George Mason University Professor Andrew Light warned that while world leaders are taking steps toward combating climate change, it might be too little, too late. Light spoke Oct. 18, 2018, at the Carlson Theater to a crowd of about 50 people. His presentation, “Valuing Climate Loss and Damage,” explored the growing threat of global warming.
The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, or UNFCCC, is an international environmental treaty. “The objective of the treaty is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” reads the website environment-ecology.org. In other words, the goal is to avoid climate change becoming a dangerous threat to humans.
“But when do we hit dangerous anthropogenic interference?” Light rhetorically asked his audience. Parties to the UNFCCC decided that anything above 2 degrees Celsius could be considered dangerous anthropogenic interference, Light explained.
According to the official website for the UNFCCC, the convention took place over many years, as parties tried to come up with an agreement workable for every nation. This occurred until Dec. 12, 2015, when they reached a milestone agreement to combat climate change called the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement’s central aim, according to the UNFCCC website, is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius.” The parties are even attempting to limit the dangerous global climate level from 2 degrees to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Every party in the UNFCCC -except one- concurred that the Paris Agreement was a big step in the right direction. The United States was the lone nation to opt out. The Paris Agreement is structured so every 5 years, the United Nations reconvenes and formulates increasingly ambitious goals to combat greenhouse gasses and climate change, according to Light.
“The bad news, of course, is this,” said Light, as he revealed an image on the theater’s big screen depicting the destruction from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Light also spoke of the rise of loss and damage, a concept relating to losses due to climate change that can’t be restored and damage from climate change that are recoverable.
While “loss and damage” do not have an agreed upon definition, Light explained they are generally understood as the “permanent loss or irreparable damage caused by climate change which overlap with but go beyond adaptation measures, including both severe weather events and slow onset events, such as sea level rise and desertification.”
Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is an example of an extreme weather case, Light explained. According to Roz Pidcock and Sophie Yeo of CarbonBrief.org, even though the UNFCCC is taking on the ambitious effort to lower the global climate level, the temperature is still expected to rise, and along with that, so is loss and damage.
This rise in loss and damage, Light explained, is showing a change in how countries understand the extent at which climate change could impact them. UNFCCC parties were now grappling with the existing risk of climate change, and not just to avoid future risks, Light said. By confronting this current risk that is climate change, Light added, we would be confronting an “era of global environmental triage.”