CSU professors say climate change goals will be hard to achieve

Ravyn Cullor

Colorado State University experts on climate change and environmental policy said they believe it is possible to meet stricter goals on limiting climate change laid out in a recently released United Nations report, but it will take extreme, immediate global change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report in early October which stated the benefits of keeping average temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial temperatures. The Paris Climate Agreement previously capped average temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius.

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“The advantage of 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees is really pretty substantial,” said Scott Denning, a CSU professor of atmospheric science. “Much less cost to the global economy, much less disruption and refugees and droughts and floods. On the other hand, they found that actually limiting warming no more than 1.5 degrees above industrial would be really hard.”

Denning said capping warming at 2 degrees would put Fort Collins in a climate similar to Pueblo. 

The report states that  “global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.” Eliminating fossil fuel from the energy regiment globally is required to meet that goal, Denning said.

In order to cut emissions at that level by 2030, governments across the world have been part of the Paris Agreement, which is a portion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and which the United States is still a party to, according to professor and chair of the political science department Michele Betsill.

Since the Clinton administration, there has been resistance from the federal government and Congress to take action on climate change, Betsill said. During the Bush administration, state and local leaders took it upon themselves to create climate action plans and climate focus legislation, she said.

The Obama administration used executive orders to respond to climate change, but the Trump administration has expressed that they will not participate in climate action.

“Most estimates say that the existing state and local efforts that are in place would be enough to meet about half of the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement,” Betsill said. “That’s one of the messages (of the IPCC report), that there needs to be more work done at the federal level.”

Betsill also said that some innovations in climate change policy have been developed at the local level because they serve each specific community.

Denning, who also served on a citizen advisory board for the City of Fort Collins focusing on climate action policies, teaches what he calls “the three s’s of climate change:” simple, serious and solvable. Simple is for the science of the greenhouse effect, serious outlines the effects of climate change and solvable is getting off of fossil fuels.

“It’s happening much faster than people expected,” Denning said.

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Betsill said governments need to support communities who are currently reliant on the fossil fuel industry and individuals should make different choices to decrease their own fossil fuel consumption and limiting or eliminating meat from their diet to help meet the 2030 goal.

“Those are all really important, but they are not going to save the world,” Betsill said. “People also have to be politically engaged. It’s everything from calling up your city council member to attending city council meetings … to voting. Think about positions on these issues as something that you vote on.”

Ravyn Cullor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @RCullor99