LAWRENCE — The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP21, currently is meeting in Paris until Dec. 11.
According to Shannon O’Lear, professor of geography, atmospheric science & environmental studies, and Ryan Chilcoat, student with the KU Environmental Studies Program, the goal is to produce a legally binding agreement among more than 190 countries to keep global temperatures from exceeding 2 Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
“COP21 is distinguished from previous conferences by taking a bottom-up approach, allowing countries to submit individual pledges,” said Chilcoat. “Before the Paris climate talks began, more than 150 countries offered national plans towards reducing greenhouse emissions or ramping up renewable energy use.”
O’Lear, who researches environmental geopolitics, critical geopolitics, linkages between climate science and “slow violence,” and academic and military perspectives on environmental security, said the talks suggest a strong degree of political will to address the increasingly dire situation of a changing climate.
“Topics of concern at the Paris climate talks will include threats to coastal areas — with a significant portion of major urban centers around the world in close proximity to an ocean — flows of people leaving their homes and home states when they become uninhabitable due to flooding, drought or degraded capacity to support human well-being, options for shifting away from fossil-fuel based energy and consumption patterns, possible security connotations of hydrometeorological disasters and threats to military, urban, energy, and food infrastructures and systems, and justice issues pertaining to the uneven distribution of risk caused by the degradation of our life support system,” she said.
According to the KU researcher, the Paris talks’ success can be measured by how effectively it addresses key issues.
“To what extent are new investments being promoted as opposed to established government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry?” O’Lear asked. “If nuclear energy is going to be promoted, how much support might be garnered for liquid fluoride thorium reactors, which are far less hazardous than uranium technology? To what degree are scientific solutions such as geoengineering — which is mostly understood through computer simulations — promoted as being more ‘certain’ than motivating necessary political and social changes? To what degree are methane emissions, which are 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, included in national plans and calculations for reducing the warming capacity of the atmosphere?”
O’Lear said COP21 provides some reasons for optimism — there is now a greater moral imperative, more public outcry, and more political will than ever before.
“However, the conference is not a solution,” she said. “With such a large and diverse group of interests and concerns, the Paris climate talks cannot realistically resolve the issue of climate change, but with attention and financial backing focused less on business-as-usual and more on innovative approaches to these challenges, it may yet be a sign of progress.”
To schedule an interview with O’Lear or Chilcoat, contact Brendan M. Lynch at 785-864-8855 or Brendan@ku.edu