As you read this, the 17th Council of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is happening in Durban, South Africa. The goal of the UNFCCC, created in 1992, is to serve as a starting point for managing climate change. Through the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol was drafted in 1997 and implemented in 2005. Kyoto Protocol Signatories pledged to reduce their 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels by at least 5% during the period 2008-2012. The recent COP meetings have been tasked with developing a successor to the Protocol in an attempt to hold warming levels to the United Nations’ 2 degree C goal. COP17, as most in recent history, has been characterized by sharp divisions between those countries to be most affected by climate change in the short-term (small islands, least developed nations and the EU) and those that either don’t feel they will be affected or are focused more on economy and development (the US, Canada, Russia, Japan, China and India). Naturally, those in the former camp want an international agreement to regulate greenhouse gas emissions now, while those in the later want binding agreements to be stalled until 2015. Realistically, without the support of the largest world economies, the chances for an international climate change mitigation agreement are very slim.
In upstate New York, in a place very close to the hearts of many – including me and my family, ecologist and author Jerry Jenkins spends his time documenting, advocating for and savoring the Adirondack Park. Jenkins’ book, Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability, urges individuals to view climate change not as something happening miles away in measurements too large and too “down the road” to fully comprehend. Instead, Jenkins shares his observations of the park where bogs, mosses, coniferous trees and many forms of wildlife can only exist in a particular temperature range. Many of the parks’ plant and animal species are already at the southern edge of their range in terms of climate and temperature – for many, a temperature increase of only 5 degrees could mean extinction from the park. A major climate change study, conducted by climate scientists from Cornell, Columbia and the City University of New York, was recently released and predicts that by 2080, the temperature within the Adirondack Park could be as much as 9 degrees warmer. This means that the Adirondack Park could be drastically different within a time span of 70 years if emission levels continue to rise.