Danielle Endres: Some people are paying attention to climate change

(Andrea Comas | AP) Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks to assistants during a demonstration in Madrid on Friday Dec. 6, 2019. Thunberg arrived to join thousands of other young people in a march to demand world leaders take real action against climate change.

I recently returned to Salt Lake City from Madrid, where I was an observer at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 25th Conference of Parties, also known as COP25.

The annual COP meetings gather signatory parties to conduct negotiations related to the implementation of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, including topics such as national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, strategies for limiting global warming to less than a 1.5 degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial levels, tensions between the largest emitters and the lowest emitters, and carbon pricing. The COP meetings, even considering their flaws, are a crucial part of any attempt to address the climate emergency.

Yet, as I witnessed a surge of youth-led activism in response to the COP25 negotiations in Madrid, I was alarmed and disheartened to see so little news coverage of the COP25 back home. Yes, there were a few stories that came across my feed, including from The Salt Lake Tribune, but given what I was hearing and observing at the COP, I would have expected to see much more coverage of the negotiations, the alarming scientific evidence presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the pressing need for the largest emitters, including the U.S., to take swift and decisive measures to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions if we have any hope of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The UN’s Emissions Gap Report tells us that we are nowhere near being on track to limit warming. Indeed, the report shows that global emissions continue to rise, that status quo commitments under the Paris Agreement would lead to a 3.2 degree warming, and that to meet the 1.5 degree target requires a 7.6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions every year for the next decade. I am reminded of the old adage, “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.”

One thing that became very clear while I was in Madrid is that there are people paying attention. In addition to the climate march in Madrid that drew an estimated 500,000 people calling for real government action on climate change, nearly every day inside the hallways of the COP25 convention activists, air protectors, and concerned youth staged events that called attention to the impending impacts of the continued climate crisis. Greta Thunberg, recently named Time Magazine’s person of the year, implored government leaders to radically reduce our emissions. Indigenous people called for an end to CO2 colonialism. Young people demanded that we take action to protect future generations. We cannot ignore these voices, and we cannot ignore the climate emergency.

Despite the best efforts of cities, states, and other sub-national government’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (including Salt Lake City’s commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2030), addressing the climate emergency requires national and international efforts. It requires working within the UNFCC framework to strengthen the Paris Agreement, and calling on the largest emitters to act with urgency and resolve.

Danielle Endres

Danielle Endres is a professor at the University of Utah, specializing in science and environmental communication research, who advocates for action on climate change, air pollution, and energy democracy in her free time.