United States Continues Commitment to United Nations Climate Change Goal

Earlier this month, the United States reaffirmed its support for the United Nations’ goals to halt climate change, particularly the goal of keeping rising temperatures around the world to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. The move came after the European Union and small island nations questioned the United States’ dedication to the worldwide goal, which would ensure that the average global temperatures do not experience more than a 2-degree increase.

The Huffington Post reported that, in a statement, United States climate envoy Todd Stern said, “The U.S. continues to support this goal. We have not changed our policy.”

Think Progress, a blog by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, reported on the issue and said, “The U.S. can’t easily reverse course on the 2C target any more than it could announce tomorrow that it was pulling out of the U.N. climate negotiations altogether.  Since the president put his own credibility on the line in forging the language of these agreements, he’d have to provide some explanation to other global leaders. It would, in short, be a diplomatic train-wreck for our chief climate negotiator to announce a reversal of the US position in a speech like this one.”

Environmental advocates joined the European Union and the small island states in encouraging UN member states to continue their commitments to the 2 degree Celsius target. The United States’ first approval of the 2C target was by President Obama in 2009, who endorsed the goal with leaders of other developed nations. Scientists expect average global temperatures to rise by 3 degrees Celsius if climate change continues at the current rate, and some experts believe that, right now, the 2-degree target is unattainable because not enough ambitious and aggressive action is being taken against climate change. Others still continue to deny that global warming is happening or that humans are causing the Earth’s temperatures to rise.

Some scientists and organizations, including NASA experts, believe that the target of 2 degrees Celsius will not be enough to adequately slow the effects of climate change, and instead favor a goal of limiting temperature changes to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This translates to limiting the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm); current CO2 levels are at 392 parts per million, while a century ago, the concentration was 275 parts per million. 

Despite efforts to reduce emissions and embrace green technology, carbon dioxide levels continue to rise and peaked in 2011, bringing warmer temperatures. The 2000-2010 decade set a record for the warmest decade since the mid-1800s, and July 2012 was the warmest month ever on record in the United States. Extreme temperatures – both warm and cold – as well as natural disasters such as droughts, torrential rains and floods, and fires have hit countries around the world in recent years. The impact of these natural disasters has devastated crops and local economies, including agriculture in the United States, where 88 percent of the nation’s corn is affected by drought. All of these devastating events have occurred with only a small increase in global temperatures; the effects of climate change will become much worse if temperatures are allowed to rise above 2 degrees Celsius.

Because carbon dioxide enables the atmosphere to retain heat, some CO2 is necessary to maintain a livable climate, but too much leads to global warming and the problems associated with it, including ocean acidification, increased particle pollution and respiratory illnesses, drought and other natural disasters, glacial melting, and the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever due to mosquitoes that breed faster in warmer temperatures. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/mpd01605/2462760192 

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