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What’s New in Climate Change and COP21?

Obama Speech @ COP21 in Paris

obama COP21

Dec 12, 2015: 195 nation members at COP21 signed a draft agreement that mandates a target of 2ºC (3.2ºF) maximum increase in the Global Average Temperature (GAT), as compared to the pre-industrial era (e.g. before mid-1800’s).   The parties further agreed to shoot for a 1.5ºC cap, as innovation, economics and politics allow. To put this in some perspective:

  • Before 1880, the GAT was 13.7ºC (56.7ºF) and the average atmosphere CO2 concentration was 260 to 270 ppm CO2. (Global temperature records start around 1880 because observations did not sufficiently cover enough of the planet prior to that time).
  • As of 2015, the GAT is 14.6ºC (58.3ºF) and the CO2 levels are just over 400 ppm. This means we are now 0.9ºC (1.4ºF) higher than in 1880.
  • Two-thirds of the temperature rise has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.
  • With a COP21 target of 2ºC, this will yield a GAT of 15.7ºC (60.3ºF) and CO2 at 450 to 550 ppm, with projections of this occurring between the years 2050 and 2100.
  • With no change in current practices, the GAT is estimated to increase 3 to 8ºC (5 to 14ºF) over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. As the amount of temperature rises, the impact on climate dramatically rises.
  • Some analyses indicate if the temperature rises above about 2ºC, this may be a point after which we cannot put the genie back in the bottle – that we will no longer be able to control the rise in CO2 and GAT.

COP21 is the 21st session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a series of international meetings on Climate Change for the Committee of the Parties (COP), starting back in 1995, with formal ideas and agreements starting with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Since the Kyoto meetings, there have been a series of well-intentioned agreements and reports from various COP/ UNFCCC meetings that have failed to define an effective global plan to address climate change. COP21 may be the conference that turns the tide and finally establish a set of global processes with a real plan for success.

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