John Sweeney and Paul Price report from #Cop21Paris

10th December 2015
Press Release

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

You can see them all at http://www.antaisce.org/articles/whats-happening-on-the-ground-at-cop21

This evening, Thursday 10th December 2015, another double dose. The first from Professor John Sweeney, Ireland’s premier climate scientist and the second from Paul Price

John Sweeney - The Levelling Down Process Continues

The language of a UN agreement is virtually impenetrable to the average person. Lengthy preambles and legalistic jargon make it hard to decipher where the key bits are unless one is skilled in international legal matters. Notwithstanding this, almost all of the countries that spoke on the draft agreement issued on Wednesday found fault with it and packed the negotiators off for a night’s work to redraft it. They did so until around 7 am, after which an unusual silence descended on the COP. Those who turned up in the morning had little news to learn as the secretariat assembled the new draft and the legal people scrutinised it. So the press conferences and updates throughout the day mainly consisted of rumour and speculation. It was after 9 pm before Ms. Fabius revealed his new draft.

The new streamlined text reduces the area of indecision considerably and meets some of the criticisms voiced concerning the earlier draft especially by the developing countries and small island states.

A stronger statement of intent to restrict warming to 1.5oC is the main addition, though what precisely this will entail in terms of policy efforts is not at all clear. A stronger commitment to achieving the finance target of $100B set for the Green Climate Fund to assist developing countries to adapt to climate change is also evident. Though this sounds like a lot of money it is still only one sixth of what is currently used to subsidise fossil fuels.

However some omissions do raise concerns. Ironically today was International Human Rights Day and reference to human rights and gender equality seem to have slipped down the agenda in the new draft. This is strange given the strong representations made by many countries and especially by Mary Robinson, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The inclusion of a Loss and Damage section was flagged as vital by the developing countries and this does feature in the new draft. But routeways towards compensation and liability appear to have been closed off by some powerful developed countries. Similarly the concerns expressed by the EU that the rapidly growing emissions from shipping and aviation be incorporated in any agreement also have not been recognised and would seem to have been dropped altogether as an issue. This is a serious issue as emissions from these two sources, occurring outside national boundaries, amount to the equivalent of Germany and South Korea combined. Ironically the Marshall Islands, likely to be an early casualty of sea level rise, is also the world’s third largest shipping registry after Panama and Liberia. Despite this it is in the vanguard of efforts to include shipping emissions in any agreement. Other countries could learn from such willingness to place global community good before narrow national self interest.

The new benchmark year from which emission cuts would be measured was specified yesterday as 2010 and not 1990. This would have been a disadvantage to several countries who increased their emissions substantially between 1990 and 2010, especially Russia and some eastern European countries. But dates and reduction targets are not detailed as specifically in the new version. The Developed countries would seem to have obtained ‘wriggle room’ in return for concessions elsewhere.

And so the negotiators headed off into the night for another marathon session. Undoubtedly some of today’s draft will be modified. But the clock is ticking down now and injecting more ambition into the agreement will prove difficult. The dilemma of whether a weak agreement is better than no agreement will undoubtedly dominate the next 24 hours. But as with most previous COPs, rabbits can be pulled out of the hat in the closing hours.

Paul Price – An Taisce Climate Change Committee

Report 10 from #COP21

Wednesday December 9th, 2015, at the Paris climate conference

On Wednesday Bill McKibben of 350.org started my day off at a “Stop Fracking” event spelling out that expanded use of natural gas cannot be a ‘bridge’ between phasing out coal use and expanding renewables. Instead he said, “natural gas is more like a creaky pier to failure” (an observation backed up by this UK analysis by Prof. Kevin Anderson Note [1]). Even more snappily, he noted, “If we wanted to release massive amounts of potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere you could not do it better than to poke holes in the ground everywhere and carry out the equivalent of underground pipe bombing to release the methane”.

