Arko Datta / Reuters

Weighing the Climate Elephant

The First Step to a Sustainable Future

During the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris this November, there will be more in the conference rooms than white boards, translation technology, and steely-eyed negotiators. There will also be an elephant. Namely, the gap between the carbon-cutting pledges that countries are making and the cuts that scientists say are needed to keep the increase in the average global temperature below 1.5–2 degrees Celsius (2.7–3.6 degrees in Fahrenheit)—the threshold that likely separates the world from the worst effects of climate change.

Nearly everyone involved in the climate process expects such a gap to exist. What’s unknown is how big it will be. Assessments by non-government organizations show a difference of many gigatons; some analysts predict that the pledges will secure only about half of the reductions needed. And the gap is expected to grow over time.

If the negotiators are serious about putting humanity on a path to a safer future, they shouldn’t leave the table without weighing the elephant in the room and figuring out what to do with it.
Climate negotiators have signaled no intention of even measuring that gap, let alone closing it. As it stands now, the negotiators in Paris will be like friends who go out to dinner, and, when the bill comes, simply throw down a few dollars and walk away, knowing that they haven’t covered the tab. Everyone on earth will be left holding the bill from this planetary dine-and-dash.

Any climate agreement that fails to take the emissions gap into account will fall shamefully short of what the world needs to avoid catastrophe. If the negotiators are serious about putting humanity on a path to a safer future, they shouldn’t leave the table without weighing the elephant in the room and figuring out what to do with it.

MIND THE GAP

Why is addressing the emissions gap even up for debate? The answer comes down to one word: Copenhagen.

In the lead-up to the COP15 talks held in that city six

Read the full article on ForeignAffairs.com