THE BLOG
11/26/2014 03:21 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2015

The Road to Paris

Unless the destructive impacts of global warming are brought to a heel, a "frightening world" lies in wait. That's according to the head of World Bank Jim Yong Kim who unveiled the group's latest climate report over the weekend.

Describing the findings as "alarming," Kim warned that crop yields in Brazil could more than halve within the next 35 years as world temperatures race past the two degrees celsius mark.

"As the planet warms further, heatwaves and other weather extremes, which today we call once­-in­-a-century events, would become the new climate normal, a frightening world of increased risk and instability. Even with ambitious mitigation, warming close to 1.5C above pre­-industrial levels is locked in," said Kim.

That grim warning came one week before climate negotiations kick off in Lima, Peru. For two weeks, world delegates will gather in the Peruvian capital to wrangle over the proposed text for a crucial 2015 treaty to rein in carbon emissions, and prevent the catastrophic warming of our planet.

Five years ago, world leaders vowed to limit that level of warming to two degrees celsius. And, in order to keep that promise, they must strike an ambitious deal to rein in greenhouse gases by the time they gather in Paris next December.

Kim praised recent pledges made by the US and China as a "huge advance." As the world's largest carbon polluters, their combined emissions make up nearly half of the world's total.

Earlier this month, president Barack Obama vowed that America will cut its carbon pollution by over a quarter over the next ten years. And, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping pledged that his nation's greenhouse gases will peak by 2030.

And, while the agreement has been criticized for not being bold enough, it does state that both sides "intend to increase ambition over time."

Although the targets are simply a promise, they do mark an important milestone in the global fight against climate change. In the past, the two sides were locked in a bitter stand off over who should bear the brunt of cuts.

China insisted that it was America's responsibility, having industrialized well over a century earlier. But, Washington countered that it was Beijing's duty as it now emits more carbon pollution than any nation on earth.

This month's joint declaration thus broke the political deadlock, setting the stage for a potential treaty to be signed in Paris next December. But, Beijing is now worried that a belligerent Congress may try to scupper the deal.

Shortly after Obama and Xi announced their climate pledges, the president came under heavy fire from a hostile Republican Party, emboldened by their recent win of Capitol Hill.

Much of Obama's promise depends on his plan to rein in emissions from America's vast fleet of power stations. And, Republicans are already hatching a ploy to prevent them from seeing the light of day. If the US is to keep up its side of the bargain, the next president will have be on board.

Nevertheless, with the EU also committed to reining in its emissions, there may be some cause for cautious optimism.

But, much like how one swallow doesn't make a summer, three climate pledges will not mark the end of global warming.

The maths shows that even with these 3 major emitters on board, the globe is still racing towards a dangerous temperature rise towards the end of this century. In order to avoid such a destructive fate, other nations like India, Russia, Japan, Australia and Canada will all have to step to the plate.

Last week, the UN revealed that there is still a huge gap between what governments are offering to put on the table, and what the science requires to avert the worst effects of climate change.

It says that global carbon emissions will need to halve within the next 35 years in order to stay under the two degrees celsius target. They will then need to hit zero by 2070.

Last week, the former head of UK oil giant BP, Lord Browne added his voice to the growing calls for climate action. He urged energy companies to reform, or face redundancy in the face of the "existential threat" posed by climate change.

If a strong deal is struck in Paris, energy companies could see trillions of dollars wiped off their balance sheets as new government policies force their fossil fuel reserves to stay in the ground.

Lord Browne's comments came two months after the original oil dynasty, the Rockefeller's, announced plans to shift their funds out of fossil fuels. In spite of creating their massive fortune from Big Oil, they decided it was no longer prudent, nor moral to keep their money in it.

That move came one day after the largest climate march in history swept through 162 nations across the globe as over half a million people took to the streets to call on their governments to prevent the catastrophic warming of our planet.

In the words of American author and climate activist Bill McKibben: "That day for me marked the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era. The question now is: how quickly we can make that end come."

Much like the abolition of slavery, the end of apartheid, and the US civil rights movement, history reveals that radical change is possible when brave people stand up to challenge, and overturn the status quo.

Although the obstacles ahead are formidable, they are certainly surmountable. After all, the wheels of change are already in motion. But, as Martin Luther King once said: "there "is" such a thing as being too late."

With a steep temperature rise sitting on our collective horizon, let's hope that we are not, for all life on earth hangs in the balance. With one year before that crucial summit begins in Paris, world leaders must accept that "tomorrow" is already "today", and embrace "the fierce urgency of now."