The COP21 Climate Deal and 6 Alternative Solutions to Curb Global Warming

Features

  • Author: Lillian Pierson P.E.
  • Date: 28 Dec 2015
  • Copyright: First image appears courtesy of Getty Images. Second image copyright of Lillian Pierson.

On December 12th at the 21st UN Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, France, almost 200 countries agreed to adopt The Paris Agreement - a UN plan that aims to decrease the rate of global warming by 2° C over the next 75 years. Left unchecked, experts forecast that our planet will have warmed by a total of 4.5° C by the turn of the century, 2° of which will be curtailed if member countries implement the plan according to the letter of the agreement. One contingent circumstance that stands to prevent member nations from reaching their goals is that the terms of this agreement are only legally binding in part, while the majority of the agreement is left voluntary. In common language, this means that the agreement “has no teeth” and member countries can break terms without fear of punishment or penalty. Nonetheless, member countries have worked hard to form a plan that contains preemptive measures to prevent this from happening.

thumbnail image: The COP21 Climate Deal and 6 Alternative Solutions to Curb Global Warming

The Paris Agreement embodies policies and measures that aim to decrease the rate of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, thus decreasing the amount of global warming that’s anticipated over the next 75 years. Of the five main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is pollutant that’s to blame for recent increases in global temperatures.

CO2 is a very stable gaseous molecule. It absorbs, stores, and re-emits solar energy (aka. "heat-trapping"). The more CO2 there is, the more heat is trapped and accumulates.


The overwhelming majority of CO2 emissions come from human reliance on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) as an energy source. Furthermore, 14% of carbon dioxide emissions are generated from transportation activities, 21% from industry, 25% from electric and heating, 24% from agriculture, 6% from buildings, and 10% from other sources yet to be accounted (1). Global warming cynics have historically argued that there is no evidence to support climate change theories, but recent statistics show otherwise. Glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate, with the Arctic Glacier alone demonstrating area loss of 13.3% per decade since 19795. As a result, sea levels have begun to rise. Sea level monitoring began in 1880, and since then the ocean water levels have risen by a total of 8 inches (2). Experts forecast that the ocean level will rise an additional 16 inches by the year 2100 (2). Then there are the wildfires burning out-of-control in many areas of the planet. Although fire rates tend to fluctuate, a more recent trend shows that 1,148,409 acres burned in 1984, and that number steadily increased to 3,595,613 acres in 2014 (3).

In light of these statistics, it’s no wonder why member nations at COP21 were able to put their differences aside, and solidly affirm the Paris Agreement. But now is when the rubber meets the road. Industrial and developing nations alike will have to work hard and make significant changes across all industries in order to meet the ambitious goals set forth in the agreement. What’s more, there is no one size fits all solution. Rather, victory will come through the simultaneous implementation of several environmentally sustainable approaches. Six solutions that will prove powerful in the fight against global warming are: an increased reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, a decreased reliance on energy derived from fossil fuels, an increase in the safety and development of nuclear power, the development of new low-carbon technologies, the encouragement of sustainable development, and the encouragement of responsible agriculture and food practices (4).

References
(1) U.S. EPA Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data
(2) Sea Level Rise by the U.S. National Climate Assessment
(3) National Interagency Fire Center Statistics
(4) Union of Concerned Scientists Climate Hot Map
(5) NASA Global Climate Change
(6) http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/
(7) http://cdiac.ornl.gov/ftp/trends/co2/vostok.icecore.co2
(8) http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/tre_glob_2011.html

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