The Carbon Cliff

Humanity is on the edge of a carbon cliff – a devastating overheating of the planet owing to fossil-fuel use. This week, at the annual UN Climate Change Conference in Qatar, global leaders must pursue bold, coordinated action to pull us back from the abyss – and to secure a sustainable future for all.

CAPE TOWN – We are perched on the edge of a precipice: a devastating overheating of the planet caused by fossil-fuel use. The implications of stepping into the abyss are far more serious than the consequences of the “fiscal cliff” confronting American policymakers, or of the recession stalking Europe. This week, at the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference in Qatar, global leaders must adopt a new approach.

The magic number is two – the maximum number of degrees centigrade that the planet’s average surface temperature can rise without incurring global warming’s most catastrophic effects. Beyond this threshold, rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather conditions, including heat waves, floods, and droughts, would become more frequent, disrupting agriculture, destabilizing the water supply, and threatening coastal cities and small islands.

In such a scenario, the world’s poorest, most vulnerable citizens would suffer the most – and receive the least help. But, as Hurricane Sandy has demonstrated, even the world’s richest countries are under threat.

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