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UN Climate Conference 2014: Can we still be optimistic about only 2 degrees of warming?

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, December 2, 2014, 9:57 AM - The good news coming out of the UN Climate Conference 2014, in Lima, Peru, is that the nations of the world are united in their acceptance of climate science, and in their interest in preventing the worst consequences of climate change in the future. However, the bad news is that, due to our inaction so far, it appears as though limiting future warming to just 2 degrees C may be quickly slipping through our fingers.

We're still around a year away from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. However, representatives from nearly 200 nations are meeting over the next two weeks in Lima, Peru, bringing with them what their country will be contributing to the effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions going into the future. The hope is that the world can work out a solid deal ahead of the December 2015 conference, that will put us on the right path towards keeping us at a maximum of 2 degrees C over pre-industrial global temperatures.

There have been some positive trends lately - nations acknowledging the validity of climate science and the severe risks of climate change, as well as significant investments renewable energy production, and even deals between the largest emitters. However, the unfortunate fact is that the world's inaction on climate change so far has already doomed us to a certain level of climate change.

RELATED: Latest IPCC report warns of 'severe, widespread and irreversible' effects of climate change

The goal set in previous climate agreements, in order to prevent some of the worst effects of climate change, was to limit greenhouse gas emissions such that the temperature rise over pre-industrial levels could be kept to a maximum of 2 degrees C. As a new World Bank report outlines, we have very likely already locked ourselves into at least a 1.5 degree C rise in global temperatures. That will have its own consequences, but it also puts us very close to the 2 degree threshold, and carbon emissions are expected to rise significantly before we really start to see reductions take hold due to changes in renewable energy and transportation investments.

The fear is that we may completely blow past this 2 degree threshold, and end up with a world where global temperatures have risen by at least 4 degrees C.

CLICK BELOW TO WATCH: In the 2012 edition of the Turn Down the Heat report, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim outlines the effects of a 4-degree world.

For the current round of talks, which run from December 1-12, the idea is to be a 'stepping stone' to Paris, with emphasis on nations bringing to the table now, what they plan on contributing to the efforts. Not only that, but according to a UN press release, these plans must include details on the technical aspects of how the nations intend to move forward, and provide information on  on how finance, technology and capacity-building will be handled. The purpose of this is to set down the framework for the new agreement in the year ahead, so that it can be signed and adopted as of December 2015, and then implemented by 2020.

"2014 is likely to be the hottest year on record and emissions continue to rise. We must act with urgency," said Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in an opening address to the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) on Monday morning. "Here in Lima, to aspire to great heights ourselves, we must draw several critical lines of action."

RELATED: US and China strike landmark climate change and clean energy deal

The 196 nations participating in this conference are the same ones who met to produce the Kyoto Protocol, back in 1997. Although the Kyoto Protocol did not see the gains that were hoped for, the difference this time around is that the nations involved are far more motivated to act. Two of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases - the United States and China - have even made strong commitments towards action. This conference will hopefully continue with progress towards a binding agreement.

“We must consolidate progress on adaptation to achieve political parity with mitigation, given the equal urgency of both,” Figueres said in her address. “We must enhance the delivery of finance, in particular to the most vulnerable. Finally, we must stimulate ever-increasing action on the part of all stakeholders to scale up the scope and accelerate the solutions that move us all forward, faster. With success in these areas, COP 20/CMP 10 is poised to deliver pre-2020 action, set the stage for a strong Paris agreement and increase ambition over time, ultimately fulfilling a long-term vision of climate neutrality in the pursuit of development that is truly sustainable for all.”

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