Reducing emissions is not going to be enough

With the failure of COP25 in Madrid to reach consensus on a framework to reduce emissions, there is a growing sense of despair and frustration with the ability of governments to act in the planet’s best interest. Even though Australia is suffering from unprecedented  fires that are clearly closely linked to climate change, the federal government continues to resist any meaningful action. However, even if the Paris commitments are fully implemented they will not be enough to keep temperature increases to below 2 degC, let alone 1.5. Comparison between climate models and observed data show that the low impact scenarios can be ditched as being not credible and many indicators are tracking worse case scenarios or even worse. The accelerating melt of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets have caused alarm as has the increasing evidence of methane releases as the permafrost melts. Closer to home the temperature increases over the last few summers are showing extreme heat day frequency going through the roof.  Penrith’s historical average is 17 days a year above 35degC, the last three years have averaged well over 40; by the end of the century that figure is likely to be over 90.

The enormous lag in Earth’s energy system will ensure that impacts will continue to grow even if, miraculously human society manage to achieve zero emissions over the next 10 years. Importantly, we also need to start mitigating and adapting. Mitigation would take the form of increasing albedo (reflection of the sun’s radiation) , especially of our built form; increase the permeability of surfaces to allow water to be absorbed rather than simply run off in to storm water amongst other measures. Perhaps even more importantly we need to ensure that mangroves and wetlands, (great absorbers of carbon), are repaired, protected and restored; increase tree planting to not only absorb carbon but also help retain moisture in the soil. We also need a plan to tackle the increased risk of desertification and to replace and improve soil, one resource that Australia is sadly lacking. Diverting food and all organic waste from landfill would help in the later and remove them as a source of methane. Maybe these are initiatives that a federal government could embrace without provoking a hysterical reaction from their reactionary climate change denying right wing.

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