Why we should care about the United Nations’ COP21

From Nov. 30 — Dec. 11, delegates from 194 countries throughout the world will convene in France for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate ChangeThis conference on climate change is expected to culminate with a new international agreement to mitigate climate change.

FIU Law Senior Scholar Ryan Stoa and Journalism and Broadcasting Professor Juliet Pinto will be in attendance at the conference. In this op-ed, Tiffany Troxler, director of the FIU Sea Level Solutions Center, explains the importance of the international gathering.

Tiffany Troxler, director of the FIU Sea Level Solutions Center

Tiffany Troxler, director of the FIU Sea Level Solutions Center

Heads of state of 194 countries and the European Union convened this week in Paris at the 21st United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention of the Parties (COP21) to decide our climate future.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, a primary greenhouse gas, is at higher concentrations today than since the dawn of human civilization, and higher than in the last 500,000 years.

Excessive carbon dioxide heats up our planet by increasing the blanketing effect of our upper atmosphere. This blanket gets thicker and thicker each year. It’s essentially a one-way blanket too. Solar energy comes in, but more comes in than goes out of our atmosphere, as if you were filling up a bathtub and had no drain valve.

This trapped heat impacts each and every fiber of our society: how long we can enjoy those dog days of summer, how much water our wetlands have to resupply our drinking water, what species can persist where, and the health of our coral reefs, to name a few.

If the 194 countries agree to maintain a 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase above pre-industrial levels, we have a 50 percent chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Heads or tails?

A greater reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will increase our chance of avoiding the worst impacts, and in South Florida a critical impact is sea level rise. Increased temperatures of today have already committed us to at least half a foot by 2030 and one-foot sea level rise by 2060. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases at current levels are projected to increase mean sea level by up to nearly three feet by 2060 – and that’s if sea level increases in a constant way, without massive ice sheet loss.

It is not too late to take action, and it is not too late to mitigate (reduce the impacts of) the most severe consequences of climate change. This is the subject of the COP21 talks, and this is why we care what happens in Paris and on the international stage. However, you certainly don’t have to wait around for what happens in Paris to make a change for the future.

If you’d like to find out what’s going on at FIU and in the South Florida region on the issue of sea level rise, check out slsc.fiu.edu for an overview of some of this great work and how you can get involved.

-Tiffany Troxler