What's happening on the ground at #CoP21Paris
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. We are posting them here daily.
This is the eleventh report 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.
This is the last report from Paris by Professor John Sweeney, Ireland's premier Climate Scientist and a member of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee.
Historic Agreement Reached on 12/12/2015
The last session of each COP is usually marked by a prolonged exchange of hugs and kisses on the platform, irrespective of how successful the two week negotiation has been. Often this is for local domestic political consumption to show the world what a good job the host country has done, and how high the esteem of the presiding Minister or senior politician is with his peers.
On Saturday night, however, things were very different. As news of the agreement was confirmed, the few thousand delegates in both the main Plenary Hall (La Seine) and the overflow hall (La Loire) began to exhibit the kind of euphoria usually seen at a world championship sports event. Seasoned politicians, and even some hard bitten journalists, became quite emotional. The sight of the chief US negotiator (Secretary of State John Kerry) hugging his Chinese counterpart (Xie Zhenhua) is not something one sees normally, and replicated several such interactions around the hall. In truth, some of the individuals had been trying for such a historic deal for the previous 20 years and had witnessed the rocky road to Paris via many setbacks and arguments along the way. The failure at Copenhagen when similar optimism had prevailed prior to the meeting, weighed heavily on their minds. Many also realised that the agreement they were making was not delivering much of what they wanted, but did represent a giant step forward in the fight to bequeath their children a sustainable future.
The last few days were a test of stamina for the negotiators, with some 65 hours of continuous talks, translation and legal proofing. Both round table and bilateral meetings were hastily arranged and negotiators called their bosses at home and Presidents called other Presidents to achieve the final compromises necessary. But it was not all high level power plays by the big countries and some tiny countries, most notably the Marshall Islands, showed leadership and ambition which was absent from some of their bigger colleagues.
The Agreement signifies the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age, with each of the 195 countries committing to limit their greenhouse gas emissions progressively over coming decades with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C above pre industrial levels, ideally below 1.5°C. Scientifically the latter lacks credibility, and is more a symbolic gesture to the small island developing states and least developed countries who are most vulnerable to any further temperature/sea level rise. No sanctions are envisaged for countries not complying with a requirement to renew their pledges every five years on a progressively more demanding basis. However the ‘no backsliding’ requirement is seen as a way of progressively tightening the noose around profligate polluters and working towards a decarbonised world after mid century. For the developing countries a guaranteed fund of $100B is to be created by contributions from developed countries to help foster a sustainable development trajectory and encourage them to not replicate the fossil fuel based economies of the developed world which has produced the problem in the first place. Historic but differentiated responsibility was a catch phrase widely used to differentiate the actions required from different groupings of countries.
The omissions from the agreement are many. Aviation and shipping escaped mention. For such emissions in international waters and air, the national jurisdictions found it difficult to agree on. This is a serious omission since together these sources currently account for emissions on a scale of Germany and South Korea combined. Human rights received much less attention than it should have (some countries objected strongly to its inclusion) and ‘climate justice’ was also not incorporated at the request of some countries. Attempts by the developing countries to insert a ‘Loss and Damage’ section were successful but only at the cost of a negating sentence which expressly forbade compensation or liability issues to arise as a consequence. Timetables and emission reduction figures were vague and generally the EU would have welcomed greater ambition in several areas.
The Paris Agreement now goes for a signing ceremony in April and countries have a further year to ratify it before it becomes operative in 2020. 55 countries comprising 55% of global emissions are required for it to become functional. Not all of the agreement is legally binding and it is conceivable that the main parts would not have to go for example before the US Congress for approval.
A great deal of credit for the agreement must go to the diplomatic skills of the President of COP21, French Foreign Minister Lauren Fabius. While some of us had doubts that a developed world chairperson would retain the confidence of the developing countries, M. Fabius was exemplary in his transparency of operation and gained the praise of all delegates. It was remarkable that a unanimous decision involving 195 countries could be achieved and as the green gavel was brought down with a thud on Saturday night, and delegates began to filter out home, the world gained breathing space and an improved prospect for the sustainability of what Pope Francis referred to as ‘Our Common Home’.
