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Three professors discuss the urgency of climate change initiatives given the perceived impact on local communities at a lecture Thursday.

February 19, 2016

Professors Stress Urgency of Paris Climate Conference

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Professors expressed their hope that the United Nations 2015 Climate Change Conference, will be more successful than previous global climate change initiatives, like the Kyoto protocol at a Thursday lecture.

The Paris conference — commonly referred to as COP21 — indicated a need for grassroots efforts, according to Prof. Robert Howarth, ecology and evolutionary biology, at a panel Thursday.

“What COP21 does is to set the stage for what we can do in the grassroots level, and without grassroots leveling we won’t get to where we want to,” said Howarth, one of the participants in COP21. “When the nations of the world, 195 of them, agreed to what they did in Paris because of the grassroots pressure… we need to keep doing it.”

Prof. John Mathiason of the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs said he believes countries will adopt the measures agreed upon in the Paris Agreement — a global effort to reduce climate change approved by all countries present at COP21 — even though the commitments are voluntary.

“If they are voluntary, any country that is [a part of] the framework convention can say ‘yes, I can agree to this’ because it doesn’t require a new treaty that has to be ratified,” Mathiason said.

While the  Kyoto Protocol in 1997 was not implemented because some countries refused to ratify it, Mathiason said he believes the climate change initiative is likely to be effective this time.

“Climate change has gotten to a point where local climate impacts are changing mindsets, it’s very hard for the human mind to get around global issues,” he said. “It’s much easier for people to deal with local impacts.”

Prof. David Wolfe, horticulture, cited a change in corporations’ stance on climate change issues as an additional reason for the recent progress of climate change innitiatives. He emphasized that it is consumer action that is influencing corporate decisions and industry action.

“I feel like business leaders are going to lead the politicians to the table of both parties about climate change,” he said.

Wolfe also stressed the need for grass root support for climate change initiatives.

“Every nation [needs to] push their governments to live up to their agreement, without that it’s going nowhere and it’ll be dead in months,” he said. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

After the consensus in Paris, the next step would be to translate the agreement into action, Mathiason said.

“The real issue is that we now have to do a bunch of stuff,” he said. “One of the reasons why you can’t get an international agreement very often is because you put off stuff. The hard stuff, like who’s going to do what and when.”

Howarth further emphasized the urgency of climate change actions in response to the information discovered at the Paris conference.

“The science presented in Paris [suggests that] we need to move very, very aggressively with that 1.5 or well below 2 degrees Celsius and take it very seriously,” he said.

The lecture is part of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs Spring 2016 Colloquium series.