Story at a glance

  • UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa said renewed commitments to tackle emissions by countries like China and the U.S. are a promising sign.
  • She added that the shift away from emissions will largely be led by young people.

The climate chief of the United Nations told The Associated Press today that new deadlines and commitments set by some of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world — including the U.S. — have given her renewed hope that the Paris Climate Accord goals can be met. 

The announcement giving climate chief Patricia Espinosa ample hope in particular is from China, the world’s largest polluter, who said it will phase out emissions by 2060. 

“Science has told us that we still have a chance to achieve it," she said. "Looking at these announcements, I think that we should be also having even more hope.”


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President-elect Joe Biden’s win in the U.S. has added confidence that the country, which is the second-largest global polluter, will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord following President Trump’s move to depart from the pact. Japan and South Korea also recently announced plans to phase out their emissions.

“These announcements are really extraordinary,” Espinosa stated. “Just a few months ago, I don’t think anybody would have really predicted that we would see these kinds of announcements at this time. And especially in the middle of the pandemic.”

While the U.S. has noticed a solid decrease in emissions due to the economic halt brought on by the pandemic, experts have emphasized that without policy change to affect long-term social infrastructure, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is only temporary.

One of the largest contributors to pollution is the transportation sector, which has been drastically reduced thanks to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that shut most workplaces.

Espinosa acknowledges that reverting to pre-pandemic lifestyles will negate any progress against climate change countries have achieved in 2020.

“Everybody is clear that we will not go back to the normal that we had before the pandemic," she said, reportedly noting her prior frequent air travel. "You cannot continue to travel like you used to travel.”

A major challenge will be weaning fossil fuel-dependent countries off of a key resource and getting older people to break environmentally unfriendly habits.

“This deep transformation is very much going to be driven by the youth,” Espinosa noted.

While both of these shifts are tall orders, working in tandem with the goals of the Paris Climate Accord — which aims to keep the global climate from changing above 2 degrees Celsius and ideally no more than 1.5 degree Celsius over pre-industrial temperatures — is the best way to help large greenhouse gas emitters shrink their pollution. 

“It is absolutely indispensable that we align those recovery packages to the goals of the Paris agreement,” Espinosa concluded. “We should not go back to the past. We cannot continue to invest in a gray future.”


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Published on Nov 19, 2020