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For Climate Safety, Call in the Engineers

At the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, diplomats delivered a "rulebook" to guide all countries in combating global warming. When world leaders convene at the UN next September to advance climate safety further, the world’s leading engineers should greet them with a global framework for action.

NEW YORK – This month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice, Poland succeeded in producing a rulebook to implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Every UN member state signed on. But that will not be enough to head off climate catastrophe. It’s time to call in the engineers. 

The diplomatic success at COP24 was remarkable, given relentless lobbying and foot-dragging by the fossil-fuel industry. The diplomats have read the science and know the truth: without a rapid move to a zero-carbon global energy system by mid-century, humanity will be in grave peril. In recent years, millions of people have suffered the hardships of extreme heatwaves, droughts, flood surges, powerful hurricanes, and devastating forest fires, because the Earth’s temperature is already 1.1º Celsius (roughly 2º Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average. If warming exceeds 1.5ºC or 2ºC later this century – temperatures never experienced in the entire 10,000-year history of human civilization – the world will become vastly more dangerous.

The Paris accord commits national governments to keep temperatures “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and [to pursue] efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” We now have a rulebook for measuring greenhouse-gas emissions, sharing know-how, and measuring financial transfers from rich to poor countries. Yet we still lack the plans for shifting the world energy system to renewable energy by mid-century.

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