The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark report released last Monday painted a grim portrait of humanity’s future in regards to climate change. It stated that a path to avoiding global warming’s worst ramifications may only be possible through “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
According to the report, these consequences of climate change can only be avoided by curbing the global increase in temperatures to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above the levels they were at pre-industrialization – a task that the UN estimates we have only 12 years left to complete.
If not, these consequences include severe and more frequent deadly heat waves and a corresponding increase in forest fires, along with an uptick in melting ice caps that would lead to an unprecedented rise in sea levels. An increase in 2 degrees Celsius versus 1.5 degrees, for instance, could mean a 10 centimeter higher increase in sea levels and 10 more million people affected by 2020. Insects and plants would also be more likely to lose an estimated half of their entire habitat, and coral reefs – which includes, most prominently, the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living thing on Earth – would lose 99 percent of their numbers.
The 1.5 degrees Celsius figure is prominently featured as the ideal limit to global rise in temperatures in the Paris Agreement, signed three years ago in the summer of 2015. If recent human behavior is any indication, however, the fact looms large that the world as a whole is nowhere close to accomplishing the goals outlined in the agreement.
As aforementioned, only through “rapid” and “unprecedented” change can climate change’s worst consequences be avoided. These changes include reducing the world’s amount of carbon emissions by 2030 by half, getting 80 percent of the world’s electricity via alternative power sources, as well as beginning to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than emitted by 2050.
These changes aren’t impossible. Yet for the most part, many of the countries that originally signed the Paris Agreement are not only nowhere near the accomplishing of the agreement’s goals, but are in fact moving in completely the opposite direction altogether. This is perhaps none so clear as with the Trump Administration, which even went so far as to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on June 1 of last year.
President Trump has repeatedly dismissed the dangers of climate change, labeling it on one occasion as a Chinese “hoax” and remaining skeptical on the veracity of the UN report on climate change when questioned by reporters. His policies are similarly destructive: Trump has stated his opposition to environmental regulations that he sees as a “burden” to industries like the coal mining industry, whose product is a large contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change as a whole.
Trump represents the interests of many powerful and wealthy businesses that stand to lose from environmental regulations that would also play a major role in the curbing of climate change. These interests are the primary obstacle in the achieving of the Paris Agreement’s goals and limiting the global rise in temperatures – and climate change’s corresponding impacts – to just 1.5 degrees Celsius. To fully combat climate change, scientists must first confront the interests of these businesses and industries; only then will the sweeping changes “in all aspects of society” as stated by the UN’s report be able to be put into place.
Certainly, the road to curbing climate change won’t be easy. But if humanity truly cares about stopping an issue that has the potential to impact the world on a scale the likes of which hasn’t seen in its history, then maybe – just maybe – it can be done.
Brandon Kim, Grade 10
Culver City High School