The heat is on to strike a climate change deal in Paris

Surprise Glacier, Alaska. (Credit: Don Becker/U.S. Geological Survey)

This year is shaping up to be the hottest year ever and July just set the record for the hottest month ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The findings come at a time when pressure is increasing on wealthy nations, especially the U.S., to take steps to slow the pace of global warming. Pressure is on for the upcoming Paris climate summit to reach a comprehensive deal that will set the planet on the right course.

With fewer than 100 days to go before the Paris climate summit, Miguel Arias Cañete, the top climate official for the European Union, is concerned that incomplete commitments and goals will prevent a deal when negotiations already are “painfully slow.” Only 56 of the more than 190 countries participating submitted targets to reduce emissions – accounting for 61 percent of total emissions. Cañete specifically called on Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey need to submit their public targets to the United Nations.

“In the negotiating rooms, progress has been painfully slow. The technical talks are seriously lagging behind the political discussion and this must change,” he said during a news conference in Brussels, on Thursday. “The window of opportunity … is closing fast.”

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The European Union targeted a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2030. Just getting to a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 2 Celsius will take a doubling of current pledges, says the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change. China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies are major contributors to greenhouse gasses. But it is the EU and the U.S. that are responsible for the most historically and continue to do so today.

Credit: CGD

Credit: CGD

Low-income countries are critical of leading carbon-emitting countries for calling for reductions while not making significant changes themselves.

“If poorer nations pursue economic growth by the same means from which the rich and industrialized nations have benefited, then they will only add to the climate change problem,” Bekai Njie wrote in a recent op-ed for The Observer. “Indeed, the richer nations insist that all nations, including the poor ones, should act to limit climate change, but when the poorer nations ask the richer ones for help to do so, they don’t get the finance and technology they need in return. Now I ask, is this really fair?”

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One way the U.S. can contribute is by ending drilling for fossil fuel on federal land. Such a policy change would keep as much as 450 billion tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, according to a recent report from consulting group EcoShift. The fossil fuels stored under federal land alone could contribute to 25 percent of the target emission levels to limit climate change to 2 Celsius. The Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, who commissioned the research, say such a change will go a long way to improving the planet.

Getting to a global agreement on emissions will be difficult. The United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol when it set out a global plan for climate change. There is discomfort over whether the Paris agreement will be a legally binding pact. Time remains for new solutions. Cañete welcomed any suggestions from the U.S. on how to better keep countries accountable to their commitments without legal recourse.

“We’re playing different chess games at the same time, and with different strategies. But the objective is clear.” said Cañete. “We need a very ambitious agreement in Paris.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.