Cop21 - A background report from Paris - Day 3

2nd December 2015
Press Release

An Taisce has a few members attending CoP at various times over the next two weeks. We hope to bring you a frequent series of background reports on what is (or is not) happening on the ground.

Our third is from Paul Price, a member of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee. Paul is a conservation carpenter with a MSc in Sustainable Development.

Day 3 at the Climate Conference

Being at the Paris climate conference is like being at a very big trade show, one that a great many people would rather not be attending at all, but is that is part of a life’s work for many others. Once past security, entering the conference proper there is a long marqueed nave with large halls off to each side forming expanded aisles for meetings, talks and informational ‘side, and away in the distance are the big spaces where big things might, just might be decided in the last overtime seconds of the big talking shop that’s even now and yet again wrangling over each “notes”, “decides to”, and “agrees to” clause in the current draft agreement.

Feeling unworthy, not too mention insufficiently badged, for such exalted realms I ducked into the OSB (Smart Plywood) clad rooms in the aisles to attend side events, briefings from expert panels, and very expert they proved to be: I found them concisely insightful, nuanced and exacting. Having complex information about reality presented clearly, by people who really understand their subject, can be seriously satisfying. It’s already too late at night here so I’ll try to give just a quick sense of what I heard.

Speaking of complexity: the tangled web of climate, society and politics was teased apart by social scientists looking at human mobility and migration concluding that there is nothing straightforward about it. Given the likely increased stress from climate change, adding to the frequency and intensity of heat events and droughts, national politics everywhere will need to get to grips with the reality of what lies ahead, especially if global emissions are not radically cut as soon as possible.

Though the Syrian crisis has been driven by multiple factors, added to in part by drought, it has revealed three striking failures: how unprepared political thinking and societal understanding is for such sudden societal failures in nearby regions; the massive institutional gaps in responding; and the critical need to address human mobility within international agreements. The reality of rapid, human-caused climate change is now presenting humanity with a stark and urgent choice between a climate of peace and a climate of conflict. CoP21 is, above all, a peace conference.

The gender-balanced social science event noted men have been in power in this “manthropocene” rush to pollute the atmosphere, so it seemed only fitting that the panel for the ‘high level discussion’ of carbon pricing and emission trading was all male. It was the man from the IMF who spelled out the very limited spread of emission pricing around the world: only 40 countries have pricing covering 10% of global emissions at an average price of about €10 per tonne of CO₂. (This I’ll note here is far, far short of the €100/tonne estimated for the EU by University of Cambridge economists in line with the 2ºC limit.) The basic economics is clear that carbon should be priced as far ‘upstream’ as possible, meaning at the coal mine, or oil or gas wellhead (or head of cattle he could perhaps have added). Also clear are the massive co-benefits of pricing greenhouse gas emissions both in cutting health impacts from pollution and in bringing in very large revenues to fund a low carbon transition.

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s former PM, weighed in on the messy business of politics and climate action. Never call emission pricing a carbon tax, he said, simply because it sounds bad. In Australia they called it a Carbon Pollution Reduction Fee to make the strong connection in the public mind between the price and reason for it, and Government made sure that those in society least able to pay received credits. Rudd and others in the panel all agreed on the need for a rising global floor price with action moving from national to regional to global. Trouble is, I thought, the Earth’s climate system works the other way round, and none of the speakers were thinking of aligning pricing right now – which needs to be economy-wide and more like a €100 per tonne of CO₂ – with the limited and rapidly depleting future carbon budget for 2ºC. Every year we are borrowing ever more from our descendents.

Directly bearing on Ireland, the briefing on wetlands made it very clear that, despite being small in area, all peatlands are critical, intensive carbon stores that need to be kept wet, and if dry rewetted as a matter of great urgency. On the global map Ireland stood out as a fossil in acting to restore its peatlands with very large emissions that could be stopped if action was taken in the way that speakers from Mongolia and Russia showed can happen at large scale. The first Green Climate Fund action is to restore wetlands in Peru. Meanwhile, in places like Indonesia, on a huge scale, and in Ireland, on a large scale per capita (as I was able to say), companies are carrying out Government-supported actions to further degrade the very lands that are so critical a part in climate action.

At the science briefing by the Met Office, the clarity of the science came through loud and clear. The very limited remaining carbon budget is further reduced by how much permafrost melts: less for 2ºC and much more for 4ºC. Even with serious, ongoing, deep reductions in emissions (strong mitigation) 1 in 50 year events in Europe will become every other year, but with less or no mitigation things will be much, much worse. Mitigation strongly reduces risk. Also clearly presented was the fact that Ireland and Britain have much more climate variability so that the trend of climate change takes longer to emerge from the background noise. Not so in the tropics, in places like Kenya where the signal is already evident to all.

From all these different experts, from their wide range of experience, the message from the evidence for policy is very simple. Act now. Don’t delay.

ENDS

For further information, please call:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
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