This post was written by the author in collaboration with youth from around the world to the head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. You can find a full list of signatories of this letter here.
Dear Christiana Figueres, (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)
As young people, we write today with both grave concern and powerful hope.
Unfortunately, our concerns are beginning to outweigh our hope more and more each day. We were raised in a world nearly 1 degree warmer than the pre-industrial average; where disruption of the climate system has become increasingly visible in the few years since we were young children.
In this strange new world, we have already witnessed unprecedented Arctic ice melt, rampant wildfire, droughts that have crippled farmers and consumers, flooding, hail storms, and most recently, a super- charged hurricane that has devastated communities from the Caribbean to New York City. Extreme weather is becoming the new normal.
The UNFCCC process which you oversee is designed to protect us from these harsh disruptions and to achieve the "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."
Taking a hard look at climate politics today, it appears the UNFCCC is failing to meet that mission, therefore failing to live up to its mandate. The math just doesn't add up.
The member states of the UNFCCC have not decided much, but they have been very clear that global average temperatures must not rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
At present, we are on target to hit this terrifying target by 2030 and to suffer upwards of six degrees of warming by the end of the century. Major international bodies, from the IEA to the World Bank, have warned that even over the medium-term, the costs of allowing emissions to rise at their present rates will come in the form of hundreds of millions of human lives and economic costs capable of driving the world economy into prolonged global depression.
According to the best science we have, there is room for 565 gigatonnes more CO2 in our atmosphere before we lose any chance of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees and preventing the enormous damage associated with such a rise.
All together, the global oil, coal and gas industries are planning to burn over five times that amount, roughly 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon. Indeed, their share prices depend on exploiting these reserves and you are surely aware of the enormous sums they have spent to prevent governments from protecting the habitability of our planet, thus reducing the value of their assets. Their business plan is incompatible with our survival.
Frighteningly, there are also states, parties to the convention, with the same plan. Canada, for example, has signed onto the Copenhagen Accord and committed to allowing no more than 2 degrees of warming. However, in direct conflict with this commitment, Canada has also publicly admitted that its position at the UN is to defend the oil sands industry whose projects alone would increase global emissions by three times the world's carbon budget. States like this are blocking progress in the name of an industry with the potential to break the planet.
Ms. Figueres, we know that you are a person of conviction with a genuine desire to see the UNFCCC meet its mandate. We believe that you want to see a fair and ambitious global climate accord that keeps us below the 2 degree threshold. We know you've done the math. This is your climate legacy, and our generation's inheritance.
You have the power to fix this process, to move us towards real climate progress, but it means being willing to call out those who stand in the way of a safe and prosperous future. The secretariat needs to acknowledge that there are groups at the UNFCCC whose goals undermine the mission and mandate of the convention. Observer organizations can be penalized, and even removed from the convention if we violate the protocols for participation. Perhaps there should be a similar process for observers and parties whose mandates fundamentally contradict the convention.
Simply put, we have a choice in front of us, we can have a healthy planet and safe climate, or the oil, coal and gas industry can have a healthy pocketbook. We can't have both, and its time for you, and for the UNFCCC to decide what is more important; the lives and livelihoods of people, or the balance sheets of Exxon, Shell, and Chevron.