Tag Archive | "global warming"

The Fight Against Climate Change: The Paris Agreement Ratified by 75 Countries

Graph prepared by James Hansen Makiko Sato from data collected by NOAA and NASA.

Graph prepared by James Hansen Makiko Sato from data collected by NOAA and NASA.

On October 5th the requirements were met for the Paris Agreement (PA) to enter into force. This milestone was triggered when more than 55 countries representing 55% of global greenhouse emissions (GHG) ratified the Agreement. The PA has had tremendous international public and private support following its adoption by the 197 Parties to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris on December 2015. Within days of this announcement, the Earth’s atmosphere reached its own notable milestone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a statement that for the first time in three million years, atmospheric levels of the heat trapping gas, carbon dioxide measured 400 ppm. The dramatic rise of CO2 levels is a considerable departure from the stable CO2 levels of 278 ppm that allowed for a comfortable climate for human life to evolve. NOAA noted that this change coincided with global deforestation and burning of fossil fuels in the 1850s and the 1950s respectively.

The PA seeks to mitigate increasing GHG emissions and cap global temperature rise well below 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°Celsius. Through the PA, countries individually and voluntarily pledge Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve this cap. Further, the PA calls for efforts towards adaptation of the impacts of climate change and provides a managerial vehicle for the investment needed for a sustainable low-carbon future. The PA will come into force on November 4, 2016 and will set into motion the first meeting of the governing body of the PA, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement.

In November of this year, the CMA will meet at the Conference of Parties 22 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco. One of its tasks will be to ensure global commitments for the $5 to $7 trillion needed to support these efforts by 2020. $100 billion has already been pledged by developed countries to developing countries. The private sector is also playing a major role in these efforts investing billions of dollars to green markets. The collaborative efforts of both the public and private sectors towards accelerating GHG emissions is truly a remarkable moment in our world’s history.

Speaking the day that the 55% milestone was reached, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said, “Global momentum for the Paris Agreement to enter into force in 2016 has been remarkable. What once seemed unthinkable is now unstoppable.” For the sake of future generations, let’s hope that the global momentum to reduce emissions overtakes ever increasing heat trapping gases.

Entry into force of the PA is no doubt timely, given both milestones. With no peak of carbon emissions in sight and with ever increasing and severe weather events, the money and effort put in by public and private entities is certainly needed to adapt to the effects of our changing climate and to develop sustainable methods for future generations.

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Climate Change: Is There Hope for an International Response?

Nearly 200 world nations launched a new round of talks in Doha to review commitments to cutting climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. (Global Post)

Was Hurricane Sandy the result of global warming?  Many scientists are reluctant to directly attribute this and other recent superstorms to global warming.  However, it is very likely effects from climate change are influencing the severity of these storms.  With the scientific world approaching a consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change, pressure is mounting on the international community to respond.

Delegates, nongovernmental organizations, and environmentalists from over 200 countries are currently converging at the United Nations climate-change summit in Qatar to debate the issue.  The underlying goal of the conference, ending on December 7, is to slow global warming, specifically to “pave the way toward a world treaty, to be signed in 2015, aimed at slowing global emissions of heat-trapping fossil-fuel pollution enough to keep the planet’s temperature from rising by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).”  Scientists fear a sustained increase above two degrees Celsius will lead to a chain reaction of extreme events, such as rapid sea level rise, widespread flooding, extreme weather, and food shortages.

However, skepticism surrounds the summit.  For one, ongoing global temperature increase is feared to be all but certain.  A recent study funded by the National Science Foundation concluded that “[d]espite efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and a greater increase in sea level are inevitable during this century.”  Also, the summit’s goal of extending the 1997 Kyoto Protocol appears to be losing ground.  The treaty, which expires at the end of 2012, is the only legally binding U.N. pact addressing global warming.  It calls on wealthier governments to limit carbon emissions through restrictions on their businesses and citizens.  However, the U.S. declined to ratify the original treaty, and now others – including Russia, Canada, and Japan – are unlikely to sign the extension.

While the effect of the U.N. summit is currently in doubt, it should be noted that many individual countries are taking domestic action to reduce their contribution to climate change.  For instance, Mexico adopted a national law to reduce carbon emissions by thirty percent from “business-as-usual levels” by 2020, and fifty percent from the 2000 levels by 2050; South Korea approved a mandatory carbon trading program affecting some of its biggest polluters; and the European Union recently put into effect a program to reduce carbon pollution from aviation.  As for the United States, fuel efficiency standards were sharply improved under the Obama administration, and the President has expressed plans to adopt a more proactive approach to global warming during his second term.

However, climate change is a global issue requiring an international response.  Unfortunately the U.N. summit in Qatar appears unlikely to produce immediate results. The only hope is that it will lay a foundation for future cooperation and resolutions.

Frank Lawson is a 4LE and Board Member on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


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Critical Analysis: Competition for Arctic Resources Heats Up


Ice Breaks in the Arctic

In 2007, a submersible named Mir descended over 4 km to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and planted the Russian flag under the North Pole. The news broke all over the world and prompted fears of potential violent confrontations between arctic countries. Thus far, such fears have not been realized, but with Arctic sea ice coverage set to hit a record low this year, the Arctic region is not only literally heating up, but commercially. According to satellite data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Arctic sea ice coverage is already less than the previous record in 2007. Without doubt, the most commonly heard lament is the catastrophic impact this will have on polar bears and other arctic wildlife. What flies under the proverbial radar, however, is the impact that falling sea ice levels will have on global commerce, trade, and politics.

Despite historic trends showing that freshly opened regions often succumb to conflict between competing countries, many believe increased activity in the Arctic will be unusually peaceful. For instance, 95% of Arctic mineral resources are within agreed upon national boundaries. Additionally, operating costs in the Arctic are still enormously high, which encourages joint venture projects and cooperation. Lastly, the Arctic countries, comprised of the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark, want to give the least amount of excuses possible to the rest of the world to begin meddling in the region’s affairs.

As the thaw continues, countries are looking to profit. Canada’s Prime Minister, Steven Harper, recently stated that he believes the “Arctic’s natural resources will propel Canada’s future economic hopes.”  The Arctic’s potential has even attracted those from thousands of miles away. The Chinese energy company, CNOOC, has proposed to purchase the Canadian oil and gas producer, Nexen, for $15 billion, in an attempt to access the rich resources in the Yukon and Arctic regions.

The most tantalizing of all, especially for Russia, is the prospect of a new short-cut for trade routes. Last year, the 162,000 tonne tanker, Vladimir Tikhonov, traveled from a Northern port in Russia through the Bering Strait in just seven and a half days, making it the largest vessel to ever traverse the Arctic. Just recently, China set its own record as its first icebreaker traveled along the Russian coast and arrived in Iceland. Passage through the Arctic Ocean remains fraught with danger. It is expensive and icebreakers, needed to facilitate the journey for large commercial vessels, are scarce. The danger of becoming stranded notwithstanding, commercial traffic through the Arctic is increasing every year. Though this spells dollar signs for companies and governments, aboriginal and environmental groups are concerned that aggressive development in the region spells disaster for fragile ecosystems upon which many native populations depend.

The thaw continues, and how countries respond to the competing commercial and environmental interests will unfold only as quickly as the ice melts.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law

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