Promises, promises, ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

A great new deal, or just a fraud and a fake, as Jim Hansen says?   As I've noted already in a post-COP21 script to an earlier post, the new target of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is more political than scientific.  And it's not just Hansen who's gloomy; here's George Monbiot:

"Progressive as the outcome is by comparison to all that has gone before, it leaves us with an almost comically lopsided agreement.  While negotiations on almost all other global hazards seek to address both ends of the problem, the UN climate process has focused entirely on the consumption of fossil fuels, while ignoring their production."

But maybe all that's a bit overstated.  Is this really a triumph for the oil and coal cartels – another triumph, that is – they certainly tried hard to make it so.  Or does it add weight to the notion that they are all on borrowed time?

Paris was a success.  I watched a series of French politicians saying  – prior to its unveiling – how great the deal was, without ever saying what the deal actually was: fittingly, what was something of an anticlimax came later.  But in fairness to the drive and determination of the French, it's hard to see how there could ever have been a London Agreement on all this – we've just not that needy, or perhaps caring.  Anyway: France 1 – 0 Denmark.

So what about the deal?  If you were teaching about this tomorrow, what would you want to get across?  For me,  these are the key points:

  • This is clearly not nothing, and is more than many feared.  It marks a global political recognition of the risks of climate change.  And yet, it doesn't quite feel like something – it's more like an indicator of something than the real thing.  What countries now do will be that something, and we will have to wait for a few years to see how substantive it really is.
  • On the positive side, there is an explicit and ambitious goal of having as much greenhouse gas coming out of the atmosphere as going into it in the second half of this century.  On the negative, the world is nearly 1°C warmer than it was in the 18th century, and existing national pledges on climate action are more in line with a warming of 3°C than 1.5°C.
  • The agreement requires countries to act, but it says nothing concrete about what or how much anyone has to do.  Whilst the UN cannot mandate countries to act in specific ways, their citizens can – time for some pressure, perhaps; time for a plan.
  • The Paris agreement requires $100bn a year to move from economically-developed countries to developing countries by 2020, with the amount to be reviewed in 2025.  This obligation also bears (morally, at least) on rich developing countries as well: India, China, etc.  The Economist noted that it was that all nations are to make contributions on an increasingly equal basis that justified Hollande’s terming the agreement 'universal'.
  • That said, it remains to be seen how well all that money will be spent, and I cannot be the only one to worry that some of this will be squandered or sequested in personal bank accounts.
  • The Paris Agreement embodies an economic transition away from the age of fossil fuels.  Inevitably, this will be more drawn out that most of us would wish – or the Earth needs – but maybe this morning, as the Economist also noted, the the idea of investing in coal and oil will seem more risky than it did yesterday.
  • It is real concern about the climate, public opinion, and wide-ranging international pressure that has got us this far, and it similar bottom-up processes, rather than unenforceable UN mandates, that will drive up the level of action in decades to come.  As I said, time for some action; time for some pressure.

I've just read through all this again, and it makes me sound more positive than I intended to be.  It would be nice to think that is justified.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • I am feeling very buoyant today about all of this! As you say, it is (largely) bottom up pressure that has got us this far and this will us an extra boost and hence increased impetus to keep pushing.

  • To offset your possibly over-buoyant blog here is a sceptical note from an eloquent friend of mine:

    The problem is not just the rising level of CO2 but our entire way of life that sees the earth (and people also) as resources to be exploited. Our culture has no sense of a vital connection to the living earth. Reducing CO2 emissions, if it ever happens, will solve nothing because all the other systemic problems will only continue to get worse. All this excitement about the COP21 agreement is at best a distraction.

    As you will have detected I hold out no hope that humans collectively will halt, let alone reverse, the destruction. Will the 50% of wildlife populations lost in the 40 years ever be recovered? Will the virgin forests return? Will the rivers, seas and oceans become unpolluted again?

    Humans have created lives insulated from the natural world so generally don't see what's going on. We look instead at TV and computer screens, pieces of paper, and the ones and zeros that make up our bank balances. The irony is that these things are even less permanent than the living world we're busily trashing to create them.

    Despair is the only honest response.