The Flaw in the Paris Climate Agreement

by Julian on Avril 3, 2018 - 12:14pm

In her article “Climate Scientists Debate a Flaw in the Paris Climate Agreement”, Dana Nuccitelli reports that climate scientists remain skeptical about the Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. The 1.5°C target was initially measured by Richard Millar from the University of Exeter who used the the Hadley Centre global surface temperature dataset called HadCRUT4. According to his calculations, Millar estimates that since 1850, global surface temperatures have warmed about 0.9°C, thus leaving the international community at 0.6°C from reaching the dreadful global warming target. However, scientists found flaws in the HadCRUT4 method. First, it only considers 84% of the Earth’s surface. It does not monitor properly the temperature in the Arctic, Antarctica, and Africa. Let’s also not forget that the Arctic is the fastest-warming part of the planet. Second, the HadCRUT4 measures sea surface temperatures as opposed to air temperatures above ocean surface. It overlooks the fact that air temperatures are in fact much hotter than sea temperatures since they warm up faster. Third, the HadCRUT4 starting point is 1850, but other studies found that just tracking global warming a little earlier could add up to 0.2°C of warming already caused. All in all, these three issues illustrate that the HadCRUT4 and the Paris climate target severely underestimate global warming. Ultimately, climate scientists agree that such a target is arbitrary. It is just a number based on some vague post-industrial date and  some inaccurate temperature measurement that dictates the acceptable degree of climate change. The ideal Paris target should instead be “cut carbon pollution as much as possible, as fast as possible.” No need to argue about 2°C or 1.5°C. However, governments need concrete targets in order to guide their reduction policies. How frustrating for scientists who warn that these targets such as the one imposed by Millar are misleading!

While establishing measurable reduction targets seems logical, it is surprising to realize that these targets are not always accurate. Hence, countries could ratify a protocol and aim at reducing their emissions by a certain percentage, yet their target could still not be effective enough to counter climate change according to scientists. From this instance, I understand why scientists are often frustrated by countries who aim at reduction targets. Not only targets can be inefficient, but many countries fail to actually reach them! In the end, striving to reduce just a percentage of gas emissions is ridiculous when the answer should clearly be to cut them out. In the end, it is clear that timid actions won’t bring as much results as radical ones. Nonetheless, doing something for the environment is better than doing nothing.


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