The question is whether the delegates at the climate summit can surprise us
with truly meaningful steps to avert calamity.
In 1992, more than 150 countries agreed in Rio de Janeiro to stabilize emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at a level that would “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”
Many follow-up meetings have been held, long on aspiration but short on action. Emissions have gone up, as have atmospheric temperatures, while the consequences of climate change — droughts, floods, explosive wildfires in both familiar and unexpected places, melting glaciers and ice caps, dying corals, slow but inexorable sea level rise — have become ever more pronounced.
Gloomy predictions to the contrary, several things have happened since Paris that should inspire everyone. For starters, the science of climate change has become tighter, tougher and more terrifying. In 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a truly scary warning — what one U.N. official described as “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen.”
The gist of it was that if the world had any hope of meeting the 1.5 degree threshold and thus avoiding ecological and social calamity, it must radically transform its energy systems not on any sort of leisurely glide path but in the next 12 years, which meant cutting greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by 2030 and zeroing them out by 2050.
The main issue there will be whether the delegates will listen to the science, look clearly at what’s happening in the world around them and then — here is the hard part — provide action plans to match their aspirations.
Climate change is already underway. At this point, we can’t stop it. But we can all work to limit the damage. We must.
Time is running out. The world’s countries have been talking about climate change crisis but failing to reach agreement for more than two decades. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change occurred in 1992, with follow-up conferences held annually ever since.
A new approach is needed that goes beyond national governments and engages all facets of society. To be sure countries are critical, as we need laws to price carbon and achieve reduction targets. But the overall battle can only be won if businesses, local and regional governments, power providers, transportation systems, other institutions and billions of citizens get involved. We need to mobilize of the resources of humanity, not dissimilar in scope to the two world wars, but this time we will all be fighting for the same cause.
Global multi-stakeholder networks are emerging now in response to two fundamental forces. On one hand, the systematic failure of traditional state-based institutions to grapple with a more complex global environment has created a space for new actors. On the other hand, the digital revolution has enabled networks that connect and collaborate across borders, cultures and disciplines in ways that were impossible before.