On December 15th, negotiators in Poland were finally able to secure agreement on various measures that would have a major impact on the functionality of the Paris Climate Pact in 2020. While last-minute carbon market disputes delayed the process of verification, delegates now believe that the current rules set in place will allow countries bound to the Climate Pact to reduce their carbon footprint in the hopes of limiting global temperature spikes to below 2 C, thereby impeding the effects of sustained global warming on the Earth's atmosphere.
While the past 650,000 years have been rife with constantly changing cycles of glacial advance and retreat due to variations in Earth's orbit that alter the amount of sunlight our planet receives as solar energy, the current warming trend present in today's era is significant because most of it is likely attributable to the massive impact of rising human industrialization of the 1950s.
An unprecedented rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (a heat-trapping gas) to 400 parts per million has led to an average temperature increase of 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 C) since the late 19th century, which has resulted in some of the warmest years on record in recent memory (with 2016 being the warmest), as well as an increase in oceanic temperatures by 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Such an unparalleled heat wave in so short a period of time has caused a massive reduction in the ice sheets bordering Greenland as well as the Antarctic (with Greenland having lost an average of 281 billion tons of ice per year between 1993-2016, and the Antarctic having lost 119 billion tons during the same time frame). These glacial retreats have resulted in the destruction of key habitats for animals such as polar bears, which build maternity dens on sea ice.
In addition, the consistent acidification of the ocean through increased carbon dioxide emissions and rising temperatures poses a major threat to coral reef ecosystems, which could potentially suffer from thermal stress that contributes to an increased risk of infectious disease spread as well as coral bleaching, a process in which coral expel the algae that live in their tissues due to increased water temperature.
Since that algae provides approximately 90% of the coral's energy, coral bleaching can cause starvation and eventual destruction of the entire reef ecosystem, which severely impacts oceanic life. A clear example of the dangers of coral bleaching caused by rising temperatures is the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 which resulted in approximately 29-50% of the reef's coral being destroyed.
Despite the clearly mounting evidence pointing to the dangers of an increased carbon footprint on the Earth's atmospheric environment, the United States (alongside Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait) objected to the meeting welcoming a UN report to keeping the global temperature rise to an approximate 1.5 C limit.
In a world where the impacts of consistent climate change will be felt for generations, it is imperative for world powers to adopt measures that allow for a reduction in carbon emissions in order to reduce global temperature spikes and thereby ensure that future populations will be able to enjoy the wonders of the natural world. While the current Paris accords have transparency to allow for qualified measurement of carbon reduction over time, as well as measures in place to financially aid poorer nations in order to help them reduce their own emissions, more must be done to counteract the environmental harm caused by human activity in the past century.
Businesses and environmentally-conscious investors should begin to put stock into alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, in order to ease the transition to more environmentally-friendly means of production that allow national economies to continue prospering whilst reducing the damage done to our planet. While it may be a long-term goal that will take several lifetimes to achieve, it is essential that nations worldwide band together to combat the dire consequences of global warming.