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Trending Science: COP21 – lukewarm reactions among scientists

Some 195 nations agreed on a climate deal at COP21. Together they will attempt to limit the global temperature rise to a level ‘well below’ 2°C, albeit on a voluntary basis rather than under the pressure of binding targets. Scientists seem to have mixed feelings about the outcome, with some calling it a ‘fraud’ while others say it’s a ‘good start’.
Trending Science: COP21 – lukewarm reactions among scientists
Two weeks of intense negotiations couldn’t completely break the political and economic barriers that have been hampering climate talks for over 15 years. A deal has been reached, but its actual meaning is subject to interpretation.

On one hand, getting 195 countries to agree on the principle of slowing down global warming certainly is a great success. It wasn’t until the very end of the conference that opinions finally converged, and previous attempts had shown that the possibility of attendees going home empty-handed was not to be ruled out.

Then again it is difficult not to question the value of a deal with no binding targets, especially when such targets were presented as the sine qua non condition to tackling climate change before COP21 talks kicked off.

As Professor James Hansen, former NASA scientist often considered as ‘the father of climate change’, said after the deal was confirmed: ‘There’s no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will continue to be burned.’ Hansen’s main suggestion, which consisted of a USD 15 (EUR 13.7) fee for every ton of carbon emitted, went unheeded.

Other scientists, like Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for climate change research, Manchester, went as far as saying that ‘For the global poor, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, the current text is somewhere between dangerous and deadly.’

But this vision is not shared by all of their peers. Jean-Pierre Gattuso, Research professor at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and the University of Paris, said the inclusion of the 1.5 degrees Celsius target in the agreement was a surprising victory for the planet. Corine Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, even added that the three elements required to tackle climate change were in the agreement ‘in some form’: keep warming well below two degrees, practically move away from fossil fuels, and review each country’s contribution every 5 years so they scale up to the challenge.

But even the most optimistic scientists tend to warn that the COP21 deal can only be seen as the first step on a path still full of obstacles. ‘To limit warming below 1.5°C, there is no scenario available that says that we can delay action to 2020 and beyond,’ said Joeri Rogelj of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who authored one of the few scientific studies to analyze a 1.5 C scenario. ‘We need a global peak of emissions by 2020 to limit warming to 1.5°C. Overshooting would rely on possibility to extract carbon from the atmosphere on a massive scale. Urgent action is needed to hedge against risks.’

Whether such action can be more effectively triggered by peer pressure instead of binding targets, as suggested by decision makers attending the conference, still remains to be seen.

Source: Based on media reports

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