Report 11 from COP21 - Saturday Evening, 12 December 2015 at the Paris climate conference.
It's odd to be sitting here in a vast plenary room out at Le Bourget on the evening when a global climate change agreement is concluded. We sit UN-style, in serried, packed ranks of desks all of us with headphones delivering translated words, all watching four big video screens, and many among the crowd supplying rounds of heady applause. And this with the praised speakers actually in the similarly enormous room next door. It's like watching sport on television in an enormous and very dull pub.
Just before coming in, three of us from Ireland were outside scanning the agreed draft text attempting to discern its meaning, to see whether it has any commitments or any mechanisms to ensure its delivery. Given only a quick run-through there seems to be a very large divide indeed between the vague text, which rarely strays beyond the aspirational, and the excitement and emotion so evident in these halls.
I've no doubt that many people, our own Irish delegation included, have worked very hard to achieve this agreement. Certainly by the standard of past climate conferences this one has been a resounding success.
But we are getting far too far down the carbon road for 31 pages of laudable aspiration to be to be treated with such reverence – we have been travelling far too fast and we’re still moving ever faster. I think we all deserve a great deal more than this from the leaders of both the wealthy and the rapidly developing nations, but they have yet again failed us despite the mood music here and the massed desire for action expressed by the “red lines” protesters (ourselves included) in central Paris today.
If all of the 196 represented nations go home now and all act immediately to cut emissions radically, year-on-year from now on then perhaps, just maybe "this could be a turning point in our story, a turning point for all of us", as the young woman from the Marshall Islands hopes.
However, the Earth's climate system will only react to what we actually do or don’t do. If we want to drive on as we are doing, then more emissions on this path means much more warming. Global emissions must not only peak but they have to fall to zero very fast indeed to limit warming to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels; even faster, probably impossibly faster, to stay within 1.5ºC. At this point perhaps some nations just have to stand up and act unilaterally and shame others into doing the same. What else can we do and still act morally?
Would Ireland, for example, immediately commit to sustained year-on-year emission cuts of at least 3% per year starting now as is needed for 2ºC? That's actually only an average so a richer nation with capacity and responsibility like ours needs to be cutting emissions immediately far faster.
Or to limit to 1.5ºC, which Ireland now supports thanks to Minister Alan Kelly, emissions in Ireland would need to drop like a stone starting immediately. That would mean that transport and agriculture would have to be a big part of some national or EU system that accepts immediate cuts in demand. Government policy to date has been to grow the economy so raising emissions even though climate action demands that emissions must fall.
Failing to understand the physics is either: extreme wishful thinking, due to a level of ignorance of the science surely at this point inexcusable in any government officials; or else, the "1.5 to survive" is knowingly intended as a distracting statement of high ambition that will only be buoyed up briefly by platitudes that will be all too soon punctured by insufficient action. If immediate action does not match the rate of emission cuts aligned with the chosen warming limit then we are simply borrowing from our own (and our children’s) future, ensuring far more demanding cuts to come in the years ahead or far more risk.
I dearly want us to hold to 1.5ºC of warming (1ºC would have been better) which means we as humans do need the inspiring visions and aspirational words embodied in this agreement. But pressing reality determines that we need to start braking very hard now to slow down rapidly and stop moving down this carbon road altogether.
None of this is pleasant to think about. We’d all rather, I certainly would rather it wasn’t so. After two weeks at this climate conference though it seems the world’s negotiators would rather not really think about it too deeply either, especially tonight. Even if the urgent threat we face has influenced this agreement’s rhetoric, there are no guarantees at all in it for anything substantive to be done.
Is that good enough? I don’t think so, do you?
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 ). 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, 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, 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.
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
This evening, Thursday 10th December 2015, a report from Ian Lumley our Heritage Officer
Ian Lumley – An Taisce’s Heritage Officer
Today provided the opportunity to focus on what was going on in the national pavilions which had nearly continuous "side" events on top of the back to back press conferences and seminars in the 10 general conference rooms.
