By Ruby Pap
Extreme storms, sea level rise, record breaking heat, ocean acidification; these are just a few of the impacts we are already seeing from global warming and climate change.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties 21st meeting (COP 21) is occurring in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, with the goal of a new universal climate agreement to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to sustainable levels.
The scientific evidence of the human causes for global warming is clear. Since the mid-20th century, increased concentrations of greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen) in our atmosphere have trapped heat, causing unequivocal warming of the Earth. Human energy use, agriculture and deforestation activities are mostly to blame.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to avoid substantial risks to the Earth and our society by the end of the 21st century, the world needs to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades, thereby limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels.
In 2013, at the Warsaw COP 19, governments agreed to communicate their commitments to reduce emissions well in advance of the COP 21 talks in Paris. These are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The Emissions Gap Report of 2015 recently published by the UN Environment Programme assesses 119 INDCs. Combined, they are projected to reduce emissions in 2030 by up to 6 Gigatons (Gt), but an addition 12 Gigatons are required to achieve the 2° limit. This leaves some serious work for the COP 21 climate negotiations.
The United States’ INDC aims to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below its 2005 level by the year 2025. The U.S. believes these immediate reductions puts us on a path to achieving an 80 percent reduction by 2050, which is generally agreed upon as necessary to achieve the 2° limit by 2100.
Eighty percent is no small feat. It means a huge, but necessary transformation in the way the world works and the way we live our lives — think major energy technological and socioeconomic changes in our homes, at work, the way we travel, produce food, etc.
With regard to clean energy Hawai‘i has made great strides. In addition to renewable and energy efficiency portfolio standards for the electrical power sectors, Hawai‘i Act 234 (2007) states emissions must be reduce to 1990 levels by 2020. This past summer, Gov. David Ige signed into law a much more ambitious commitment to 100 percent clean power by 2045. Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative has a strategic goal of 50 percent renewables by 2023, and the County of Kaua‘i has a government operations goal of 80 percent carbon emissions reductions by 2023.
The biggest challenge for Hawai‘i in the next 20 years is in the transportation sector, which accounts for 28 percent of our petroleum use. Things like land use policy changes to reduced miles traveled, alternative fuels and improved efficiency standards are all on the table. Larger questions loom on how to tackle air transportation.
Back to COP 21, I should also note the success or failure of the climate negotiations will rest largely on socio-political stumbling blocks rather than technical know how. These include equity between developed and developing countries, climate finance for developing countries, and how to address loss and damage from climate change.
As you go about your holiday shopping, why not add Earth to your list? Take a moment to share information with your friends and representatives, and make some personal changes in your own lifestyle.
Visit newsroom.unfccc.int/paris/ for more information.
- Ruby Pap is a Coastal Land Use Extension Agent at University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.