“The cheapest and most effective carbon sequestration technology is called a ‘Tree.’ When this technology is taken to scale, it is called a ‘Forest.’” The Former Vice President of the United States and Presidential hopeful paused to let the laughter subside. Holding up a hand, he became deadly serious once more. He had come to COP24 to continue fighting for the cause he had become synonymous with: Climate Change.
As the United States joined countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Russia in denying the dire IPCC 1.5 report and negotiations on the Paris Agreement Work Program slogged on, Al Gore reminded the world that this is a group effort. While the effects of climate change do not affect us all equally, they still affect us all.
High temperatures continue to set records around the world. They melt roads and damage infrastructure; high nighttime temperatures impact agricultural viability; and in Pakistan, the government has dug preemptive mass graves, anticipating the costs to human life. Most concerning, however, are the effects of rising temperatures on global air currents.
When the jet stream is strong, it forms a boundary between lower latitudes and arctic winds known as the Polar Vortex. When high temperatures near the equator push an excess of warm air northward, the jet stream weakens and this boundary dissolves. This occurred at the end of 2017.
The weakened jet stream allowed the Polar Vortex to split in two, sending excessively cold systems into North America, Northern Asia, and Europe. Temperatures plummeted to below -10C, infrastructure collapsed under the weight of snow, and, in Brussels, homeless people who refused shelter were detained for their own safety. All major climate zones, except Antarctica were warmer than their 30 year averages; including the Arctic.
The area between the, now two, polar vortexes, was occupied by vagrant jet stream currents. The warm air washed over the North Pole during what is typically its coldest season; the season when annual sea ice forms and multiyear sea ice is strengthened. Instead the Arctic lost 95% of its multiyear sea ice.
His voice lowered and his tone conspiratorial, Gore looked over the crowd: “This is part of a larger annual weather pattern. However, we do not have the luxury of being discouraged.” We, as world leaders on climate change, have a moral responsibility to reverse these trends, and save our planet and its people.
His words were a call to action, aimed at breaking the political deadlocks that plagued various aspects of the negotiated text. As we move into the last two days of negotiations, we’ll see if his words have galvanized the Parties, or if the same issues plague consensus.