Students Attend Climate Conference
Issue   |   Tue, 02/16/2016 - 23:49
Three students who attended the United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris last semester spoke at the Powerhouse with John Larsen, former adviser for the U.S. Department of Energy, on Feb. 8.

John Larsen, former adviser for the U.S. Department of Energy, discussed the future impact of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the Powerhouse on Feb. 8.

Three students who attended the conference, Brian Beaty ’17, Anna Berglund ’16 and Smith College junior Aly Johnson-Kurts, also shared their experiences at the summit.

The COP, or Conference of the Parties, was started in the 1990s specifically to address climate change. The most recent conference, which took place last December near Paris, was the 21st such conference. Delegates representing every country in the world sought to build an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Berglund explained that the conference’s organizing body had publicly announced this year’s COP as a “last-ditch attempt” to reduce emissions in the form of a legally binding agreement. Previous conferences had failed to produce a consensus among all attending parties. This past conference successfully produced the Paris Agreement by unanimous consent.

Most of the scientific community agrees that two degrees Celsius of global warming compared to pre-industrial levels is the maximum amount that the earth can handle before climate conditions change dramatically and irreparably. The earth has already warmed by between one and 1.33 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s. The delegates at this conference established the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius. However, Berglund said that even if all countries followed the emissions requirements outlined in the agreement, global warming would still reach 3.4-3.6 degrees Celsius.

Larsen, a current professor at John Hopkins University, spoke on the progress that the United States has made in reducing emissions in the past few years. Although U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are currently 14 percent below the the amount forecasted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2008, Larsen said that almost half of this reduction was accounted for by the Great Recession.

The Rhodium Group, Larsen’s firm, predicts that emissions levels will decrease slightly in the near future but will remain largely steady.

“This is all good news in the sense that the [greenhouse gas emissions] line is going in the right direction, but it’s probably not going as fast as we need,” Larsen said.

Larsen said that even the most generous estimates of future U.S. emissions fail to reach the commitments made by the U.S. in the Paris Agreement.

“Can the U.S. meet its targets right now with policies on the books or pending? Apparently no,” Larsen said. “We’re going to need more action. And the sooner we do it, the more of a chance we have to meet the goals.”

Beaty said that the issues of climate migrants and indigenous rights had not been included in discussions at previous COP conferences. He explained that Syrian refugees could be considered climate migrants because the Syrian civil war is closely linked to a drought in the area.

Johnson-Kurts said that women and young people were underrepresented at the conference. She also said she was disappointed with Congress for limiting the Paris Agreement’s ability to legally bind countries to emissions reductions.

“A big reason why there has been more policy action on climate change in the past eight years is because the president happened to think it was a good idea … so it matters who’s president next when it comes to the next wave of action,” Larsen said.