Scientists plot path to climate stabilization at pre-COP Paris science conference

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Inske Groenen Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, speaking at the closing plenary of the conference.
© UNESCO

Paris, 10 July 2015 - Emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases must eventually fall to zero to stabilize the global climate, according to scientists leading the biggest international climate science conference prior to the Paris UN COP meeting in December. But they also indicate cautious optimism that growing political momentum means the two degree Celsius climate upper limit is still within reach. These conclusions were reached during the conference Our Common Future under Climate Change that took place at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France on 07-10 July 2015.

During the closing session, Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, paid homage to the rigorous efforts of the scientific community, and the essential role it has played in raising the alarm, launching “a worldwide wake-up call by defining the facets of climate knowledge. The first is that the consequences of inaction would be devastating and irreversible. The second is that we can still act. And the third side is that we must act now.”

You have identified the perils and the challenges ahead and a roadmap for how they can be avoided” said Flavia Schlegel, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, thanking the participants for their contributions. “Through your insights, vision and recommendations, we can be more confident today that the journey could be a safe one, including for those most vulnerable to climate change.”

A statement issued on the closing day of the conference explains that “a two in three probability of holding warming to 2°C or less will require a budget that limits future carbon dioxide emissions to about 900 billion tons, roughly 20 times annual emissions in 2014." In practice, limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels will require cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases by 40-70% below current levels by 2050, to reach zero or a negative balance by the end of the 21st century.

The scientific community is confident that we have the technologies we need to put the planet on a sustainable trajectory if we act now, however effective policies and investments are required to deploy them effectively and reach this target. The year 2015 is critical, with many opportunities for global commitments, including the definition of new Sustainable Development Goals and climate negotiations at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) in a few months. Such commitments must be reflected at the national and local levels and based on a world view that takes into consideration equity and the wellbeing of all peoples in order to succeed.  

Some 2,000 scientists from almost 100 countries have spent the past 4 days at UNESCO showcasing evidence-based ways to both reduce emissions and build resilient societies. Their engagement showed the commitment of the entire scientific community to contribute to a long-term vision for a sustainable future, working with society and all stakeholders to design and asses a range of inclusive options. “We have entered a new stage for climate science where the agenda of science is shifting - it is no longer exclusively alerting us to risks, but increasingly contributing to solutions” noted Hervé Le Treut, Chair of the Organising Committee and director of the Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace.

The science meeting, organized under the umbrella of ICSU, Future Earth, UNESCO and major French research institutions, with the support of the French Government, considered new aspects of climate change projections including impacts on ocean life and economic activities from rising temperature and ocean acidification, with full consideration of ways to limit and manage change.

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