Our Last Chance for a Safe Planet

MELBOURNE – Humanity has just about run out of time to address climate change. Scientists have pointed out that a rise in temperature of 2º Celsius above pre-industrial levels will put the Earth in dangerous, uncharted territory. Yet we currently are on a path toward an increase of 4º or more this century. The last chance for action has arrived.

That chance lies in Paris in December 2015, when the world’s governments meet for the 21st annual United Nations climate-change meeting. But this time will be different. Either governments will agree to decisive action, as they have promised, or we will look back at 2015 as the year when climate sanity slipped through our fingers.

In 1992, the world’s governments adopted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, promising to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference in the climate system” by reducing the rate of emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. But, though the treaty entered into force in 1994, the rate of emissions of greenhouse gases, including CO2, has actually increased.

In 1992, global combustion of coal, oil, and gas, plus cement production, released 22.6 billion tons of CO2 into the air. In 2012, the most recent year for which comparable data are available, emissions were 34.5 billion tons. Humanity has accelerated, rather than controlled, human-induced climate change.