Baby Steps: Fighting Global Warming is Hard – Now With More Cool Graphics!

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

As Typhoon Haiyan hurtled past the Philippines this month, 10,000 delegates from some 200 nations met in Warsaw for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. And took a bold baby step by agreeing to meet again in Paris in 2015.

Expectations had drooped over the course of the summit, but after going 24 hours into overtime the delegates managed to paper over disagreements between developed countries and developing nations over who should take responsibility for restraining climate change and how to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Under the late, lamented Kyoto Agreement, only the most developed countries were to limit their emissions, a requirement that kept the U.S. signature off the agreement. In the latest Warsaw round of talks, the delegates finessed the differences by changing the word “commitments” to “contributions” and called it good.  Under the new deal, nations will put forward their proposals to cut emissions in time for the Paris meeting. They also put in place something called the Warsaw International Mechanism to help poor countries cope with disruptions like drought, rising seas, and floods caused by climate change – although wealthy nations refused to pledge funding.

All in all, it was a pretty meager affair, although this year was the first time business leaders attended, so that’s progress of sorts. Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute, said “I think this is what they needed to move the ball forward, even if you can’t say that it provided a lot of new ambition.” Ms. Morgan has a gift for understatement. Naderev Sano, a Philippines delegate who had fasted for the duration was more blunt. “We did not achieve a meaningful outcome.”

Last September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest, and grimmest, report on climate change. The report underscored the urgent necessity of swift and coordinated action. Environmentalists are understandably upset at the timidity on display in Warsaw. But achieving a unified, global response to climate change requires agreement on fundamental and conflicting interests between wildly diverse actors. Given the forces arrayed against any accord, agreeing to kick the can down the road until 2015 represents a victory of sorts.

While the IPCC report failed to light a rocket under the Warsaw meeting, the U.N. has released a haunting video. Produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia, the video graphically depicts the impact of the changes the Panel forecasts by fast-forwarding us through time. It’s compelling and strangely beautiful. Take a few minutes to look.

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