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 count￼ries 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.