Hundreds of people were forced to flee their homes in Southern California this past Saturday as blazing flames spread and formed fire tornadoes. The wildfire was named the “Sherpa Fire” and consumed over 7,811 acres of land by Saturday evening. Thankfully, there were no casualties, but an increase in environmental disasters signals to the persistent issue of climate change.
Climate scientists warn that climate change is no longer a threat to the future and has reached unprecedented levels. Not only have temperature levels skyrocketed, other records, such as the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and melting of the Arctic sea ice have peaked. Furthermore, recent incidents of climate change include devastating floods in the UK that have affected many communities and wildfires in the dry Western United States. The Governor of New Mexico had to call a state of emergency last week as 700 personnel were dispatched to contain the Dog Head Fire, which burned 17,615 acres over the course of four days.
Secretary of State John Kerry has called climate change “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
This year holds the title of the warmest year on record thus far, beating 2015, which itself beat the previous year. Shockingly, sixteen out of the seventeen hottest years recorded have been in the 2000s. Although cyclical changes in temperature caused by heat released from the ocean in a phenomenon dubbed “El Niño,” scientists believe 2016 would still have been a record-breaker without the help of El Niño.
In 2015, nearly 200 countries met to sign the Paris Agreement, a universal document that legally binds countries to limit the effects of climate change. The agreement has significant implications for the global market since it transitions countries from fossil fuels towards a clean energy economy. The agreement gained major support from the United Nations, which has been mediating divisions between developed and developing countries in the face of the agreement. Christiana Figueres, the UN Climate Chief, guided the talks.
The Guardian reported former U.S. President Al Gore stating that:
“this universal and ambitious agreement sends a clear signal to governments, businesses, and investors everywhere: the transformation of our global economy from one fuelled by dirty energy to one fuelled by sustainable economic growth is now firmly and inevitably underway.”
Rich developed countries agreed to contribute US$100 billion to the economies of developing countries in order to assist with the development process without the environmental costs of economic growth and industrialization. Reuters reported that the Beijing Environment Exchange endorsed a call option backed by 20,000 local carbon permits on Thursday, the first of its kind in China.
The goal of the agreement is to limit warming below 2 degrees Celsius and keep temperature levels 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial records. This goal is a big ask for vulnerable developing countries and more ambitious than expected. Even though critics claim the agreement does not do enough to legally hold countries liable for climate change since it has no enforcement mechanism, supporters argue it was a significant step for international actors to come together and agree on further action on such a complex issue.
The international community will meet again at the 2016 Marrakesh UN Climate Summit later this year, in November, to begin entry into the Paris Agreement, where loss and damage will be the primary topics of discussion.
The record-breaking climate in 2016 holds many consequences that have yet to unfold, but the impact will, without a doubt, be disastrous. The public is still not sufficiently aware of the urgency of the situation, and even communities and organizations that are aware have taken steps that fall short of the necessary actions. The international community must work together on the link between climate change, economic growth, and politics to ensure development takes place in an eco-friendly manner; this is essential in order to prevent further crisis in unstable communities and to provide a safe environment for future generations to prosper.