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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: April 2011

8 - Linking science and action: targets, timetables and emission budgets

Summary

‘There are times in the history of humanity when fateful decisions are made. The decision … on whether to enter a comprehensive global agreement for strong action on climate change is one of them. …On a balance of probabilities, the failure of our generation would lead to consequences that would haunt humanity until the end of time.’

Political leaders of 194 countries (as of January 2010) have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which states in Article 2 that the Convention's ‘ultimate objective … is to achieve… stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system …’. As we have seen in the preceding chapters, scientists are able to document with a very high degree of certainty that human activities exert measurable influence on several components of the climate system. In addition, most scientists agree that, on the basis of observed changes in the climate system, there is a very high probability (>90% according to the IPCC) that these changes are primarily the result of anthropogenic influences on the climate system. Furthermore, many impacts on human societies and nature have already been recorded (Chapters 5 and 6). These impacts can only be expected to increase in the future.

With Article 2 of the UNFCCC as the point of departure, the next step is to determine what actually constitutes ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’, or ‘dangerous climate change’ as it is often called in shorthand.

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