COP21 Climate Change Summit Reaches Deal In Paris

13 12 2015

Mark Cochrane on COPOUT21

The climate pact in Paris has been agreed to and there are reasons to not only be relieved but impressed with the rhetoric that got into the final agreement. Specifically,

Emphasizing with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual  emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with  holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature  increase to 1.5 °C

This is positive because it acknowledges that 2C isn’t a panacea and 1.5C would be a lot safer though far from optimal too. I am surprised that this got into the agreement since Saudi Arabia was dead set against this potential accelerant to improving the current agreement and encouraging countries to exceed their current commitments.

That said, the devil is in the details and none of those details are encouraging. At present this is where we stand.

If countries do what they have pledged to do we will still vastly exceed 2C, never mind holding at 1.5C. This leads to the obvious question as to what is the likelihood that countries will live up to their pledges? Although the climate pact was agreed to, the only thing binding in it is for countries to make voluntary commitments (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – INDCs) that will be reviewed (and updated?) every five years. So each country is committed to choosing their own targets for emissions reduction (or reduction in growth of emissions) but there is nothing binding them to actually achieving those goals… In other words, this is a best of intentions agreement.

Furthermore, the signing of this Paris Agreement means next to nothing at this point as it is only the agreement to try to agree to actually do this. From Article 21

This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

This was roughly the same convention used for ratifying the Kyoto Protocol which was agreed to in 1997. However because of U.S. intransigence the actual ratification process was stymied until Russia ratified it in late 2004, allowing the Kyoto Protocol to go into force at long last in 2005.

So, there is now a toothless agreement with voluntary commitments that may eventually be ratified. Once it is ratified, a country can withdraw from the agreement three years after it goes into force if they send a written request to do so….

In short, this is far from a perfect document and it certainly does not ‘save the planet’. That said, getting 192 countries to agree to anything is almost impossible. My personal hope is that what this document does is put every country on the planet on record as agreeing that Global Climate Change is a serious problem for all of us. Doing so shifts negotiations from denial of the predicament we face to the bargaining phase of trying to deal with it with as little real sacrifice as possible. However, as the mindset shifts, more and more can be accomplished and perhaps we will finally allow human ingenuity to be applied to generating more positive outcomes. Right now the fear exists that we can’t possibly afford to do anything about reducing carbon emissions without collapsing the economy but this was the same nonsense peddled when the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer was put into place. In the end, the agreement was not economically catastrophic or even disruptive. Change does not have to destroy the economy it just shifts where the money goes within it.

Without this agreement the world was effectively dead in the water, with it, we are still in the water but not yet dead.

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5 responses

13 12 2015
Graham

In other words the perfect Faustian pact that will not take effect until 2020 with even more kicking of the can down the road. Let’s see what actually happens, not in 5 yearly reviews, but day to day.

13 12 2015
Idiocracy

Not one of your better pieces Mark…

To summarise; the paris climate pact is positively impressive, the details however are sketchy and we’re probably still all f#%*ed anyways, but we at least now have a fighting chance to keep our planet and (somehow) continue economically eating it too… because hopium!!!

8-P

14 12 2015
Brandon Young

The Paris Agreement calls for “a balance to be achieved between the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of these gases from the atmosphere by some time between 2050 and 2100.”

Now that we have a globally agreed target for what outcome we want, we need to turn our attention to how we get that outcome. The task of course is to reduce emissions as quickly as possible, and to increase the rate of removal of greenhouse gases as much as possible, and the simplest and most powerful way to achieve it is with a Global Carbon Sinking Fund.

The scheme is governed by a desired trajectory for greenhouse gas concentrations over time. This would be a smooth curve that starts from where concentrations are now, rises at a slowing rate for the near future as emissions start to fall, flattening out at a peak as we reach zero net emissions, the point of “balance” called for in the agreement, and continues on into negative emissions within the required time frame, which in the agreement is the weak and vague target already mentioned. Negative emissions means that the combination of both natural and artificial carbon sinking remove more greenhouse gases from the biosphere than human and natural activities release into it. This requires both preserving the planet’s existing natural carbon sinks, and developing an entire new industry that can extract greenhouse gas from the biosphere and store it in a permanent and inert form.

A simple global price on all emissions would be charged to each nation, and this revenue would flow into an enormous fund for carbon sinking. Nations that preside over natural carbon sinks like mangrove systems and rainforests would be paid large streams of revenue for preserving these natural sinks, and restoring them where possible, giving them all the incentive they need to get serious about halting the destruction currently under way.

Part of the enormous global fund can simply be put on hold until industrial scale carbon sinking becomes feasible, and the rewards for the businesses that manage to innovate and lead the way will be tremendous, as will the rewards for the nations that best foster that research and development.

Conceptually, this simple scheme gathers funds from the destructive economic activities, distributes them to the constructive activities, and the result will be a systematic increase of constructive activities, and a systematic decline in destructive ones, which is exactly what is required. The curve will be smooth, the lowest hanging fruit will always be picked first, and the outcome will be far less disruptive to achieve than we might collectively expect. Every organisation, public and private, will be able to reduce costs by finding efficiencies, and those that innovate the fastest will reap the greatest rewards.

The pricing signal can be regularly adjusted according to how well the real world measurement of greenhouse gas concentrations is tracking the desired trajectory. When the outcome is below requirement, the pricing signal is increased, and when the outcome gets ahead of the curve, the pricing signal is lowered.

This is an elegant and powerful solution, There is no scope to game the system. The pricing signal has no upper limit, and will increase until we get the results we want. We don’t need to pick winning technologies, just to decide how quickly we want to achieve sustainability, and let the profit motive determine the most effective mix of solutions.

The same conceptual approach of using destructive activities to subsidise constructive ones could be used for any goal that we might set for the economy to serve, as outlined here: https://theconversation.com/the-off-topic-conversation-64-48964#comment_807393

As the chart in the article shows, we will need to follow the green trajectory to achieve the agreed goal, rather than the red, so the desired trajectory for greenhouse gas concentrations will need to become more ambitious over time. Once the world has seen how effective this Global Carbon Sinking Fund solution is, and how little disruption was required to achieve our target trajectory, we can easily adjust the desired trajectory to bring the negative emissions point forward, and dramatically reduce the risk of tipping the climate into dangerous chaos, at no real cost at all.

This comment was originally posted in the response to an article here: https://theconversation.com/the-paris-climate-agreement-at-a-glance-50465#comment_854756

16 12 2015
Don

Saw Environment Minister Hunt on TV the other night. Can anyone tell me where I can get a current copy of “New Speak” dictionary. I need it to under what he means when he is not saying what he is saying.

16 12 2015
Idiocracy

Try a search on ministryoftruth.gov.au

;-P

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