If humankind needs more evidence that the Paris climate agreement is essential to a sustainable future on earth, and that those goals should be seen as just a beginning, we need look no further than the disasters of 2017.
In just the U.S. alone, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still recovering from one of the worst Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, costing over US$200 billion in estimated damages already. Of course those regions have experienced hurricanes before, but the intensity and damages of the 2017 storms is unprecedented, fueled by the warming of the ocean.
In my home state of California, hundreds of thousands of residents witnessed wildfires race through their communities and turn homes, businesses, and lives to ashes. Fires are also naturally occurring, but the conditions that made these fires especially destructive can be traced to human causes. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, California’s average temperature rose about 1.1 degrees Celsius in recent decades.Those higher temperatures have stripped trees and brush of moisture, paving the way to more devastating wildfires.
The same thing is happening all over the world, as sixteen of the last seventeen years set new temperature records. In Africa, droughts have become more regular and long-lasting as moisture is baked out of the soil. In south Asia, natural monsoon rains became floods of epic proportions – – a third of Bangladesh was underwater at one point last year.
With 2017 as a stark reminder of what’s at stake, it’s easy to become discouraged, but the Paris Agreement highlights what can be done to prevent things from getting even worse. Spurred on by Paris commitments, clean renewable energy is spreading to every corner of the planet. Australians installed over three million solar panels last year. My foundation helped Fiji develop a solar program for its rural villages. In Scotland, enough wind energy was generated one day to power almost twice the entire country’s electricity demand.
Transportation is changing too. The fuel economy standards put in place in America by President Obama have already saved drivers more than $57 billion at the gas pump and, if fully implemented, will cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduce greenhouse gas pollution equal to closing 140 coal-fired power plants. Even more exciting, the UK, France and China have announced plans to ban the sale of new petroleum-powered cars by 2040.
It’s also a good sign that more people understand the risks of inaction. A poll released in March 2018 found that 62% of Americans accept the fact that the effects of global warming have already begun.
Maybe that’s why millions of people marched last year all over the globe demanding climate action. I was especially inspired by the number of indigenous leaders I met, who joined the march in Washington DC, many of whom testified persuasively about seeing the impacts of a rapidly changing climate on their homelands. And no one could miss noticing how many young people marched too, which is essential if we hope to have future leaders in government and business that understand the urgency of the crisis we’re facing.
But let’s not assume that wake-up call disasters, rapidly advancing technology, and passionate activism will add up to a complete solution. Our nations need to use the Paris Agreement only as a down payment. We need to embrace nothing less than a switch to 100% clean renewable energy and sustainable regenerative farming methods by mid-century if we hope to achieve our climate goals and sustain life for the expected human population of around ten billion by then. We will need to preserve at least half the planet for nature by then too, not just to protect wildlife and habitats, but for the ecosystem services that only Nature can provide to those human communities.
The Paris Agreement was not just a success of governments. Businesses, NGOs, cities, youth and indigenous leaders all played their part and it would not have happened without them. If we are to succeed in the future in making progress on climate change and other crucial issues, we need to remember that this is responsibility of all of us, and we all have a part to play”.
Christiana Figueres speaks about “a transformation that is now unstoppable, irreversible and more than anything else, it is exponential.” The one ingredient we must now add to her prediction, if we hope to avoid the worst consequences of a warming planet and bequeath a healthy planet to our children, is a sense of urgency that speeds up this transformation before it’s too late.
Press link for more: Profiles of Paris