Updated: Feb 22
Scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Earth Science Data, 2014). The agreements on greenhouse gas emissions established in 1997 by the Kyoto Protocol are due to expire in 2020. Moreover, the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol was limited due to obstacles. The Protocol did not come into force until 2004 when Russia passed the treaty, it did not include goals for several developing countries, and it was never ratified by the US Congress.
The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) was the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the eleventh meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 11). More than 190 countries were represented at COP 21 with the goal of reaching a new, lasting, global agreement on climate change. COP 21 formally began in Paris on November 31, 2015 and was due to conclude on December 11, 2015. The conference was extended into December 12 in an effort to reach a draft final agreement. There were approximately 20,000 accredited people in attendance and 45,000 participants in total, including delegates, observers, and journalists. Officially accredited attendees had access to the Conference while others participated in debates and attended exhibitions, talks, and screenings.
On Friday, December 4, 2015, Laurent Fabius, The President of COP21 and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasized the need to make progress. “Let me be clear: this is still not enough, “said Fabius. “The text remains too long and complex. Not enough compromises have been reached on unresolved issues.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping said the conference “is not a finish line, but a new starting point” and that any agreement must take into account the differences among nations, stating, “Countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest.”
President of the United States, Barack Obama, stated in early remarks, “Now, all of this will be hard. Getting 200 nations to agree on anything is hard” before going on to say, “And I’m sure there will be moments over the next two weeks where progress seems stymied, and everyone rushes to write that we are doomed. But I’m convinced that we’re going to get big things done here. Keep in mind, nobody expected that 180 countries would show up in Paris with serious climate targets in hand.”
The efforts of the world leaders in attendance were laudable and COP 21 may mark an important turning point, signaling more effective national solutions to a global problem. However, there are many simple, almost child-like questions that are worth asking: What if, after a week of meetings, a clear, concise legally-binding agreement was in place? What if global interests were consistently a priority? What if it wasn’t hard? What if it was easy?
At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, more than 150 world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also knowns as the Global Goals. The SDGs are 17 measurable goals that range from ending world poverty to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls by 2030. The goals are categorized as follows:
SDG1: No poverty
SDG 2: Zero hunger
SDG 3: Good health and well-being
SDG 4: Quality education
SDG 45: Gender equality
SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9: Industry, innovation, infrastructure
SDG 10: Reduce inequalities
SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12: Responsible consumption, production
SDG 13: Climate action
SDG 14: Life below water
SDG 15: Life on land
SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
SDG 17: Partnership for the goals
Details about individual SDGs can be accessed here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda.html
The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight measurable goals which were signed in September 2000. The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has provided support to governments working to achieve the MDGs and will continue to do so with the SDGs. In supporting efforts to achieve the goals, the UNDP works to balance what it identifies as the three pillars of sustainable growth: social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection.
All of the SDGs are inter-related and many of them link back to the goals COP 21. Goal 4, Quality Education, seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities. This goal focuses primarily on literacy, vocational training, and eliminating gender and wealth disparities. SDG 13, Climate Action, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. SDG 4 and 13 are clearly intertwined in that education may lead to development of the technology that averts our planetary crises, but educators and world leaders could seek to further intertwine these goals
What if a basic science education included an introduction to climate science? Or perhaps, more simply, astronomy? While this may seem idealistic and ambitious, great progress has already been made towards achieving the MDGs. The inclusion of one subject into basic education is a small step in comparison to many of these successes. The study of Venus could provide insight into runaway greenhouse effect. The study of Earth’s atmosphere from a purely scientific view could lead to a generation of critical thinkers who prioritize planetary concerns. Planetary concerns are also national concerns; without our planet, nations cease to matter.
At COP 21 this week, Fiji pledged to accommodate the people of the low-lying Pacific Island state of Kiribati if rising sea levels renders their home uninhabitable. Without significant changes, this is likely in the next few decades. Kiribati is not a closed ecological or environmental system. In time, the plight of the people of Kiribati becomes the situation for us all. Given this reality, adding a subject to a basic education with the goal of creating a generation of planetary thinkers seems like an easy thing to achieve. This video made for COP 21 by astronauts from around the planet provides an illustration of the mind-sight we could hope to create for the general populations of the future: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/message-de-la-station-spatiale-internationale-ne-laissez-pas-passer-cette-occasion/
Successes achieved in the past 15 years working toward the MDGs and work still to be done is discussed in more detail here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html
Earth System Science Data, 2014, Global Carbon Budget 2014, Abstract here: http://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/7/521/2014/essdd-7-521-2014.html
Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 12, Issue 7, 2009.
The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: http://www.nasa.gov
United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) website: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/
United Nations Development Programme Website: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html