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4 Signs Political Momentum Is Growing for Paris Climate Talks
Last week more than 60 ministers from different countries (including the U.S., Canada, Australia, EU, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Russia) convened in Paris, at the last global diplomatic meeting before the most important climate conference of our time: COP21.
Under the auspices of the French Foreign Minister and COP21 President, Mr. Laurent Fabius, its objectives were to talk about possible solutions, give political momentum and kickstart negotiations prior to the United Nations conference starting Nov. 30.
Last week more than 60 ministers from different countries convened in Paris, at the last global diplomatic meeting before the most important climate conference of our time: COP21. Photo credit: Michael Mathres
The mood was surprisingly hopeful, encouraging and positive and four key conclusions emanated from the three-day discussions:
- Universal and non-reversible agreement — An ambitious Paris Accord on limiting greenhouse gases is possible, with a large consensus of the countries present agreeing on establishing a review period every 5 years. This is a very important point, as the world will be able to gauge countries’ progress in limiting their carbon emissions. Countries also agreed that all their commitments were non-reversible. This means that all the current contributions submitted by the countries (so called INDCs) are their minimum commitments and that any new contributions will become better.
- Equitable treatment — a unique system will be implemented making sure that all countries are treated in a balanced and fair way. This will be a very contentious point during the conference between developed and developing countries.
- Climate Financing — positive signals were sent by all countries about contributing to the $100bn/yr Green Climate Fund to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. It was also pointed out that developing countries would also contribute to this target, indicating that this huge financial commitment does not only rest on developed countries.
- Bottom-up Actions—a pre-2020 review of all the actions taken by civil society (all non-state actors) in 2017 and 2018, to make sure that the current commitments made by all organizations (there are currently more than 6,000) are ambitious and complement the countries’ objectives.
In addition to these four broad agreements, three countries released their contributions to the Paris global deal: Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Egypt. This means that, in total, 160 countries have submitted plans for Paris, representing more than 90 percent of global greenhouse gases. This is very encouraging as we are nearing 100 percent coverage of GHGs worldwide.
Pre-COP21 meeting in session. Photo credit: Michael Mathres
All in all, these conclusions indicate that countries are prepared and willing to sign a global agreement on climate change, but as is usually the case in large international negotiations, the devil will be in the details of the final accord. Let’s hope we can keep this positive political momentum until and through COP21.
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?