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In the Paris Agreement

By Hannah Sim

In the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015, an overarching goal was set to limit global average temperatures below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Despite the promising goals that were outlined at the conference, current climate trends have been alarmingly close to crossing this threshold many times throughout 2023. The first two weeks of July were measured to be Earth’s hottest global temperature since record-keeping began in 1850, rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Even November 17, 2023, was the first day to exceed 2°C above pre-industrial levels, according to data analyzed from ERA5.

Already, across various organizations, new goals are being negotiated, almost dismissing the aspirational goal of 1.5°C, and settling for the much riskier aim of remaining 2°C below pre-industrial levels.

However, what collective progress could we expect if nearly half, or 45%, of large corporations, are aligning their activities with the warming of the catastrophic 2.7°C? Without agreeing with the business sector, which is responsible for nearly three-quarters of all industrial emissions, it is nearly impossible to remain under the tipping point of 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. A majority of corporations realize that climate change is a substantial issue, yet are held back by the recognition of the risk their commitment may pose to their businesses. Still, corporations fear public scrutiny and engage in “greenhushing”, preferring to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions rather than to actively address them. Clearly, their priorities lie in short-term financial gains, unaware of the dramatic threats that climate change may pose to them.

In COP 28, the United Nations climate summit that took place from late November to early December, nations revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the 1.5°C global temperature goal. Despite the continual global progress being made in cutting emissions, recent research has indicated that 90% of the country’s net-zero targets are unlikely to be attained, including this year’s COP28 host, Dubai. President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the UAE described the efforts to continue supplying fossil fuels to nations worldwide, contributing to the country’s least progression in its NDC goals. This wasn’t the only instance; numerous nations failed to respond to the urgency that the climate crisis demanded. At COP26 in 2021, an agreement made among all countries to revisit and strengthen their climate plans fell short of expectations after only 31 new NDCs out of 193 were submitted. Governments struggle to commit to, or even plan climate action, and procrastination only compels the need for an even more drastic resolution in the future.

Corporations are the determinants in governmental action on climate change. Without a motivated industry to vigorously reduce carbon emissions, nations would not be capable of implementing effective strategies. Companies inadvertently acknowledge the gravity of the situation through their efforts to hide environmental regulations and shun public shame. Then what impedes them from implementing significant measures? The answer lies in the same factor that prevents individuals from making small environmentally conscious choices in daily life: the perceived impact. Whether a person, a company, or a nation is making an environmental decision, the value of the effort will be assessed relative to the outcome. In many cases, the effort put in to combat climate change is not regarded to be as valuable as the immediacy of the issue itself. In response, environmental advocates are placing growing emphasis on fostering cooperative motivation, urging distinct groups to align their efforts with others. Addressing the root causes of lack of motivation requires setting standards among corporations and fostering international agreements for emission reduction. Common goals must be set starting from global companies to create a unified approach to combat the climate crisis across nations.

What change could a mere 0.1°C increase in global warming bring about? More importantly, is there even a noteworthy difference between the various climate goals? To clarify, one article discusses the differences between warming of 1.5°C and 2°C. Warming of 1.5°C would destroy at least 70% of coral reefs, but at 2°C almost all coral reefs would be gone. At 1.5°C most of the ice sheets in Greenland and the west Antarctic could be retained, limiting sea level rise to a few feet. At 2°C, ice sheets would collapse, and sea levels would rise up to 30 feet. While the increase in temperature from pre-industrial levels may appear as mere numerical data, a difference of even 0.1°C signifies a considerable loss in both time and safety. The climate goal is ultimately meant to mitigate the negative consequences stemming from global warming until we can reverse the climate clock. The goal not only reveals the international capacity to address climate change but also represents the collective global commitment. Corporations aiming for a rise of 2.7°C are settling for complacency, overlooking the depletion of biodiversity and extreme weather patterns that would follow. Organizations, spanning both governments and corporations, bear an obligation to keep one less wildfire, one less storm, one less flood, and one less life lost due to the climate crisis, by striving to keep the planet cooler, even by just 0.1°C.

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