Last Sunday, the United Nations released its latest report on climate change, highlighting the myriad dangers posed by global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Synthesis Report—published in Copenhagen on Nov. 2—conveys alarm and urgency, noting that the status quo could lead to “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” Moreover, the report emphasizes some of the far-reaching consequences of climate change, particularly the potential flooding of coastal cities and increased hunger and poverty. Credit must be given to the U.N. for bringing attention to these concerns.
It is clear that climate change is increasingly becoming not only an environmental issue, but also a geopolitical issue, posing a threat to international order akin to chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons; the international community would do well to treat climate change with the necessary degree of seriousness and make a more concerted effort at solving this problem.
The threats posed by climate change are evident; in fact, the effects have already been felt in various places around the world, such as the dying of vast swathes of forests in parts of the western United States or the rapid rate at which the oceans are rising. Climate change is also beginning to negatively affect global food production and exacerbating issues of poverty. These threats’ multi-headed nature, not merely rising sea levels but geopolitical implications too, only reinforces the need for action.
With the U.S. among them, 114 countries have acknowledged a temperature rise of two degrees Celsius as the threshold of dangerous climate change in 2009. There are no signs of stopping. At the same time, despite the IPCC’s recommendation to end the use of fossil fuels without carbon capture by 2100, there are only eight large scale carbon capture and storage operations currently in operation. That is a symptom of broader shortfall in funding to combat climate change.
Meanwhile, spending has remained robust in the other direction. Fossil fuel energy companies currently invest $600 billion each year simply to find more sources of coal, petroleum, and natural gas, whereas research to reduce with energy emissions receives less than $400 billion annually. These priorities must be reversed: Funding must be increased to develop economically sound strategies for the reduction of fuel emissions. Possibilities include new, more efficient means of generating energy, as well as more sophisticated methods for carbon capture.
There are other possible solutions as well, including the implementation of treaties that have actual binding power on fossil fuel emissions. The fact remains that, regardless of the solutions chosen, action must be taken. The implications of climate change shown in the report are drastic, and without strong efforts to curb carbon emissions, these detrimental changes will become a frightening reality.
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