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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Moving the Paris Climate Deal Ahead

Air Date: Week of

Patricia Espinosa is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (Photo: UNClimateChange, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

2,000 delegates representing 185 countries gather in Bonn, Germany to refine rules and procedures for the Paris Climate Agreement, with an emphasis on boosting carbon reduction ambitions before the 2020 deadline. Living on Earth's Aynsley O'Neill has more.


CURWOOD: In advance of the New York Climate summit in September and the annual UN Climate Conference later this year, more 2,000 delegates representing 185 nations are now gathered in Bonn, Germany. This session was designed to advance rule-making under the Paris Climate Agreement. Paris is part of the overall international treaty on climate known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC, a treaty the United States ratified during Clinton Administration. As Ambassador de Alba says, so far the reductions pledged by the nations of the world are too little to avoid what could become catastrophic climate disruptions, so the negotiators in Bonn are working to increase ambition. Living on Earth’s Aynsley O’Neill has more.

O’NEILL: To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world must cut its carbon emissions dramatically. And many scientists and policymakers say we need to be a net-carbon-zero society by 2050. But it’s not just the future we need to think about.

Delegates heard there are huge public health and welfare benefits that can come from immediate cuts of emissions. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Climate treaty, offered an example from her home country of Mexico.

ESPINOSA: Reducing emissions sounds like a very technical concept. What does it really mean? It means, for instance, less air pollution, which leads to improved health, especially for children. I come from a country that has air pollution problems, and just last year, the schools needed to take the decision that children could not go out to play at any time during the day. They needed to stay inside because the air was so polluted. And there were a few days that schools didn’t even open. This is what reducing emissions means. It means also cleaner water. It also means more new, green jobs. And it means the possibility of achieving our 1.5-degree goal.
O’NEILL: The call for action is most urgent from the delegates whose countries are already feeling the direct effects of worsening natural disasters and rising seas. The cover for the June 24 issue of TIME magazine shows UN Secretary-General António Guterres knee-deep in the ocean off the coast of Tuvalu, a small Pacific Island country whose highest point is only about 15 feet above sea level.

The story itself focuses on the leaders of the most vulnerable island countries – Tuvalu, Fiji, the Bahamas – who are on the front lines of sea level rise. The developing nations have joined together to encourage the richest nations to increase their ambition under the Paris Agreement, since the fate of these poor, vulnerable countries is largely in the hands of the major carbon emitters in the world. Among those urging the delegates to act is Harjeet Singh, a representative of the nonprofit ActionAid. He’s from India, which has been plagued by crippling floods, and has just seen a deadly, month-long heat wave reaching temperatures of 123 degrees Fahrenheit. He says this isn’t just the recurring nightmare for some of those most at risk; this is their reality.
SINGH: The realities of the developed and developing worlds are very, very different. While developed countries are working towards climate-proofing their economy, or even exploring new sectors that climate change opens for them, but for developing countries and poor people, it's a fight for their survival. And that’s why we are here. That’s the reality that we are facing, and it’s just one degree of warming.
O’NEILL: Because the warming world is already disastrous for so many, it can seem like a losing battle against climate change. But there were some optimists in Bonn.

A session on emerging technology attracted a lot of attention, though some delegates are skeptical of waiting for technology to save the planet. And they say all the scientific solutions in the world won’t mean much if there isn’t the public and government support to implement them.

Still, some at the Bonn conference note there are emerging technologies that could be key components of an environmentally friendly future. For example, take the artificial intelligence behind self-driving cars, or smart grid systems, and apply it to agriculture. Real-time, smart monitoring of the carbon in soil could revolutionize farming to advance carbon sequestration, as well as provide food security. Martin Frick, the Senior Director of Policy and Programme Coordination at UNFCCC, shared a message of the hope that advancements could bring.

FRICK: That's actually reason for optimism, and I think optimism is exactly with what we need in this situation. We are bombarded with bad news, but we must not forget that on the other side, we have unprecedented possibilities, and we need to harness them.

O’NEILL: It’s unclear how far this session in Bonn will advance the specifics of the Paris Agreement, but the optimists among the delegates say that each step, no matter how small, can bring us closer to a solution.

For Living on Earth, I’m Aynsley O’Neill.



See more from the June 2019 Bonn Climate Change Conference here


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