Over the past couple of weeks, many environmentalists have maintained a cautious optimism that the COP21 climate change talks will result in an international agreement. And optimism, in our field, can be hard to come by. There remains concerns that no actual agreement will be reached, that any agreement will be difficult to enforce, and that nations will continue to voice their concern over climate change while falling short of implementing any policies to combat it. However, the large international turnout coupled with the participants’ sense of urgency to find solutions is reason enough to not discredit this summit just yet. And just yesterday, news from Paris gave those of us concerned about our planet’s future a little more faith in these talks.
Reports from COP21 claim that Canada is making a strong push to limit any average global temperature increases in the next century to 1.5° C or less. This is half a degree under the internationally agreed upon 2° C goal for the conference. The country also called for more international accountability for those nations who do not reach their targets, including the creation of a legally-binding agreement and a consistent process for following up with each nation. Canada’s thought process behind this bold goal is simple: if 2° C or less is good, 1.5° C will be better. And when we’re talking about the resiliency of our global economy, the sustainability of future generations, and the health of our entire planet, we should not settle for good.
This is certainly promising news, though it remains to be seen exactly what will come from these proposals and calls to action. I mentioned before that environmentalists are cautiously optimistic about the COP21 talks; an article by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in the Huffington Post explains why this caution is vital. The Executive Director of the Waitt Institute states that any binding and enforceable agreement that comes from the talks (what many would consider a positive outcome) will not mitigate the impacts we’re already seeing from climate change. While it’s certainly important that we focus on creating international regulations for future carbon emissions, there’s no reason we shouldn’t also address the damages marine habitats are currently facing. This is especially urgent when you consider that some of these habitats are closely tied to the well being of coastal cities and island states.
Take coral reefs, for example. They provide revenue to islands and coasts through ecotourism, they represent vital habitat for fish (which is a major source of protein all across the world), the protect coastal communities from storm damage, and they inspire children and adults alike to learn more about our ocean ecosystems. Ocean acidification, nutrient loading, and increased sea surface temperatures, all results of climate change, are destroying these coral habitats. Therefore, though we should remain hopeful that COP21 will unite our world leaders and inspire them to take collective action limiting carbon emissions, we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket.
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