On April 4th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) released a report declaring that the world must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the next three years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The report notes that emissions need to reach their peak by 2025 and reduce by 43% by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. The I.P.C.C. also advocated for earlier retirements and a decreased use of fossil fuels as energy sources as solutions to mitigate global warming.
“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible,” said I.P.C.C. Working Group III co-chair Jim Skea.
“In all countries, actions to limit global warming that result in wider benefits to societies can increase the pace, depth and breadth of emissions reductions,” said I.P.C.C. Working Group III vice-chair Ramón Pichs-Madruga. “Accelerated and equitable climate action in mitigating climate change and adapting to climate change impact is critical to sustainable development.”
The effects of climate change are well documented and the movement towards more sustainable energy sources should continue as these sources become more economically sufficient. However, it is important to acknowledge the vital role fossil fuels play in lifting developing nations out of poverty. This played out historically in both China and India, where coal and oil usage increased by a factor of five since 1970 while life expectancy also drastically increased. As nations become wealthier, they can afford to invest in cleaner energy sources that improve air quality and reduce emissions, but this is not a luxury poorer nations can afford. Instead, these nations should be encouraged to reduce their dependence on coal by drilling for natural gas and constructing nuclear power plants.
Transitioning from coal to natural gas has a significant carbon reducing effect. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, shifting energy production from coal to less carbon-intensive natural gas and renewables reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2018 to 2019. Governments should take steps to limit global warming through encouraging private investment in innovative renewable energy sources, while also recognizing how important fossil fuels are to development.
In 2015, the countries participating in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to the Paris Climate Agreement, which declared that its signatories would take steps to limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2°C, with an aim to reducing that limit to as low as 1.5°C. This goal, however, appears increasingly out of reach. Reducing the 1.5ºC goal would require the world to reduce emissions by 15% every year since 2020, but despite promising to reduce emissions by 25% when it signed the agreement, the United States is only on pace for a 17% reduction, when compared to 2005 levels, by 2025.
Despite analysts’ alarm, failing to reach the quotas set by the Paris agreement has yet to produce any drastic effects. “The evidence actually shows that climate-related disasters are killing far fewer people than ever before,” former director of Denmark’s Environmental Assessment Institute Bjorn Lomborg pointed out in a Financial Post piece. “Over the past century, the number of dead from floods, droughts, storms, wildfire and extreme temperatures has dropped by an incredible 98 percent.”
Climate change has the potential to dramatically influence lives throughout the world. When enacting policies to reduce its future effects, policymakers must be careful not to reduce current populations’ energy security or quality of life. Policies which allow for free immigration and which promote the building of more protective infrastructure should be pursued in order to mitigate climate change’s impacts.
Reaching certain quotas, like the Paris Climate Agreement’s emission reduction quota, is simply not feasible at this time. Promoting practical solutions to climate change is the best approach to ensure most people’s safety and stability in the coming decades’ changing climate.
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