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.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.