Unfortunately, I had to slip out of that event to go off to the welcome briefing by the Irish delegation to those of us from Irish NGOs -- the kind of briefing which I had been bemoaning the lack of a couple of days ago. Despite the detailed answers from the Department of Environment team given to our questions I cannot say I came out of the meeting knowing a great deal more than I did before.

I asked, given the extremely limited, known remaining 2ºC global carbon budget, whether our officials had any knowledge of any negotiation being based on limiting it or achieving its equitable distribution. On this, the essential question now facing humanity, the answer was simple: No.

As to Ireland’s climate negotiations here, on the one hand we know that Ireland is only acting within the EU (which in turn is only one of many groups of nations at this conference), and on the other hand this means that Ireland can essentially keep its head down and look after its national interests without being very obvious about it.

Having artfully directed the EU Council of Ministers statement on agriculture last year, especially on agriculture and forestry Note[2], the main government aims here on behalf of that favoured sector would seem to be: to keep carbon sequestration in forests and soils in the agreement, in hopes of cancelling out some livestock emissions; and to exclude land-use, to ensure that land sources of carbon emissions like peatlands would not count as agricultural sector emissions. So far it seems that all is going to plan.

Alan Kelly, our Minister of Environment, joined the meeting towards the end, particularly expressing his concern about the Shannon flooding, a topic not unrelated to climate change, but offering little on the state of negotiations other than agreeing that the next stages would be more difficult. We just don’t know to what extent Ireland even has its own climate policy other than achieving the short-term gains desired by special interests. That’s the special beauty of being hidden within the EU at these negotiations, it makes it even easier to hide than if speaking as a separate voice.

Later on Wednesday an event on delved into the effects of meat production and consumption on climate. Showing a 2 degree emissions reduction pathway compared to the projected rise in livestock emissions, a Chatham House thinktank speaker showed that livestock production could amount to as much as half of all global emissions by 2050 unless supply and/or demand were slowed. The healthy level of meat consumption is thought to be about 30 kg per year, whereas in the USA the annual amount of meat eaten is over 100 kg per year, and in Ireland it’s about 80 kg per person per year. Chatham House’s research shows that if people are aware of the climate impacts due to their diet then they are much more likely to change their diet toward eating less meat.

Other speakers also emphasised the overconsumption of meat in industrialised societies, the increasing meat-eating in rapidly developing countries like China, and the very low meat consumption in the poorest nations. They also noted that the production of high emissions food from livestock is often heavily subsidised (in the EU by the Common Agricultural Policy). Meanwhile China is now planning to limit to low carbon food and act against increased consumption, something that Ireland’s expansionary food industry export plans might not have reckoned on.

One key point made was that ruminant meat is a very inefficient medium of food calorie production that also comes with high greenhouse emissions. For smaller farmers practicing low density, extensive (often biodiverse) agriculture, livestock emissions per hectare are relatively low and some meat can be an important part of diet. However, subsidised intensive production of livestock-derived food has very high total emissions and mostly feeds existing rich-world consumers and an expanding middle class in the developing world rather than the world’s poor.

As the event moderator, Johan Rockstrom, planetary boundaries scholar Note[3], noted: cutting ruminant numbers and increasing low GHG, non-meat production would be a quick win for climate, by reducing potent greenhouse gas emissions due to methane from cattle, and a win for nutrition security by increasing available food calories.

Given the analysis from this event it is very difficult to see how Ireland’s continued beef production and expanding dairy industry meets the repeated claims of Bord Bia, Teagasc, the IFA and the Department of Agriculture to be either ‘climate smart’ or ‘feeding the world’. Neither claim appears to be remotely accurate.

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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Note 1 this UK analysis by Prof. Kevin Anderson http://kevinanderson.info/blog/why-a-uk-shale-gas-industry-is-incompatible-with-the-2c-framing-of-dangerous-climate-change/
Note 2: http://capreform.eu/an-agricultural-perspective-on-the-european-council-2030-climate-and-energy-framework-conclusions/
Note 3: http://www.ted.com/talks/johan_rockstrom_let_the_environment_guide_our_development?language=en