Consumerism, Climate Change and COP24

COP24 is about to conclude in Katowice, Poland and the link between consumerism and climate change has received little attention. A few events have been organized during the last two weeks at the COP24 on the matter, including one side event held by the Global Climate Action on December 8, 2018 entitled Impacts for a more sustainable and responsible consumption. But there has been little discussion, overall, about the impact consumerism—our own individual choices and way of living—has on our planet.

A legitimate reflection one might have about COP24 is on its ecological footprint. Are we walking the talk? The UN reports that greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions due to the event will be tracked through a calculation by the organizers and it is anticipated that COP24 will have generated approximately 55,000 tons of CO2. It further specifies that in order to offset this, the Polish Government has committed to planting more than 6 million trees, capable of absorbing the equivalent of the conference’s emissions in the next 20 years. But is offsetting the sustainable, long-term solution as it concretely does not remove the trash that has been produced from this event, and the energy and resources it took to build it, among other things? 13252700_f520

Consumerism plays a significant role in climate change. As underscored by one author, studies have shown that what we consume—from food to clothes to toiletries—is responsible for up to 60% of global GHG emissions and between 50 and 80% of total land, material, and water use.

At COP24, there has been emphasis on how political will is a fundamental element to addressing climate change. Indeed, political actions represent a big part of the solution. Additional efforts should be invested into integrating businesses and the private sector more effectively into the development and implementation of solutions to address the climate crisis.

However, we sometime like to place responsibility on others—something bigger, out of our control—but when 60-80% of the impacts on the planet come from our own individual consumption, more attention should be placed on our own habits as consumers.

As stressed by one author, if we changed our consumption habits, we could have a dramatic effect on our environmental footprint, on what businesses are producing, and on what the financial sector is funding. It is true that it is fundamental that various stakeholders are engaged in addressing the climate issue—including, particularly governments at local, national and international levels and industries. But we also need to do our fair share according to our means. Certain initiatives have been developed to sensitize citizens at a larger scale. For example, recently, in Quebec, Canada, the Pact for a transition from words to actions (the “Pacte”) was created in November 2018 to unite citizens across the province, beyond their political differences to take specific necessary actions in their day-to-day to transition towards a low-carbon future.  

More similar initiatives worldwide could help to put consumerism at the forefront of the climate solutions. As indicated by the Pacte, with strength in numbers, and with deep, smart lifestyle changes, things could likely progress faster. download (1)

IPCC special report leaves the world in dire straits

In response to an invitation from the Parties of the Paris Agreement (PA), and pursuant to the Article 2 efforts to limit temperature increases well below 2°C, the IPCC prepared a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15), released Monday, 8 October, 2018.

Climate scientists sounded the alarm yet again, painting a dire picture of the future without immediate and drastic mitigation and adaptation measures worldwide.  High confidence statements made by the panel include:

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  • Human activities have caused approximately 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels
  • Current global warming trends reach at least 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052
  • Staying below the 1.5°C threshold will require a 45% reduction in GHG emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net-zero by 2050
  • Pathways to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot will require removal of an additional 100-1000 GtCO2

Pathways of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions submitted under the PA will not limit global warming to 1.5°C.  Current pathways put us on target for 3°C by 2100, with continued warming afterwards.

The ENB Report summarizing SR15 was able to shine a light on the good that can come from responses to this special report (not to mention upholding the ambition intended with the PA).  SR15 shows that most of the 1.5°C pathways to avoid overshoot also help to achieve Sustainable Development Goals in critical areas like human health or energy access. Ambitious emission reductions can also prevent meeting critical ecosystem thresholds, such as the projected loss of 70-90% of warmer water coral reefs associated with 2°C.

Groups like the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are intensifying their adaptive scientific support through a “fully-integrated, ‘seamless’ Earth-system approach to weather, climate, and water domains,” says Professor Pavel Kabat, Chief Scientist of the WMO.  This “seamless” approach allows leading climate scientists to use their advanced data assimilation and observation capabilities to deliver knowledge in support of human adaptations to regional environmental changes.  By addressing extreme climate and weather events through a holistic Earth-system approach, predictive tools will help enhance early warning systems and promote well being by giving the global community a greater chance to adapt to the inevitable hazardous events related to climate change.

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Success ultimately depends on international cooperation, which will hopefully be encouraged by the IPCC’s grim report and the looming PA Global Stocktake (GST) in 2023.  In the wake of devastating hurricanes, typhoons, and the SR15, it’s hard to ignore both the climate and leading climate scientists urging us to take deliberate, collective action to help create a more equitable and livable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

In Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20 decides to convene a “facilitative dialogue” among the Parties in 2018, to take stock in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4 of the PA.  Later renamed the Talanoa Dialogue, these talks have set preparations into motion and are helping Parties gear up for the formal GST, with the aim of answering three key questions: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How will we get there?

Discussion about the implications of SR15 will be held at COP24, where round table discussions in the political phase of the dialogue will address the question, “how do we get there?”

It won’t be by continuing business as usual.


CO2 spikes again

image_imageformat_lightbox_431973355NOAA reports that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose 3.05 parts per million in 2015, the largest annual increase recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory since it began in 1957. Last year was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 concentrations grew by more than 2 parts per million. More recently,  the change in average CO2 concentration from February 2015 till last month shows an even higher increase – 3.76 parts per million – bringing the current total concentration to 404.02 parts per million.  To put these numbers in perspective, pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide were 280 parts per million and when Mauna Loa started mid-20th century, they were below 320 parts per million. CO2 levels have increased over 40% since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Scientists attribute some portion of this annual spike to the 2015 El Niño, because this weather pattern leads to tropicalco2_data_mlo_anngr droughts that then produce wildfires ( e.g. Indonesia in 2015). Drought also limits forest growth, which decreases the number and size of trees that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These impacts are temporary as the forests bounce back in normal, non-El Niño years.

But Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (and son of Charles Keeling, who founded the Mauna Loa program) warns that “the eventual recovery from this El  won’t bring us back below 400 ppm, because its impact will be dwarfed by the global consumption of fossil fuels, pushing CO2 levels ever higher.”