In a previous blog post I mentioned how the COP21 Paris climate talks may be of particular importance to conservation scientists. The Paris Climate Talks are over and the Paris Agreement stipulates that the world’s leaders are committing to reducing emissions to keep the planet from warming 2 degrees centigrade. Skipping past the gnarly details, this is a very interesting outcome for at least three reasons.
First, honing in on uncertainty in direct climate impacts of a 2 degree warming is an interesting problem for climatologist / geographers. While we are fairly confident on how much carbon this will be (Svante Arrhenius’s equation gets us very close on tons of atmospheric C driving climatic forcing that creates 2 degrees of warming), there is more uncertainty on the ways that this warming is expressed: increasing night-time lows more than day time highs; colder places (high latitude, high elevation, winter months) more so than warmer ones (low latitudes, low elevations, summer months); increasing heat waves more than consistent increases in means. Further, there is uncertainty on the amount of coastal damage to expect because of the combination of sea level rise and storm surges. Nonetheless, the Paris Agreement provides a target for a research agenda on climate knowledge.
Second, The Paris Agreement creates fodder for interesting socio-ecological conservation research. It may be that we can get to this threshold through a combination of willing local government actions (e.g., California’s climate legislation) and technological advances (reduced costs of lower C footprint energy sources) may mean that the world might actually be able to achieve this principally with carrots from the US and EU, rather than Kyoto protocol like sticks. This becomes an interesting area of research for social scientists to consider social efforts that encourage adoption of cleaner technologies on behalf of nature.
Third, targeting a 2 degree threshold, natural science conservation researchers can focus on predicting outcomes of local manifestations of that warming to earth’s ecological systems. This adds a tremendous amount of specificity to what can then become management recommendations. With a “business as usual” future and no particular end in sight for warming, it is virtually impossible to make serious management recommendations through research. Sure, we want to build resilience and all that, but this is not a recommendation requiring climate change rather than general human impacts. With a 2 degree target, researchers can be specific about what that would mean for systems and how management can alter outcomes for threatened biological diversity and ecological systems.
The net result, I think, is that the Paris talks give the research community a means to move forward and conduct research that moves beyond the type of paper that ends: “See, climate change is really bad for nature. Seriously, really, really bad.” Sure, it is bad for nature, but that has not been a successful strategy for changing human behavior. Further, we get to be a tiresome sector by complaining about how bad humans are for nature over and over again.
A target gives us something to shoot at and a set of criteria by which we can then begin to prioritize where we would act, what we can do, why we should act and how likely we think we are to succeed at preventing the losses driving this sixth mass extinction event. So, I say, hip-hip-hooray for the world leaders in Paris. Well done.
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