Negotiators Strike a Climate Deal, but World Remains Far From Limiting Warming

Climate negotiators from more than 180 countries have agreed in principle to keep global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius, but each year of delay of the plan would mean more “billions of people” lose their lives, land, livelihoods and basic ecological systems, according to organizers of the UN-led Global Climate Action Summit in Paris. While more grassroots organizations around the world want stronger global targets, environmentalists predict that the states eager to push forward with cuts will favor the timelines that have had the greatest political success, including during the administrations of former president Obama.

UN climate talks begin for a week in Paris, where 196 countries pledged their commitments to limit global warming during last year’s Paris climate summit. Given the scant progress thus far, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called on leaders to participate and urge that the agreement include a system to verify how nations are living up to their promises. A draft report by the UN Environment Program found that global emissions fell slightly last year, the first such decline since 2009. But overall emissions are rising again, by 2.5 percent, the report found. The UN reports also reveal that greenhouse gas emissions from sources such as industrial engines, vehicles and cement production continue to rise, causing planetary warming. UN experts have long urged governments to use accounting methods such as free credit from the carbon sink to pay for emissions cuts, as the national emissions budgets have run out. But the sector has proven controversial, and critics claim the transition to less polluting economy also involves increased global tax burdens.

“It will have a terrible impact on workers, for their income and security,” Christian Jacob, Secretary General of Cop21, the climate conference that was held last year in Paris, told NPR. “A lot of them are women and many of them are indigenous. We did three things here in Paris to make sure that we get their rights to a fair deal. We promised them that a fair deal will benefit all of them, and one of the ways to create a fair deal is to make sure that a fair price for that carbon is charged.” The conference even mandated that each nation establish an accountable mechanism to enable fair and equal economic transition to zero emissions, known as the Basel Accord, which aims to produce a collective carbon price. With French officials on edge over domestic protests over fuel taxes and opposition calls for a second French referendum over the proposed energy changes, it remains uncertain whether proposals to set up national carbon trading systems to raise funds for carbon-cutting efforts will get the same support from European leaders.

For the public and citizens, a worse deal could come from the Trump administration. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accord and promised to strengthen the U.S. coal industry. A department of science report released Wednesday found that climate change is already harming U.S. lands and wildlife with an acceleration of species extinctions, from species such as the polar bear. In a tweet, climate change skeptic Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) repeated GOP calls to roll back more Obama-era regulations. The U.S. has not complied with more than half of the Paris agreement’s commitments to curb emissions, including ending production of the most potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Other significant challenges include: depleting wetlands to make way for solar farms, the U.S. has the sixth largest international stockpile of carbon credits and remains by far the largest foreign source of greenhouse gases, and most scientists agree the reduction of methane is critical to meeting the 2 degrees Celsius goal. U.S. carbon pollution remains 2.4 times larger than it was in 1990, even though the country has cut emissions from power plants. According to the Times, 99 percent of solar energy capacity has been built in developing countries, but electricity production in the developed world can be called a two-way traffic. Since the Paris agreement, nearly 20 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants have been closed, but coal accounted for 40 percent of U.S. electricity produced. The Trump administration is expected to go after those coal-fired plants to further its pro-green energy agenda, but The Washington Post reports that some of the plants will continue to operate.

This article originally appeared on Scientific American: Negotiators Strike a Climate Deal, but World Remains Far From Limiting Warming

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