Five years of climate agreement: “We can keep earth habitable”

Exactly five years ago, 196 countries signed the UN Paris Climate Agreement. The ambitious agreements have not been collecting dust over the past five years, to the great delight of Rik Leemans, professor of Environmental Systems Analysis at WUR. He feels that global warming is being taken seriously at last. And with the proposed measures it looks like we will manage to significantly curb the increase in temperature over the next 80 years.

“The melting ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica are the result of decades of climate change; you will not undo this impact in a couple of years. But the reversal that is now happening gives us hope. The 2015 Climate Agreement was the tipping point, and the participating countries did not sit back after signing the agreement, in fact, they refined the ambitious goals even further. Europe started work on a Green Deal (EU climate-neutral by 2050), Joe Biden has big plans for the US, and China and Japan have also honed the agreement further with the objective of being climate-neutral in 20 to 40 years.”

Our biodiversity decreases every day: vulnerable coral reefs are dying off at a high rate

What are the results of all these plans?

“Five years ago, global warming was estimated to be 3.7 degrees by the year 2100. That would result in uninhabitable circumstances: large parts of the world would be flooded, other parts would suffer with extreme drought, forest fires would increase significantly, and there would be serious shortages of drinking water and food. In 2015, participating countries initially agreed on a maximum increase of 2 degrees, but at the very last minute this was changed to a target of 1.5 degrees. This was primarily due to pressure from island nations such as the Maldives and Mauritius who would otherwise be under water as a result of the rising sea levels.”

From 3.7 to 1.5 degrees in 80 years: is that feasible? This week another report was released, revealing that we were still on track for 3-degree increase in temperature by 2100, in spite of the fact that we are currently emitting fewer greenhouse gases due to the coronavirus.

“That’s true, but that is based on the situation from five months ago. At that time, China, Japan, and South Korea had yet to announce their refined plans and the European Green Deal was not yet a reality. You should include these recent developments as well, just as my colleague Niklas Höhne did in his ongoing study Climate Action Tracker: it shows that the earth’s temperature will in fact only rise by 2.1 degrees over 80 years. That is, provided that all plans made by the countries in the Paris Agreement, as well as all the further refinements made in later years, are effectively carried out.”

But at 2.1, you’re not achieving what the climate agreement strives for.

“I must admit that it will be very difficult to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. The transition to sustainable energy is too slow to achieve that. But we must continue to aim for climate neutrality. Because whether warming is 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees over the next 80 years: climate change will continue. 15 years ago we thought a 25 mm rain shower was significant: now we are used to 80 mm showers. And our biodiversity is decreasing every day: vulnerable coral reefs are dying off at a high rate; they may disappear completely over the next thirty years.”

This sounds as though there is nothing we can do to save the earth?

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