Report 8 from #COP21 - Tuesday December 8, 2015
An Taisce has a few members attending CoP at various times over the next 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
Our eighth from Paul Price, a member of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee. Paul is a conservation carpenter with a MSc in Sustainable Development.
We really recommend you read these for the quality of Paul’s pen pictures of CoP21 as seen by a NGO participant - Our apologies for this being out late
**Report 8 from #COP21 - Tuesday December 8, 2015 **
Aaagh! It’s already late Tuesday morning so this report is getting very late.
I wish I could update you what we here have been told in regular formal briefings, from the Irish delegation to the group of NGO reps, on their view of the current negotiation text, or to tell us how they are lobbying very hard to push an EU drive for a strong legally binding agreement to cut emissions deeply and quickly in line with our UNFCCC treaty pledges. But I can’t. Because there haven’t been any. I’ve heard that the Canadian delegation is giving formal briefings to its NGOs every day at 1:30, so perhaps Ireland could now learn from the refreshing change toward open climate communication that nation engages in. Or perhaps the point is that it takes an election to move things along.
The only way to really keep up, wherever you are, is to read all the briefings on the internet and, if here to be part of an observer group that collates reports from reps they send to all the many side meetings on text that are open to observers. Yesterday morning a climate justice event gave the kind of hints and gossip that counts for information on the negotiations happening just a couple of hundred metres away. As in the recent OECD report’s new figure of $603 billion for developing nations the money being promised for adaptation or ‘loss and damage’ is either not new or else illusory in some other way. The Friends of the Earth speaker said that transferring wealth and funds to poorer nations in recompense for the climate impacts due to rich nation emissions but the loss and damage clauses in the treaty are being watered down. In particular, the US is willing to have such a clause but will not countenance any hint of liability.
By far the most emotional appeal I’ve heard yet at this conference came from a New Zealander representing the collected Pacific islands of Oceania. Speaking with great emotion and some tears she testified to the steady erosion of traditional culture and ecosystems that sea level rise and climate change is bringing due to human-caused global warming. Delivering a powerful plea for action to ensure maximum global surface warming of no more than 1.5ºC she stated, “We stand in solidarity with all those around the world threatened by the results of inaction”.
At the same event, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, took the opportunity to double funding to Scotland’s climate justice fund, announcing a further £12 million over the next four years and echoing Oceania, “We stand in solidarity with all those threatened”. The contrast with our own Government’s meagre penny-pinching and self-centred ‘climate action=hands off agriculture’ rhetoric was notable.
In the afternoon I went to a climate science event on ‘short lived climate pollutants’, or SLCPs (in the acronym jargon of science and CoP’s). These are pollutants adding to the human-boosted greenhouse effect, such as black carbon soot (from burning wood, peat and coal) and methane emitted by ruminant animals, oil and gas wells and rice cultivation. The event focused on the approaches used to give some equivalence in policy between the warming effect of these SLCPs and CO₂. The Kyoto Protocol governing emissions of some nations, including the EU, used a metric that added up the total warming effect of each pollutant over an arbitrarily determined period of 100 years. However, there is no perfect metric and a better one for 2ºC suggested is one that gives a ‘snapshot’ effective temperature increase relative to CO₂. The point is that the “carbon equivalent” footprint of any SLCP producing activity (beef production for example) will increase steadily as the 2 Celsius CO₂ carbon budget is exhausted over the next 25 years (or longer if very rapid CO₂ emissions reductions begin as a matter of urgency - not currently appearing likely).
The main point is that CO₂ is fundamentally different in that it has a near permanent (1000 year) effect so it does not matter when it is emitted. To limit global warming, CO₂ emissions must go to zero. By contrast SLCPs have short-term effects - for methane about 10 years. Nonetheless, what matters in climate action, whether for CO₂ or shorter-lived pollutants, is that annual emissions must go down steadily over time. Of course, for the ruminant methane that is such a big part of Irish emissions, the problem is that the Irish Government (apparently on behalf of the Irish people - or at least that subset represented by Irish agri-food lobbyists) plan that our annual emissions should instead inexorably increase for the indefinite future. This is premised (among other things) on a presumed, utterly implacable, trend to increasing global meat consumption.
In a carbon copy of Simon Coveney, the New Zealand Minister for Climate Change, Tim Groser (from another nation with very high ruminant cattle and sheep emissions), gave us a speech boasting of high ‘climate efficiency’ yet failing to talk about increasing production. The trouble with this is that the actual carbon footprint of agriculture per year is the efficiency multiplied by the production per year, giving the total annual emissions. And, of course, for any local increase in efficiency to reduce total emissions it must not be outweighed by production increases. This should be pretty obvious to any average citizen who takes a moment to think about it although esteemed civil servants, journalists and economists seem perpetually unable to grasp that ‘efficiency’ times ‘production’ = ‘emissions’, where the key thing that matters is that total of emissions. Given how basic this is, one has to wonder whether they simply don’t get it, or don’t want to get it.
The other abundantly obvious point that is constantly missed by “experts” (or at least “pundits” and “spokespersons”) is that any efficiency actually has to be realised within some effective mechanism that will cut total emissions. At present the mechanism to realise the superior efficiency of Irish agriculture (in GHGs per unit) is domestic reduction of the ‘basket’ of Irish emissions that are not part of the EU’s emission trading scheme. But this basket has no meaning because no government has wanted to make the mechanism work to cut the total emissions. The plan is just to let the rest of us, rather than the polluters in transport and agriculture, pay the EU fines for excess emissions. (And of course, fines, no matter how large, will not undo past emissions in the slightest. The climate is not “negotiating”. And certainly not “bluffing”. It will be neither bribed nor placated. It will simply respond.)
Whenever agriculture or any sector boasts of their efficiency the immediate questions need to be: Are total emissions going down? and, What enforced mechanism are you proposing to be a part of to ensure that any efficiency “gain” is actually realised in absolute emissions reduction? As every scientist but few others here have constantly repeated, climate action requires ALL sectors to cut total emissions substantially and consistently over the coming years and decades to have any hope of limiting climate change.
No surprise then that Tim Groser did not talk about either of these points. I t was disappointing that it was up to me rather than the senior climate scientists on the panel to correct these basic points in the Q&A afterward. Outside the room though both of them agreed with my two points on efficiency and mechanism.
Like so much of the negotiations and climate change politics, rather than being clear about the problem and acting on what we know, instead we insist on fooling ourselves even at exalted levels of government, academia and media. In some quarters this is known as denial.
For further information, please call:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland