3/23/2016 3:16:50 PM

Charting the Paris Talks

The Paris climate talks ended in December with an international goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5° Celsius. The fact that the world's nations agreed on this target is cause for celebration.

But even as we cheer the consensus, it's important to note that the goal lacks binding requirements and fails to outline a clear path for getting there. What's more, the current pledges made by the world's nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions fall short of the cuts needed to meet the target.

So where does that leave us? And what does it mean for polar bears?

A chart created by Climate Interactive sketches out three potential scenarios:

  • The path we're currently on
  • The path based on individual country commitments (INDCs) at the Paris talks
  • The path we should be on

The top line on the graph, our current path, would lead to an average global temperature rise of 4.5° C—or 8.1° Fahrenheit —by the end of the century. Clearly, this isn't the path we need, for polar bears or for people.

The middle path shows where we'll be in 2100 if the world's nations follow through on the cuts they've pledged to make. While clearly better than business-as-usual, this path would still result in end-of-century planet warming of 3.5° C—or 6.3° F—warmer than anytime in the polar bear's evolutionary history. This, too, would hugely alter life on Earth as we know it today and to our own detriment.

The final path is the one we need for a safe and secure world, a scenario with greenhouse gas emissions dropping sharply from this point forward, ending in net-zero emissions by the year 2100. This more challenging yet hopeful path would limit warming to 1.8° C (3.2° F)—assuring the polar bear's survival and leaving a brighter future for us all.

But is the third option possible?

"Recent papers show we can, indeed, achieve this," says PBI's chief scientist, Dr. Steven Amstrup. "Because we have waited so long to act, however, we can stop temperature rise below 2° C, as expressed in Paris, only with a united effort beginning now. That effort, in turn, will require our elected officials to embrace the effort in the same way they supported going to the moon." 

In the coming year, PBI will focus our efforts on:

  • Encouraging nations to meet the goal set at the Paris talks
  • Supporting a shift to a renewable energy future
  • Emphasizing the importance of voting for candidates who endorse bold action on climate change.

We hope you'll join us every step of the way as we work to keep polar bears in the Arctic, always—and improve conditions for other wildlife and people, too.

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