
Also, all 197 members of the UNFCC have now ratified the agreement. This has given a major boost to the fight against climate change.
The Paris agreement has components similar to what KP has, i.e. it offers appropriate financial aid, technology transfer frameworks, and enhanced transparency services to member countries.
Climate change is an existential threat for the world. Earlier estimates of when we would hit the 2-degree threshold have been revised multiple times.
We have already crossed the milestone of 1-degree Celsius of temperature rise last year.
Having come together and agreed to save the planet, countries must now act before it’s too late.
Some countries are making big strides toward mitigating climate change
“Few major emitters are taking the kind of action that will keep warming to 1.5 Celsius, but some, like India, the EU, and China, could step up,” said Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, one of the CAT’s constituent organizations. “However, if all governments meet their Paris Agreement target, we calculate the world would still see 3 C of warming, but that warming is likely to be even higher given most are not taking enough action to meet their targets. We still have a long way to go,” he said.
Nevertheless, some are making big efforts.
Morocco’s National Energy Strategy calls for generating 52 percent of its electricity production from renewables by 2030.
Already Morocco has made a big impact on the problem, thanks to projects such as the Noor Ouarzazate complex, the largest concentrated solar farm in the world, which covers an area the size of 3,500 football fields, it generates enough electricity to power two cities the size of Marrakesh.
India has emerged as a global leader in renewable energy, and in fact it is investing more in them than it is in fossil fuels. Having established a goal of generating 40 percent of its power through renewables by 2030, its progress has been rapid.
Dear to our hear as Costa Rica is home to the PuraVida Cure brand, we are so pleased to be able to add her to our list.
Costa Rica has launched an economy-wide plan to “decarbonize” the country by 2050, as the Central American nation aims to show other nations what is possible to address climate change.
In 2018 it had already generated 98 percent of its electricity from renewable sources—primarily hydropower—for the fourth consecutive year.
In 2019, Costa Rica unveiled a plan to achieve zero emissions by 2050 in an effort to fight climate change. The goal would be to produce no more emissions than it can offset through things such as maintaining and expanding its extensive forests.
Such emission cuts are key to holding increases in global temperature to well under 2C (3.6F), the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
Lynette Garet is a bilingual freelance writer, SEO practitioner, and web developer. A U.S. ex-pat living in Costa Rica, when not busy with online projects, she can be found hanging with her favorite “stinky boys” (the grand-littles), tending to her garden, cooking, reading, enjoying good wine, and dancing in the kitchen to music from a limitless list of genres.