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July 08, 2014
World Leaders Urged to Act Decisively on Climate Change
    by Robert Kropp

In a message to world leaders, signatories to a letter call for decisive action on climate change in order to keep global temperature increases within two degrees Celsius limit.


Decades after scientists began warning of the effects of climate change, are world leaders finally getting the message? In the US, there are signs that the Obama administration is taking regulatory action, as entrenched denialism in Congress prevents a more encompassing legislative mandate. The Third National Climate Assessment, published in May by the US Global Change Research Program, states clearly that the impacts of climate change are already being felt and “will accelerate significantly if global emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase.”

Last month, for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants, which account for about 40% of the nation's carbon emissions.

“The National Climate Assessment is less important for its content than its implied message,” Bill McKibben of 350.org wrote in a recent article. “It suggests that the Obama administration is finally going to get serious, at least rhetorically, about climate change.”

Efforts by world leaders to act decisively on climate change have been notable mostly for their failures. The next international climate conference is scheduled for Paris in December, 2015. Perhaps mindful of the track record of dismal failures in past negotiations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has organized a summit of world leaders at the organization's New York headquarters in September.

“In view of the twenty-five-year record of diplomatic futility, many of us who have tried to push for action will use the occasion, and the New York backdrop with its fresh memories of Sandy’s inundation, for what may turn out to be the largest street rallies in the history of the climate movement,” McKibben wrote.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), launched by the Secretary-General in 2012, has added its voice to the chorus of those calling for decisive action in advance of the Paris talks. In an open letter, signatories warn, “The very health of the planet, and therefore the bases for future economic development, the end of poverty, and human wellbeing, are in the balance.”

World leaders have agreed to cooperate in keeping global temperature increases from exceeding 2°C, although they have done far too little to follow through on their pledge. “Even a 2°C increase will carry us to dangerous and unprecedented conditions not seen on Earth during the entire period of human civilization,” the letter states. “Various physical feedbacks – in the Arctic, the oceans, the rainforests, and the tundra – could multiply a 2°C temperature increase into vastly higher temperatures and climate disruption.”

“We have nearly exhausted the Earth’s carbon budget,” the letter continues; on the other hand, “The technological transition during the first half of the 21st century is within reach, especially in light of massive advances in know-how in recent years.”

“Only through a drastic reduction of carbon emissions between now and 2050, en route to a zero-net emission economy in the second half of the century, can we meet the challenge of remaining below 2°C,” the letter concludes. “We call upon you, world leaders, to recognize the gravity of the situation, and to call upon all of us to rise to the occasion.”

SDSN intends to present its letter to world leaders at the summit scheduled for September in New York.

 

 
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