Last year’s UN climate change conference, COP21, was an important and historical event because so many countries agreed to the proposals made under the Paris agreement.
By the start of COP22 in Marrakech, no fewer than 96 countries of the 55 minimum required had signed up to the pact to limit global warming to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. That number of countries has now risen to 111.
While Paris was all about the deal, Marrakech was about the detail in getting countries to sign legislation that would make the Paris objectives possible. So far, 47 of the world’s most-affected countries have pledged to use only renewable fuels by 2050.
So why all the fuss now? Evidence of climate change has been in place since as early as 1950, with extremely hot days and heavy precipitation becoming increasingly common.
The contribution of heat-trapping gases, and carbon dioxide in particular, is clear. In fact it was well documented in a paper by Wally Broecker, the Newberry Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, as early as 1975.
The key message is that there is evidence of human influence. We now know that continued greenhouse gas emissions increase the likelihood of severe, irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems.
Assessment of climate over the moving 30-year average points towards global warming. Increased water vapour means greater scope for heavier rainfall events because warmer air can hold more moisture and produce bigger storms.
Melting glaciers have contributed towards rising sea levels. Those levels rose by more than 20cm during the last century.
When we refer to greenhouse gases, we should bear in mind that the greenhouse effect makes Earth’s average temperature around 33 degrees Celsius warmer than otherwise.
Without it, the planet would have an average temperature of around minus 18C. The greenhouse effect, or more correctly, the enhanced greenhouse effect lifts that average to plus 15C and rising. And the rise is because of the burning of fossil fuels and their effect on the carbon cycle.
After decades of trying to get this message across we now have governments from across the world sitting down together to thrash out the right measures.
Surprisingly, the oil and gas-producing nations may have the most vital role to play as the world moves towards the use of renewable fuels. Countries across the Middle East tend to have the largest carbon footprints per head. Qatar has the highest in the world, followed by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
American scientist and researcher, Christopher Field, of Stanford University, has contributed to the field of climate change and is the author of more than 200 publications on the subject.
Field says it should be remembered that oil and gas are not as dirty as burning coal. Used in conjunction with wind and solar power, of which there is plenty in the Middle East, they have the potential to lead us all towards a cleaner, greener world.