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Our best efforts on climate change will not be enough

In the course of two weeks, we have seen more international agreement and action on climate change than ever before.  On 4 October Canada introduced a carbon tax, setting a standard for other nations to follow.  On the same day the Paris climate agreement came into effect.  Two days later, the International Civil Aviation Organization agreed a new deal to limit aviation emissions.  Then on 15 October 197 countries signed up to a deal to phase out hydroflourocarbons (HFCs).

In terms of action on climate change it just doesn’t get any better than this.  But before we rush out and celebrate, we might heed the warning given by Brad Plumer at Vox:

“Now, if you wanted to be dour about it, you could focus on the very real limitations of these moves. Add them up, and they still don’t get us anywhere close to keeping global warming below 2°C (or 3.6°F) — the level governments all agree is unacceptable.

“Nor are we currently on a trajectory to do so. If you take all the policy promises that nations put forward at Paris last year (which included reducing HFCs), they still put us on pace for 2.5°C or 3°C or more of warming. And that’s assuming countries actually hit their pledges, which they may not. Case in point: A recent study in Nature Climate Change warned that the US could miss its targets due to excess methane emissions.”

As Plumer notes, there is unlikely to be a point at which climate action hits a turning point.  Rather, there will just be an ongoing march of incremental steps – like those this month – that each begin to slow the process of climate change.  But whether we will ever get to the point of successfully preventing temperatures rising above that 2°C limit is a moot point:

“I’m deeply skeptical that countries can achieve their goal of keeping global warming below 2°C. The math is too brutal, the momentum too sluggish. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Even keeping global warming at 2.5°C or 3°C is vastly preferable to 4°C or 5°C. Every additional degree means more coastal area lost to the sea, more crop failures, more deadly heat waves, more human misery. There’s always reason to push harder.”

Perhaps the real change will come not through the piecemeal action of governments, but when the people wake up to the fact that nobody is going to do this for us and we must make the change ourselves.  There is little sign of that happening any time soon.

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