Paris, France — The Paris Climate Conference began with hope and excitement as heads of state flew in to deliver strong messages on their countries’ commitments to take urgent action to address climate change. However, the first week of negotiations has led to a tentative agreement that would most likely limit warming in the range of 2.7–3.5 degrees Celsius. This agreement, while politically safe, fails to halt the cataclysmic climate effects that would occur in much of the world with this degree of heating.
On the first day of negotiations, the Climate Vulnerable Forum — a group consisting of some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change — released a declaration in which they rallied for a 1.5 degree Celsius limit in order to preserve their culture and survive.
U.S. youth rallied in solidarity with these climate-vulnerable countries, supporting one of their main demands by holding an action inside the United Nations with a banner calling for full decarbonization and a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. While the low-lying countries that created the declaration are the first to feel the impacts of climate change, the United States is not averse to these effects.
This year, Alaska suffered some of the most severe fires in history. Firefighters all over the West Coast were overwhelmed and overworked by the large number of fires. Intense natural disasters like these are what we have seen from just less than a 1 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures. Imagine a world in which we are suffering the disastrous effects of 3.5 degrees Celsius warming.
In the last five years, Colorado has suffered at the hands of intense, large-scale flooding and fires. Communities were destroyed and billions of dollars were spent in recovery. Nevertheless, the United States negotiating team refuses to adopt the 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit. What these officials fail to recognize is that the United States is also at the front line of climate change. As a Coloradan, I want to see our government negotiate for us and protect its citizens from increasingly intense natural disasters and the endangerment of our communities.
An ambitious climate agreement would have several collateral benefits for Coloradans. Keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-Industrial levels would mean curtailing oil and gas drilling and transitioning to a higher dependency on renewables. This goal would greatly assist the efforts against fracking in our state, as at the very least new fossil fuel infrastructure would be much more closely scrutinized before the decision to build. In a more ideal scenario for our health and the environment, new oil and gas drilling would be halted and investments made in renewable energy — preserving thousands of acres of precious lands that are practically given to the fossil fuel industry by the Bureau of Land Management. An agreement of 1.5 degrees Celsius is a tremendous boost to the movement to preserve and protect our state.
Striving toward 1.5 degrees Celsius is also a true show of support to the rest of the world, particularly countries that have suffered while the United States and other industrialized countries have polluted. Negotiators from these countries are doing more than a job — they are fighting for their lives and those of future generations. With the worst of climate change to come, we young delegates are doing the same. An ambitious agreement that incorporates decarbonization and transitioning to renewable energy directly benefits Colorado and the world as a whole. As President Obama mentioned in his remarks to the United Nations, it’s time to “get to work.”
Christian O’Rourke of North Boulder is a youth delegate at the UN climate talks with SustainUS, a youth organization focused on climate and social justice. He is the Director of Development for Earth Guardians, a Boulder-based, youth-led organization that empowers and amplifies the youth voice in environmental advocacy.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.