Climate change agreement - US and China must work on emissions

THE problem about agreeing on paper to save the planet is the difficulty of actually getting down to the business of doing it in reality.

That said, there can be no doubt people around the globe who care about the environment will applaud the move by America and China to ratify the Paris Climate change agreement aimed at saving Earth. With scientists at the coalface of this looming crisis warning that the world is now in grave danger of drowning in its own pollution, it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of that move on the eve of the G20 summit now taking place in China in the city of Hangzhou, where world leaders have gathered to discuss ways of reinvigorating the global economy.

Between them, China and North America are responsible for emitting nearly 40 % of the greenhouse gases now steadily choking the world as we know it.

Without them, the agreement ratified in Paris by 180 countries, including Ireland, would not be worth the paper it is written on. So, by any yardstick, the signing of the bottom line by two of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases has to be seen as a major advance towards achieving the life and death target of saving mother earth from the human race which has all the signs of being hell-bent on destroying itself.

According US President Barack Obama, history will judge the ratification as “pivotal”. Coming towards the end of his presidency, it marks a significant achievement, though it could be unraveled if Donald Trump were to beat Hilary Clinton in the race to the White House.

What is really important about these industrial giants — the world’s major offenders when it comes to carbon pollution — agreeing to draw a line in the sand, is the fact they have formally submitted to the UN their joint plans for drastically cutting the output of greenhouse gases. In both China and America, pollution is mainly caused by the burning of coal for the generation of power to turn the wheels of industry. A chicken-and-egg scenario.

Even though China is responsible for just over 20% of global emissions and the US causes another 18% (by comparison Russia accounts for 7.5%, while India’s output is just over 4% and accelerating) it would be folly to think the greenhouse gas crisis facing the planet will be resolved overnight.

Significantly, however, once countries have ratified the Paris agreement, they must follow the carbon reduction rules for three years before beginning the process of withdrawing from it. For Ireland, a country with a notorious record of seeking abrogation from rules, that should mean it will be tied to the terms of the agreement for three years from the ratification date last December. Watch this space.

Effectively, the landmark deal to slash the emission of greenhouse gases and keep the rise in global temperature “well below” 2C is a target already at risk of being breached, with 2016 ominously predicted to be the hottest year since records began, melting glaciers and increasing the threat of rising seas to low-lying islands and cities.

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