Our Common Future Under Climate Change: The Challenge and Opportunity

Living in a post-carbon world -

The largest international scientific meeting on climate change concluded this week in Paris, reinforcing the idea that 2015 is a crossroads for action on global warming. The international conference Our Common Future Under Climate Change (CFCC15) included 2000 scientists from nearly 100 countries discussing a large breadth of interests and disciplines. A total of 165 session over the four-day conference considered the physical, economic and social aspect of limiting and managing climate change.

Our Common Future Under Climate Change

“We are moving to a post-carbon era, where climate change mitigation and adaptation are combined with other goals to build a sustainable future,” saidChris Field, Chairman of the CFCC15 Scientific Committee and director of the US Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology.

The intent of CFCC15 is to "explore current understanding of all dimensions of the climate change challenge plus the full range of mitigation and adaptation options that can lead to sustainable, equitable solutions across all nations and regions."

Charting a path of ambition and possibility for COP21 and beyond

The conference hopes to inspire ambition for a climate treaty later this year at the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris, but also looks beyond Paris for sustainable and equitable policy solutions to established scientific understanding.

"We should not see this conference as the scientific input for the [UNFCCC] negotiations," Prof Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, said in a statement to Carbon Brief. "The science is quite clear now. For that, there is no need for such a conference. The purpose of the conference was to generate new ideas after the Paris COP. We should not just focus on the Paris COP. There is a day after Paris, too. Climate policy is not a sprint, it's a marathon."

In an Outcome Statement prepared by advisory committees from CFCC15, key aspects of the problem and solution for climate change are outlined.

From that statement:

The Solution Space

  1. Ambitious mitigation to limit warming to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels is economically feasible. Delaying deep emissions cuts, waiting on the sidelines by some countries, or excluding particular clean-energy technologies all increase costs and complexity. Cost-effective mitigation pathways to limit warming to 2°C require reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by 40–70% below current levels by 2050.
  2. Mitigation over the next few decades will be pivotal in determining the amount of long- term warming and associated risks. But even with ambitious mitigation, much of the climate change over the next few decades is unavoidable as a result of both climate processes and the natural lifecycle of existing technology and infrastructure. Adaptation in the near term and long term can help address risks of impacts that cannot be avoided, but there are limits to adaptation.
  3. Investments in climate-change adaptation and mitigation can provide a wide range of co- benefits that enhance protection from current climate variability, decrease damages from air and water pollution, and advance sustainable development. Smart responses to climate change, designed to maximize co-benefits and minimize adverse side-effects, can be part of an integrated strategy of inclusive and sustainable development.
  4. Ambitious mitigation will require a range of actions, including investing in research, development, and technology transfer; phasing out subsidies on fossil energy; and pricing carbon. Pricing carbon helps level the playing field among energy technologies by charging for the damage caused by climate change and rewarding other benefits of mitigation activities.
  1. Over the rest of the century, global investments in energy and energy infrastructure will total many trillions of dollars. The additional investment required to transition to clean energy can be a small fraction of this amount. With effective implementation, this additional cost can be an important contributor to inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
  2. Emissions of heat-trapping gases are simpler to reduce in some sectors than in others. Decreased deforestation, energy efficiency, electricity generation, buildings, and cars are at the simpler end of the spectrum. Aviation, heavy trucks, ocean ships, and agriculture are more complicated. Technologies with huge potential include demand management, energy efficiency, solar, wind, bioenergy, and nuclear, with the possibility of breakthroughs. Improved stewardship of the Earth presents large opportunities not only for climate but also for biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The Problem Space

  1. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Human activities are to blame for much of the warming to date.
  2. Impacts of climate changes that have already occurred are widespread and consequential. Impacts have affected every continent, from the equator to the poles and the mountains to the coasts. Climate changes have contributed to many kinds of extremes, including heat waves, heavy rain, wildfires, droughts, and decreased snow and ice. They have made it more difficult to increase crop yields and have shifted the locations and activities of plants and animals on the land, in lakes and rivers, and in the oceans.
  3. People and places around the world are vulnerable and exposed to climate change, with different risks in different places. Vulnerability is especially daunting where poverty, inequalities, lack of infrastructure, and ineffective governance combine to constrain options.
  4. Continued high emissions of heat-trapping gases increase the risk of impacts that are severe, pervasive, and irreversible. Risks for people, economies, and ecosystems are all much greater in a world of continued high emissions, with warming by the end of the century potentially reaching 4°C or more above preindustrial levels, than in a world of ambitious mitigation. Risks of greatest concern include impacts on food and water security, human health and well-being, biodiversity and ecosystem services, inequalities and poverty, unique cultures, economic activities and infrastructure, and crossing of large-scale thresholds for sea level, biodiversity, and climate feedbacks.

Our common future, our common challenge

At the conclusion of the conference French Ambassador for UN Climate negotiations, Laurence Tubiana, expressed how the conference reinforces not only the need, but the feasibility of transitioning to a post-carbon economy:

“I am amazed at the variety of scientific and interdisciplinary work I have seen in the past 4 days," she said in a press release. "Scientists are working, with many partners, to develop long-term pathways at the scale of cities, economic sectors like agriculture and national economies, with strong focus on making solutions operational. We need the COP21 to be the political answer to that work, and show that the transition to a decarbonized and climate-resilient economy is not just necessary; but also that it is feasible (politically, economically and technologically); and even beyond that, that it is inevitable, and underway. "

Image credit: Our Common Future Under Climate Change, courtesy flickr

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