Column: Paris just the first step toward a less carbon-dependent world

Delegates from 195 countries at the UN climate talks in Paris finally came to an agreement with a much celebrated climate-change pact.

After touch-and-go talks, delegates from 195 countries at the UN climate talks in Paris finally came to an agreement with a much celebrated climate-change pact.

The 31-page Paris Agreement essentially covers five key points.

The first is to limit the rise in global temperatures to under two degrees Celsius, ideally at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Scientists believe anything over two degrees will have catastrophic consequences and set in motion feedback loops that will be uncontrollable as they accelerate polar ice melts and sea level rise putting at risk low lying islands and millions in coastal areas.

Second, this is essentially the world’s first universal climate agreement.

Third, the deal expects developed nations to give $100 billion annually to developing nations by 2020 to help them combat or adapt to climate change and develop green energy resources and economies. At the Commonwealth Conference in November, Canada pledged $2.65 billion over the next five years to help developing nations. The funding will help finance clean energy and help poor nations adapt and deal with climate change as it affects food security, water scarcity, and drought.

Fourth, countries will be expected to prepare, maintain, and publish their greenhouse gas reduction targets. They are expected to be greater than their current targets and reflect the highest ambition possible. The real purpose here is that the numbers on paper have to translate into the reality of less carbon in the air.

Fifth, the deal sets a goal for a carbon-neutral world sometime between 2050 and 2100. That means the world has to limit carbon emissions to levels the natural world – the trees, the soil and the oceans – can absorb.

Meeting these will be tough. Limiting global temperature increases to under two degrees is going to take a monumental effort given the fact we are already half way there.

According to the World Meteorological Office, temperature data gathered worldwide from January to September showed that they average out to 1.02 degrees above the average temperature between 1850 and 1899. This year is the first one to tip across the one-degree mark. With the current El Nino influencing temperatures and promising to stick around into next year, 2016 is shaping up as another hotter than average year.

But in 2012 the Met Office at the Hadley Centre, U.K. released a report Emissions Pathways to Limit Climate Change stating that, according to the study’s framework, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels in this century is no longer feasible. Only by seriously extreme effort could global temperature rise be kept to 1.6 degrees.

The report stated that, for a 50 per cent chance of not exceeding the two degrees temperature rise by 2100, greenhouse gas emissions must start falling by 2016 – next year – and decline by 3.5 per cent per year thereafter.

Countries are stepping up the pace. Denmark gets 39.1 per cent of its electrical energy from wind production and expects to get 50 per cent of its power from renewables by 2020. The U.K. is generating enough wind power for 6.7 million households. Renewable energy provides Germany with 26 per cent of its power generation. Wind turbines are driving clean electrical power into 98 per cent of Scotland’s households.

Last January, Bloomberg Business reported that new funds for wind, solar, biofuels and other low carbon energy technology rose 16 per cent to $310 billion in 2014. Funding surged because of a 32 per cent expansion in China’s renewables commitments.

Canada’s Office of Energy Research and Development is funneling funds into 13 departments and agencies for research into oil and gas, clean electric power, clean energies for transportation, buildings, communities and industry, and sustainable bioenergy.

There’s nothing like getting ahead of the curve.

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