By Ruby Pap

Smoke Stacks, 1942. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress

Smoke Stacks, 1942. Photo by Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress

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.

Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Graphic image by IPCC

Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Graphic image by IPCC

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