Paris 2015 and Beyond…What’s Next on the Issue of Climate?

By Sister Margaret Mayce, OP

The Paris Climate Accord has been a hot topic in the news lately, in light of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the hard-fought agreement. The only other country not party to the agreement is Syria. Now climate negotiators are meeting once again, this time in Bonn, Germany from November 6- 17, for COP 23 (the 23rd  Session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC). Oddly enough, this UN Climate Conference has not been in the news. I wonder why? The goal of COP 23 is to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” In other words, it will address the reality of human-induced global warming, which is not a popular topic here in the US. While the Paris agreement provided the world with the first global commitment to address climate change, more must be done by national governments to meet the goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Centigrade, and if at all possible, to only a 1.5 degree increase.

Priorities in Bonn

The Bonn Conference will most likely not produce anything new. Instead, it will work to streamline the process of cutting greenhouse gases, in the hope of greater efficiency. It will also be looking ahead to the formal discussions in 2018 regarding progress made in achieving the goals of the Paris Accord. What is clear now is that the original Nationally Determined Contributions toward reducing greenhouse gases are not sufficient to meet the mark. So there is hope that the discussions in Bonn will help to increase incentive to be more ambitious on the national level. Another priority will be the issue of finance – that is, providing funding for developing countries to meet the costs of adapting to the negative impacts of climate change.

Displacement on the Rise: Climate Refugees

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji will preside over the Conference proceedings. This marks the first time a Small Island Developing State has held this role, and the significance of this cannot be minimized. Fiji and its neighbors in the South Pacific are increasingly in danger of sea level rise that will force their inhabitants to leave their island homes. The London School of Economics estimates that across the Pacific Islands, home to 10 million people, up to 1.7 million could be displaced due to climate change by 2050; and according to Cornell University research up to 2 billion people may be seeking higher ground due to rising sea levels by 2100.  While victims of climate change are not officially recognized under existing refugee conventions, just last month New Zealand’s Climate Minister announced plans to explore a new humanitarian visa for those who are forced to leave their South Pacific Island homes due to the negative impact of climate change. This is a positive development in the midst of what many believe to be a dire situation.

Are we approaching tipping points?

The Bonn Conference is taking place in the wake of a comprehensive review by 13 federal agencies which concluded that the evidence of global warming is stronger than ever. The report said it was “extremely likely” – meaning with 95 to 100% certainty – that global warming is man-made, mostly from carbon dioxide through the burning of coal, oil and natural gas. This is stark contradiction to both Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Environmental Protection Agency Chief Scott Pruitt, who have said that carbon dioxide is not the primary culprit in global warming. Co-author of the report, Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech said that “This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization.” And for the first time scientists have highlighted tipping points of potential dangers that could result from the continued warming of the planet.

Has our interest waned?

The mobilization of civil society leading up to and during the Paris Climate Summit was instrumental in bringing pressure to bear on the world’s leaders to do the right thing. Now, as world leaders continue to negotiate the messy details of implementation, we need to be just as proactive. The commitments made in Paris are not enough. Our leaders need to do more. And we must not let our interest wane. Indeed, our engagement with the issue and with our own government is more important than ever. We may just be successful in pressuring our President to change his mind about US participation in the Paris Climate Accord. In the meantime, there are many governors and mayors throughout the US who are committed to the goals established in Paris. They deserve our support and encouragement. And as move forward, we need to continue to draw inspiration from Pope Francis, who is unequivocal in his message: Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility. Our leaders must be held accountable. Those who will have to suffer the consequences will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility.