Near Boiling Point on Global Warming

Rising global temperatures — if they exceed 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels — threaten to unleash havoc across the planet, including mass dislocations of desperate people that will make the current flood of Syrian refugees look like a tiny warm-up, writes Nat Parry.

By Nat Parry

With more than 40,000 negotiators from 196 governments descending on Paris this week to negotiate a comprehensive accord to tackle climate change, it is hard to imagine that they could possibly reach an agreement that will satisfy everybody.

The interests that each country brings to the table are so complex and diverse — especially when it comes to the touchy subjects of climate reparations and ensuring effective enforcement mechanisms for any sort of “binding” deal on how to actually reduce carbon emissions to safe levels — it is inconceivable that everyone (or anyone) will feel content at the end of these marathon negotiations in two weeks.

Image of Planet Earth taken from Apollo 17

Image of Planet Earth taken from Apollo 17

This is likely why the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a Costa Rican diplomat named Christiana Figueres, has for months been lowering expectations for the outcome of the summit.

While the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) has long been deemed necessary to avoid the most serious effects of climate change — a future of drowned cities, desertifying croplands, and collapsing ecosystems — Figueres acknowledges that the negotiations, based on the declared “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) of each country at the table, will probably not result in reaching that 2-degree goal.

“I’ve already warned people in the press,” she said this summer. “If anyone comes to Paris and has a Eureka moment – ‘Oh, my God, the INDCs do not take us to 2 degrees!’ – I will chop the head off whoever publishes that. Because I’ve been saying this for a year and a half.”

As Politico explains it, rather than reaching 2-degree goal, “What would be a success for Figueres, the UN and many of the countries taking part is setting in motion a process starting in 2020 that ups greenhouse gas cuts over…

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