Countries around the world have committed to targets to mitigate and slow the effects of the climate emergency. In recent years, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic instability, many of these targets have come into question as countries prioritise elsewhere.
But what are these climate targets, and what will the effects of failing to meet them be?
Paris Agreement – what are the goals?
The Paris Agreement is a treaty signed by 192 countries (and the European Union) that outlines every country’s commitment to reducing emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change on the planet. The main goal of the Paris Agreement is to unify the global aim of keeping temperature rise minimal (less than2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels). The nature of the agreement calls countries together regularly to strengthen their commitments, so the goals are reviewed and considered over time.
To reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, countries must mobilise and help one another to provide financial resources and technologies, particularly to support developing nations and countries more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
The main goals of the Paris Agreement are as follows :
- Long term temperature
- Limit the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius whilst also making effort to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius
- Climate neutrality
- Achieve “global peaking” of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible – i.e. reach net-zero emissions
- Each member country must communicate their own domestic measures every 5 years, providing clarity and transparency. This allows each member to maintain accountability for their climate goals
- Each country must conserve and enhance reservoirs, sinks and forests
- Financial Measures
- Each country must support developing nations to invest in green technology to support climate goals
What happens if we don’t reach them?
If by 2030 we do not reach the Paris Agreement’s targets, we are facing up to 2.7 degrees Celsius in global warming. This warming means far more erratic weather conditions and global temperature records being reached. We will see more extreme weather systems, with large flooding, forest fires and droughts, all of which can impact both communities and wildlife.
With these changes happening quickly, animals will need to adapt to face new and challenging environments . For example, animals may find their habitats are being destroyed, meaning they need to move to new terrain. Climate change may alter the reproduction rates of certain species, causing a knock-on effect in that particular food chain, and resulting in further loss of life.
Rising temperatures will affect the seas significantly. Coral reefs today have taken severe damage from their environments, but in future, if temperatures do continue to rise, many reefs will not be able to survive at all. This also has an impact on the local ecosystems living within and near the reefs; potentially leading to species extinction . What’s more, rising sea levels caused by the melting of ice caps lead to beach erosion and flooding ; and sea level rises wreak havoc on coastal habitats, for example marshlands.
With an increase in extreme weather systems, communities around the world will suffer. Bursts of heavy rain will cause flash flooding, whilst extreme heat can cause droughts. The UN now estimates that one in four children will be living in an area with extreme water shortages by 2040 ; greatly affecting not only access to drinking water, but also adversely affecting industry, agriculture and health. In the UK, the Met Office projects that by 2070, winters will be up to 30% wetter, causing more localised and coastline flooding ; damaging homes and businesses.
The climate emergency presents a variety of health challenges and risks; primarily due to air pollution. If the Paris targets are not met, the UN projects that one million lives a year will be lost due to reductions in air pollution . This is most notably from transport emissions, which produces around 20 per cent of global carbon emissions, as well as harmful particulates. This is not only a health issue, but an economic one – approximately $8 billion a day  is spent in health and economic costs as a result of air pollution.
The Paris Agreement sets out specific targets with a purpose – to ensure that the effects detailed in this article are at worst reduced, and at best halted entirely. However, without work from governments, businesses and individuals, the Paris climate targets will not be met and the climate emergency will accelerate.
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