How can countries cope?
Toward the end of 2015, leaders from around the world convened in Paris for the latest round of international climate talks. This marks the 21st annual Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. More than 40,000 people from over 150 countries attended the conference, representing governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and supranational institutions.
The Paris talks underscore the importance of addressing climate change before Earth’s ecosystems face irrevocable damage. Simply put, the use of carbon-based fuels that have been central to the economic development of the last couple hundred years creates a significant cost for the environment. Increasing dependence on fossil fuels has precipitated an unprecedented shift in a number of climate indicators. …
The World Resources Council recently reported that between 2000 and 2014, 21 countries, including the U.S., Germany, the U.K., Spain and Sweden, all managed to “decouple” GDP growth from CO2 emissions — i.e. GDP in these countries expanded over this 14-year period while CO2 emissions fell. This is certainly a favorable development. But the crucial question remains: how favorable is it relative to what is necessary to put the global economy on a successful path to climate stabilization?
As of the most recent worldwide data (2012), global CO2 emissions are at around 32 billion tons per year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides conservative benchmarks as to what is required to stabilize the average global temperature at no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial average. The IPCC presents these benchmarks in terms of ranges and probabilities, but a fair summary of their assessment is that global CO2 emissions need to fall by 40 percent within 20 years, to 20 billion tons per year, and by 80 percent as of 2050, to 7 billion tons.