Calling 2015 a “critical year for humanity” and setting out what must be achieved at UN climate talks scheduled for Paris in December, a group of scientists and economists from some of the world’s top research institutions is marking Earth Day by saying a commitment to “leaving at least three quarters of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground” must be met in order to save the world from the most devastating impacts of climate change.
“It’s the choice of moving down a business-as-usual route with devastating outcomes for humanity and, at the same time, we have this almost unprecedented opportunity, we can transform the world economy to a fossil fuel-free one and moreover do it in a way that is security and health-wise more attractive.” —Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Center
In a joint statement articulating eight essential elements that need to be included in the agreement that comes out of the next Convention of the Parties (COP21) summit, prominent members of the Earth League say that the planet’s carbon budget is already overloaded and that world governments must take action if they intend to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C by the end of this century.
Under current global emission rates, the statement warns, the world is “currently on a path to around 4°C warming by 2100, which would create unmanageable environmental challenges.” And if dramatic action is not taken, it continues, there exists a 10% chance of reaching a 6°C rise in which tipping points could hurl the planet towards catastrophic climate scenarios. “As a comparison,” the signatories warn, “such a 1 in 10 probability is the equivalent of tolerating about 10,000 airplane crashes every day worldwide.”
Demanding an end to fossil fuel subsidies and placing a price on carbon, the 8-point plan—called the Earth Statement—argues that unleashing “a wave of climate innovation for the global good” and “phasing out greenhouse gas emissions completely” by 2050 is essential if the world wants to avoid the risk of further climate chaos while creating a more sustainable and harmonious future.
“Deep decarbonization, starting immediately and leading to a zero-carbon society by 2050 or shortly thereafter, is key to future prosperity,” the statement asserts. “This long-term goal, paired with strong national commitments, including a price on carbon, and a possibility to ramp up ambition via regular reviews, are essential elements of the Paris agreement. Fossil fuel subsidies should be removed urgently, and investment should be redirected to spark a global renewable energy revolution, warranting energy access for all and particularly for those most in need.”
Moreover, the group of scientists and economists say, the demands that rapid global warming has placed on human civilization should be seen as an opportunity, not a burden. “This trajectory is not one of economic pain, but of economic opportunity, progress and inclusiveness. It is a chance too good to be missed,” the statement reads.
Ahead of us, they say, is “a journey of innovation, which can create a new generation of jobs and industries, whilst enhancing the resilience of communities and people around the world.”
Speaking with the Guardian, Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center and the statement’s lead author, said: “From a scientific perspective, 2015 is a decisive moment. The window to navigate ourselves free from a ‘beyond 2C future’ is barely open. It’s the last chance to navigate ourselves towards a desired future.”
He continued: “It’s so frustrating, because it’s the choice of moving down a business-as-usual route with devastating outcomes for humanity and, at the same time, we have this almost unprecedented opportunity, we can transform the world economy to a fossil fuel-free one and moreover do it in a way that is security and health-wise more attractive.”
Forming the theoretical basis of the global divestment movement and as numerous experts have noted, the ability to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C simply cannot be met if the fossil fuel companies of the world are allowed to extract and burn their currently held reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas.
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