Climate change: Paris Accord Depends on Innovation

by Judy Ferro

“The 12th of December, 2015, will remain a great date for the planet,” said French President Francois Hollande.

“This is a turning point in the human enterprise, where the great transformation towards sustainability begins,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, an adviser to the German government and the Pope.

“History will remember this day,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Delegates wept and embraced while thousands protested in the streets.

Yet, I think plans for the holidays, the Bowl Games, even the next confrontation of presidential candidates, captured the attention of more Idahoans than the Paris Accord on Climate Change.

Today posed the major question, “What does the new deal really mean for the future of the earth?” The journal followed with a pessimistic answer. “The great ice sheets remain imperiled, the oceans are still rising, forests and reefs are under stress, people are dying in their tens of thousands in heat waves and floods, and the ­agriculture system that feeds 7 billion ­human ­beings is still at risk.”

So what did the Paris Accord accomplish?

Nearly 200 nations agreed on the goal of keeping future global warming under one degree Centigrade. All but eight submitted plans for reductions in their own countries. All agreed to revise their plans and adopt stricter cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

That is about all governments can do at this point.

Inventors, investors and industry must develop new emission-cutting technologies before anyone can develop plans that can possibly keep the ice sheets from melting.

The advances of the last decade in wind and solar could eventually replace fossil fuels in production of electricity. Current predictions by the International Energy Agency are that solar will produce 27% of the electricity needed by 2050 and wind power, 18%.

Half of our air pollution, however, comes from transportation. Automobiles have become more efficient through the years. We haven’t had the breakthroughs, however, that would make electric cars practical for long distances and rugged terrain. Hybrids are merely a step in the right direction.

And we have yet to see plans for airplanes, ships, trucks, tanks, etc. powered by anything but fossil fuels.

Scientists are, however, looking at another way to control climate change: increasing the Earth’s ability to sequester or convert carbon dioxide. Planting trees is one option. Others being developed will be far more expensive.

Where are the climate deniers in Congress and the rest of the United States in all this? Out of the picture. Nearly 200 nations have ignored them to say that climate change is real and must be controlled.

Predictions are that even if we are successful in holding global warming to one degree C., rising waters will destroy the homes of 280 million people. If the global temperature rises enough more that the ice sheets melt, the ocean could rise 18 feet.

Congress does not need to agree to the Paris Accord. The United States has pledged to do no more than already pledged in an earlier climate pact with China. At one point the Accord had included language saying that wealthier nations “shall” help poorer nations deal with the climate change caused by their industry and vehicles. United States delegates managed to get that language changed to “should” help poorer nations.

No, it will not be our Congress that decides if the United States is a leader in the fight to prevent worsening climate catastrophes. The challenge is now in the hands of our scientists, engineers, innovators and industry leaders.