Paris, A Push to Save the Planet, an article by Dr. Leonel Fernández

December 8, 2015

Despite the multiple terrorist attacks that have recently shaken Paris, the global capital of art and culture, more than 40,000 people have gathered since Monday, November 30, for one of the most important diplomatic summits in history.

In the words of host president François Hollande, the reason for this massive gathering is the urgent need to reach agreements to guarantee the future of the planet and the very survival of the human race. The primary aim
of this historic summit is reach a consensus among the 195 signatory states to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Achieving this goal could produce a slowdown in global warming and curb the temperature increase to less than 2° Celsius or 3.6° Fahrenheit.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are found throughout the atmosphere and prevent heat from escaping, holding
the average global temperature at around 15° Celsius. Without them, the Earth’s surface temperature could drop to -18° Celsius.

Nevertheless, since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century and the consequent intensive human use of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gases for production processes, atmospheric greenhouse gas levels have risen steadily, thereby prompting a systematic increase in the Earth’s temperature.

continuous increase in the planet’s temperature is known as global warming, which in turn produces climate change, the principal threat to all forms of life on Earth.

The Framework Convention
The Paris summit, known as the 21st Annual Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, aims to reach a binding universal agreement among all nations of the world to limit temperature
increases worldwide.

If achieved, it will be the first time in nearly 20 years of UN negotiations that an agreement of this nature has been reached.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in New York in 1992 and went into effect two years later, in 1994.

In turn, the Conference of the Parties, currently convened in Paris, is the highest organization of the Framework Convention, an association of all
countries that have signed on to the Convention. It is its highest authority, with decision-making powers.

In that capacity, the Conference promotes international efforts to resolve problems related to climate change; evaluates the application of the Convention and commitments of the Parties; follows new scientific discoveries; examines the presented emissions inventories; and reviews the results of applications of public policies related to climate change.

In addition, the Framework Convention seeks to stabilize the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases, as well as to adapt to new climate conditions in cases in which aspects of climate change have proven irreversible.

In 1997, three years after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change entered into effect, the Kyoto Protocol was added to the treaty, incorporating stricter measures to control greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2006 the
Kyoto Protocol was amended in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. In addition, a new protocol had been slated for adoption in Copenhagen in 2009.

This, however, turned out to not be possible. The main global powers, especially the United States and China, could not come to an agreement on the scope of the new protocol and its forms of financing.

An enormous pessimism spread around the world, with many viewing the levels of political will as insufficient to
obtain the commitment of all nations in confronting climate change.

This state of pessimism worsened after the 2010 Conference in Cancun, Mexico, which also stalled in subscribing the Framework Convention Member States to a binding agreement to confront the greatest threat facing humanity.

Obviously, the efforts and initiatives to raise awareness and apply policies to protect the environment had begun long before the approval of the UN Framework
Convention in 1992.

Twenty years prior, in 1972, the city of Stockholm hosted the first conference under the auspices of the United Nations, in which the signee states affirmed the need to care for and protect the environment. At that time it was called the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment.

Similar high-level events were repeated in 1982, with the adoption of the Convention on the Law of the Sea; in 1992, with the famous Rio de Janeiro
Earth Summit; in 2002, with the Earth Summit in Johannesburg; and, most recently, the Rio+20 Summit in 2012.

Paris: The hope of the planet
After more than 40 years of projects and initiatives to halt global warming, the COP21 currently happening in Paris offers a breath of hope for saving the planet from the calamity entailed in a temperature increase of more than 2º Celsius.

Achieving this goal will require a drastic
decrease in the use of fossil fuels for human activities such as electricity generation, transportation, industry, home power consumption, and agricultural production.

But this reduction in the use of fossil fuels will require greater use of so-called renewables like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, as well as the incorporation of new forms of energy generation produced by scientific and technological advances. This would involve a paradigm shift in terms of systems
of production and sustainable development, for example—a shift that until now has encountered enormous resistance due to intransigent economic interests.

Nevertheless, the clear evidence of the impact of climate change has sparked greater awareness and, in turn, a greater sense of responsibility among the different nations of the world over what a worsening of the current situation would mean. For the Paris summit, the top two global emitters of carbon dioxide—the United
States and China—have committed to measures that should significantly reduce their emissions.

In the case of the United States, president Barack Obama has committed his country to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 and 28 percent compared to their 2005 levels by 2025. China, for its part, has promised a reduction in gas emissions by unit with respect to GDP by 60 to 65 percent compared to their 2005 levels. Likewise, it will increase its proportion of
alternative energy use to some 20% of total energy consumption by 2030. Other developed countries, like Japan and European Union member states, have also promised reductions.

All together, the commitments made at the Paris summit are the most significant to ever be reached in the history of the struggle to preserve the environment. But they are still not enough.

At the current rate, if these commitments remain unfulfilled, the planet’s
temperature could increase by more than 6º Celsius by the year 2100.

Should that happen, a planetary catastrophe will occur. Life as we know it will cease to exist. We would suffer from prolonged droughts, lack of potable water, vast desertification, meteorological turbulence, scarcity of food production, and the disappearance of animal and vegetable species.

The commitments made at the Paris summit could reduce the potential temperature increase to
2.6º Celsius.

This offers the hope that—based on the fulfillment of the set commitments, future negotiations, and our intelligence and scientific capacity—there is still time for humanity to save the home we all share: planet Earth.

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