The Grimm Reality of Climate Change | By Sarah Labahn

On November 1st 2014, The United Nations released its latest report on climate change. The report outlined the changes and causes of climate change and its consequential impacts today. Despite the word risk being mentioned 80 times in the report, it seems unlikely these risks are going to be taken seriously.

Usually after such a significant report about climate change there would be more discussion around the issue but this time around, there seems to only be a lukewarm response to the findings. This may be because, at the end of the day, governments and policy makers don’t actually see climate change as an issue with immediate consequences.

The recent report is the loudest cry from the scientific community on climate change to date. Urging an immediate decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and the elimination of fossil fuels by 2100 are just some of the alarming facts presented. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.”

According to the report, one of the main causes of increased greenhouse gas emissions is the rise in economic development since the industrial era coupled with population growth. The increase of greenhouse gas emissions from population and economic growth are said to be “extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” But when industrial development for economic growth is a continuous cycle for emerging and developed economies, greenhouse gas emissions are unlikely to suddenly drop in the name of future sustainability. And though there are more and more economically wise and sustainable products being used, there is generally a lack of investment on part governments and large capital proprietors to make sustainable development just that – sustainable.

It then proceeds to discuss the future risks associated with climate change and the key drivers that will continue to worsen the issue. “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”

As a way of urging governments and policy makers to take all this information into consideration, the report calls for significant environmental and climate change policy reforms. The foundation for improving decision making and policies around climate change are suggested in order to achieve sustainable development, equity, and work towards poverty eradication. But in order to do so, climate change policy has to, on some level, be constructed and implemented on a global scale. Meaning that the successful implementation of these policies relies on effective and efficient capacity to respond to climate change issues.

So why exactly is there such little response? Because investing in sustainable development would break the economy, especially in countries like Canada where the oil and gas industry is built on the expansion of fossil fuels regardless of its larger environmental impact.

This isn’t the first time politicians have turned a deaf ear. In the 1990s, a similar report was released and in response, the Kyoto Protocol called upon states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2015. But the majority of countries are either on track to fail or some, like Canada, have simply dropped out of the commitment entirely.

Despite Canada’s lack of response, there is pressure building after new commitments have been promised by China and the United States to cap their greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Washington Post,  “China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, pledged in the far-reaching agreement to cap its rapidly growing carbon emissions by 2030, or earlier if possible. It also set a daunting goal of increasing the share of non-fossil fuels to 20 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030.” And on the other said of the world, “Obama announced a target to cut U.S. emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, the first time the president has set a goal beyond the existing 17 percent target by 2020.”

This pressure is undeniably going to rise even more in 2015 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris where a decisive and international plan of action to address the growing concerns of climate change will be laid out.

In the end, the latest report on climate change is great in terms of raising more awareness around the growing issue and even in terms of pushing governments to take action, but will it just lead to fallen promises on part of the international community? To be frank, although two of the leading countries contributing to greenhouse gas emissions have responded positively and quickly to the impeding risks, others like Canada are still falling short. At this point, can the world see lasting changes when only a handful of actors are taking action?

Until more countries and investors jump on board the sustainable development train, it seems like climate change is going to have to come from individual responses to a growing list: rising sea levels sinking islands, water shortages, food shortages, extreme weather disasters, un-breathable air and pollution…the list goes on.

Banner photo credit of Wanderer Online photography team

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