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Gathering to save the Earth: Is it too late to stop humans from destroying the planet?




Chikezie OMEJE writes from San Francisco, USA.

THE Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, United States, begins today, one of the global events to galvanise action towards saving the Earth. More than 4000 delegates from around the world are participating in the three-day summit to “Take Ambition to the Next Level” by decarbonising the global economy. 

The San Francisco summit is significant in a historic sense. The United Nations Charter was drafted and signed in this city 73 years ago after humans fought two avoidable World Wars. Here again, three years into the Paris climate agreement, leaders and people are coming together from around the world to accelerate action to prevent dangerous climate change.

But it appears a golden opportunity to take drastic action on climate change was missed three decades ago. This was re-echoed by Nathaniel Rich, a journalist, who reported how the United States almost succeeded but failed in reaching a consensus on climate change between 1979 and 1989. At an event on Tuesday in San Francisco, Rich and Geoge Steinmetz, a photographer discussed the issues around “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change,” a 30,000-word article that revealed how almost everything that is known about climate change now was already known in the past three decades.

“There is time to avoid the worst if only we take action now,” Rich reiterated. But the question that still needs an answer is that if the United States and the world had failed in the past when it was probably easier to make headway, what is the guarantee now that the world will succeed even when the United States President, Donald Trump, had announced the country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement?

“What we still lack – even after the Paris Agreement – is the leadership and the ambition to do what is needed,” said António Guterres, UN Scretary General on his speech on Monday, ahead of the San Francisco summit.

Scientists already warned that implementing the Paris Agreement is the least that can be done to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Countries had promised in Paris in 2015 to limit warming to below two degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels and also work to keep the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees.  But the unenforceable and nonbinding nature of the agreement means the countries are not keeping to their promises. Rather, there is now an increase in greenhouse emissions.

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Citing a UN study, Guterres said the commitments made so far by countries in the Paris Agreement represent just one-third of what is needed. “The mountain in front of us is very high,” he said. “But it is not insurmountable. We know how to scale it. Put simply, we need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action.”

The harsh changes in the environment are being felt everywhere as the Earth is getting warmer. Heat waves and wildfires are becoming more intense. There are more floods as well as desertification. These noticeable changes in the environment are caused by the activities of mankind – the more humans generate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the more the Earth loses its capacity to sustain life. The solution to this slow pace to destruction sounds simple – stop the emissions – but it is very complex because much of the global economy is built on carbon.

Evidence, however, shows that investing in green energy is competitive to existing energy sources.   Last week, a report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate Change revealed that taking climate action seriously by countries could deliver $26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030.

“One thing should be clear to us all and especially to those who will gather next week at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco: we are all significantly underestimating the economic opportunity that can be gained from cleaner, climate-smart growth. A new analysis is finding that bold climate action could yield a direct economic gain of $US26 trillion through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual. And we know that these numbers are likely to be conservative,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Co-Chair of the Commission.

As the Global Climate Action Summit opens today in San Francisco, The ICIR is on the ground to report major highlights of how sub-national governments, cities, businesses and investors are taking action on climate change.

Author profile

Chikezie can be reached at comeje@icirnigeria.org. Follow him on Twitter: @KezieOmeje

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