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Part 3: What’s the Big Deal?


Reality checks at COP 25


One of the great mistakes I made going into the conference was conflating the urgency of the scientific reports (see, for example, recent IPCC documents on landoceans and cryosphere, the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C, and the United in Science report) coming out in the past year by top- level agencies with top-level government support and commitment.

Of course, I knew the history of fossil fuel influence and power imbalances at these negotiations, but it was another thing entirely to feel it in my body as I watched it playing out before me.

“Oh honey, I’ve been a lot more cynical than you about these institutions for a long, long time,” said my colleague as I sunk deeper into my chair.

The room was packed at a session highlighting the findings of the UN’s Environment Programme’s (UNEP) 2019 Emissions Gap Report, and I began cataloging a list of these strange disconnections.

As the report on 1.5 degrees of warming told us, there is a huge difference between 1.5 degrees warming, what the Paris Negotiations deemed their “ambitious target;” 2 degrees of warming, what’s required to maintain “life as we know it” in the past 10,000 years of the Holocene epoch; and 3.2 degrees of warming, were we are headed with current commitments.

“We are sending a strong and significant message: We must scale up our reduction ambitions.”

“2020 is our best chance to turn the tide.”

“The science is clear. The world is facing a climate emergency.” -Patricia Espinosa

“We are dangerously close to tipping points”

“We have taken our planetary systems for granted for far too long. Nature is sending us an invoice in the form of fires, floods, droughts, and declining harvests.”

It was a stark reminder that at 1.5 degrees warming, 70% of our coral reefs will likely be lost. At 2 degrees warming, an estimated 99% will be gone.

“Policy needs to ramp up, even to achieve the current NDCs.”

“We are at 4.9 tons of carbon per person each year, and it’s going up, not down.”

“55.3 gtCO2e emissions was a new global high in 2018, despite progress in renewables and green energy.”

“With only current policies, GHG emissions are estimated to be 60 GtCO2e in 2030. On a least-cost pathway towards the Paris Agreement goals in 2030, median estimates are 25 GtCO2e for 1.5°C warming.”

“Together we must provide for transformational change.”

“Because G20 nations account for 78% of emissions (including land use), they will largely determine global emission trends and the extent to which the 2030 emissions gap will be closed.”

“We cannot wait until the end of 2020 to act.” -Inger Anderson

But it’s not just countries’ emissions reduction plans that are out of step with the Paris goals. Another report, The Production Gap, tells us that governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C, and 120% more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.

“By 2030, emissions need to be 55% lower than they are now.”

“No new coal-fired power plants by 2020.”

Written and photos by Kimberly Byrd, PhD

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