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New life in Paris

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I was surprised at the positive tone of the Economist's December 14th articleNew life for the Paris climate deal – A flurry of meetings should help curb greenhouse-gas emissions. But the global agreement is still essential.   I felt like that because of how gloomy the paper had been a couple of weeks earlier about the chances of getting enough CO2 out of the atmosphere to limit climate change and keep the temperature rise to ~1.5 degrees above historic levels.  As the paper noted, because we are already at +1.0 degrees ±x (where x might be around 25%) and the excess carbon in the system will just keep adding to that, it's not just a question of stopping adding carbon, but of removing some of what's already there.  We have no idea how to do that.

There were, of course new pledges.  The Economist said that these, and ...

"the pomp, were intended to breathe new life into the Paris deal.  America’s planned departure did not strike it a mortal blow, as some greens feared it would. It may even have nudged the last two holdouts, Nicaragua and Syria, to sign up in November.  But the pledges made so far are inadequate, and many are conditional on other countries keeping their side of the bargain.  Fresh momentum is sorely needed."

The paper remains hopeful despite writing this:

"This year’s “Emissions Gap” report from the UN, published in October, shows that the first set of climate pledges submitted by 164 countries corresponds to barely a third of the cut in emissions needed to keep warming below 2°C (see chart).  Studies suggest that these “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) would probably result in temperatures 2.9-3.4°C higher than in pre-industrial times—and that only if they are fully implemented, which seems unlikely."

In order to get a lot of governments on board, the Paris Agreement was vague about how its goal was to be reached.  For example, by 2018, countries are supposed to agree how to [i] calculate, [ii] review and [iii] increase their NDCs.  The Economist noted that:

"Reaching consensus on what counts as a reduction in emissions, and who should monitor progress, will be delicate, admits Patricia Espinosa, the head of the UN climate secretariat.  In Bonn (at CIP23), striking a tentative agreement on something as basic as deciding what to discuss during the coming year counted as a coup."

To add to the gloom, COP24 will be in Poland in the heart of the coal district.  This is how the article ended:

"Don’t forget Paris

But for all the importance of subnational green efforts, the UN climate process is still essential. It is the only mechanism available for chivvying stragglers to do more. And if global warming is to be kept within reasonable bounds, action will be needed not just by the most committed, but also from those currently doing little or nothing. The Paris deal’s voluntary, flexible nature means that it is national pledges, backed by legislation, that collectively add up to global climate governance. Mr Macron’s summit can be judged a success if it reminds the world of this fact."

As I said at the outset, I was surprised by the positive tone of all this.  For a contrary view, go here.

 

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