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COP21: Behind the numbers

On Sunday November 21, more than 2,500 protests took place around the world, calling on policymakers to reach a deal over the ever pressing matter of climate change.Why the sudden surge of civil unrest? From November 30 to December 11, 195 countries represented by some 40,000 delegates met in Paris at the Conference of Parties (COP21).

In short, the goal of COP21 was to keep the world from surpassing a warming level of two degrees centigrade. According to many climate scientists, the two degree threshold marks the point at which climate change could pose grave consequences.

The other incentive for the conference was for nations to find a way to continue growing their economies while limiting the “greenhouse effect.”

Much of the scientific evidence presented at the conference came from a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014. The report asserts that continued emission of greenhouse gasses will result in “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

At a result of the conference, governments of 186 nations put forth public plans detailing how they would cut carbon emissions through 2025 or 2030. The agreement aims to limit global warming to a 1.5 degree rise in temperature which will reportedly require zero level emmisions by around 2050.

Those plans, once enacted, will cut emissions by about half of what is required to stave off the worst effects of global warming. However, enforcement of these plans rides on what is essentially peer pressure, on an global scale, as no process of enforcement could be agreed on.

One of the largest issues delegates faced was the division between developed and developing nations. As Science Teacher David Partridge, explained fairness is at the cornerstone of this conflict. “A lot of the industrializing nations are saying, ‘look, you guys have had your party, you used all of this coal and oil, it has gotten you where you are today, we still need to catch up, you guys are the main source of the problem, how about giving us a break and letting us continue to use them while you move onto other things?’” he said.

In terms of emmissions, Science Teacher Marisa Wilson sees the use of fossil fuels as the number one contributor to the greenhouse effect.

Wilson is optimistic that society can be rendered to operate without this form of energy. “Germany, for example uses renewable  energy for 78 percent of its electricity. Really we need to move towards completely renewable energy like wind, solar and hydroelectricity,” she said.

Science department weighs in:

Science Teacher Marisa Wilson:

How much longer can we wait to act?

We have to do something now. I think that’s what scientists are saying, that’s what policy makers are saying, not all of them but ones that know what they are talking about, that the time is now. If we wait too long we may get to a point where it is too late.

What do you think the ideal outcome of COP21 would be?

Whatever their agreements are, [that] they stick to them. I think that the problem with all of these climate talks is they’re all voluntary, it’s this honor system… I just feel like if these countries actually do what they say they are going to do, that would be a big victory.

Science Teacher David Partridge:

What is so significant about two degrees?

You have to remember that two degrees is the average temperature over the entire globe. So the short answer is, when we look back in prehistory where we have various ways of measuring what the climate was like 100,000 years ago, 300,000 years ago and even 1 million years ago, when climates have fluctuated as much as one or two degrees, we see radically different situations with the climate here on Earth. For example, it only takes two or three degrees of average temperature [change] to [cause] a long term melting of the ice caps.

What are some of the possible consequences?

We can expect significant sea level rises over long periods of time. We’re not talking about tomorrow, but over several hundred years we will see quite dramatic changes in rainfall patterns, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere. We are already beginning to see that, but it will get worse, so they tell us. Australia will dry out, Southern Africa will dry out, portions of South America will dry out.

Is there a reasonable argument against climate change?

It’s like saying the Earth goes around the sun or Paris is the capital of France; it is a fact. The question remaining is about the severity of climate change and what its consequences are.

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