It is Thanksgiving holiday in the US. The Europeans do not celebrate Thanksgiving and the European Parliament has held an election. It has chosen former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen as the new President of the European Commission. Hailing from a political family of conservatives — her father narrowly lost a party leadership election to Franz Josef Strauss — she is the first woman to hold the EU’s top executive job.
Conservative or not, there is unanimity in the EU about climate change, and how the EU has to lead the transition to a healthier planet by planning the necessary upgrading of its social market economy.
If the Europeans are increasingly aware of the environmental challenges ahead, the UN Environment Programme has just issued its flagship Emissions Gap Report. As one might surmise, the ‘gap’ refers to the difference between what the world is doing to tackle climate change and what it needs to do to limit temperature increase to 1.5C. Our present ambitions of structural change from a fossil fuel economy is forecast in the report to lead to a catastrophic 3.2C rise.
Present California fires and coastal flooding of the eastern seaboard from the Carolinas down to Florida are just the top of the iceberg as are the European floods in Spain, Italy and France — and the temperature rise so far is a single degree Celsius.
The window to act is closing rapidly. As the UN report clarifies in stark terms, emissions will have to peak by 2020 to limit global warming to 1.5C without affecting economic growth. It turns out that of the 43 developed and emerging economies, all with the sole exception of Turkey will have peaked their emissions by 2020. By 2030, 57 countries will have peaked. That is the good news.
By far the greatest emitters are China, the US, and then India and the EU. Together they account for 56 percent of greenhouse gasses emitted over the last decade. These therefore bear a heavy responsibility.
The bad news is that while these and other emitters have pledged to follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement — except for the US because Trump withdrew from it — it is not enough. According to the UN report, their efforts will still result in a 3.2C rise by century’s end to devastating effect.
It is logical then that efforts have to be intensified, and countries need to be more ambitious in their goals. A focus on innovation and domestic policies to encourage non-fossil fuel power generation would be clearly to their advantage. For example, energy produced from solar panels has soared from 50 Gigawatts in 2010 to 400 GW in 2015 with an expectation of 450+ GW by 2020.
The strong message of the report is for all sectors and their principals — national, state and local governments, mayors, corporations, their executives, civil society and civic leaders — to come together and act in concert if they are to avert a problem affecting our common home before it is too late. It is one way of giving thanks for what we have. The last five years have already been the warmest on record, the future can be expected to be worse if we do not act.
Dr Arshad M Khan (http://ofthisandthat.org/index.html) is a former Professor based in the U.S. whose comments over several decades have appeared in a wide-ranging array of print and internet media. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.