For an observer at COP21, it is worth comparing the public image projected by individual countries in their pavilions and participation in the side events with their political negotiating position, and the action or lack of it on climate.
It is a feature of international events of all sorts to have ostentatious exhibition stands with laminated surfaces and elaborate installations with graphic and visual images which are discarded as waste afterwards. The Le Bourget venue has huge open high ceilinged spaces used for exhibition and trade fairs. The French organisers provided a modular design for the subdivision and spaces needed for the overall event using unpainted plywood for pavilion stands and enclosed areas to project an eco-chic image, with the sheeting, to be "recycled", whatever that means, afterwards. Most of the national pavilions and delegate meeting room spaces followed this model.
The US has a spacious open pavilion in red white and blue inside the main entrance. This has an active programme of talks and videos, with very good presentations on climate science and new technologies. However, despite the presence of President Obama last week and Secretary of State John Kerry this week, Congress remains in the control of vested coal oil and big agri-business interests.
The China pavilion follows the simple plywood sheet design with no graphics to convey a message. Inside is a continued sequence of very focused seminars and presentations focusing on investment and technology use. However, China is now the leading global climate polluter and wants to continue increasing emissions to 2030.
The Indian pavilion ignored the French plywood guidelines with a complex installation in a multitude of materials and giant video screen with the main message "Promoting Clean Energy". The stand as well as the presentation of India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar presents a vision of renewable investment, but avoids mentioning the massive programme of coal mining expansion and power plants. The simple Japanese pavilion just bears the message "Japan Transformation to a Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Society". Both Japan and Korea maintain active meeting spaces for presentation.
France, as host, has a large central and well-designed multi space pavilion with simple use of unpainted plywood and the slogan "We have the solutions" It has an actively used meeting, press and event space with the very visible presence of Environment and Energy minister Ségolène Royale. The exhibition area has simply and effectively communicated information about a wide range of climate actions and initiatives, which would take some time to absorb and appreciate properly.
Germany’s pavilion bears the slogan "Below 2 Degrees Together We'll Make It". It is designed as a café conveniently opposite the EU delegate meeting rooms. This is combined with an enclosed seminar room with a high focus on energy efficiency presentations. The other larger EU countries have plywood enclosed delegation rooms and did not invest in pavilions. Ireland along with the remaining EU countries, shares delegate and meeting places.
The pavilion of the Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising the Emirates and Saudi Arabia is in the style of a flashy hotel lobby with video screens. One provided by Amoco the Saudi state oil company presented a computer generated model of petrol cars "capturing" and compressing CO₂, which would then be offloaded into compressed tanks when the car bought petrol which would then be transferred to an elaborate carbon processing facility.
Brazil did not have a pavilion but their communications at the side events are marked by the promotion of its ethanol biofuel industry. The State Brazilian Investment Bank presented an alarming video with massive multi line highways magically rebranded as sustainable because of ethanol fuel content switch.
Morocco, which is the host of the next summit, COP22, next year, has a prominently sited pavilion which regrettably failed to communicate any message. It is designed with laminated red glass in the colour of the national flag more like an expensive installation from a contemporary art museum. An enquiry revealed that it had been specially commissioned for COP21, but would as least be reused.
So many presentations were going on simultaneously today, as they have done for the last two weeks, that it was only possible to get a flavour of the activity. However I did make time to addend what was a comprehensive presentation by the lead OECD and other researchers on the annual 600 billion euro global fossil fuel subsidy for producer to consumer, including Irish peat bogs.
This evening, Wednesday 9th December 2015, a double dose. The first from Professor John Sweeney, Ireland’s premier climate scientist and the second from Ian Lumley our Heritage Officer
John Sweeney - The Fault Lines Emerge
By this stage in the second week, COPs usually enter a crucial stage where the negotiations hit a wall. The issues are always the same, namely how the principle of Historic But Differentiated Responsibility(CBDR) is handled. Essentially, how much mitigation by the Developed Countries will occur and how much climate finance will they guarantee to the Developing World to aid their sustainable development and climate adaptation strategies. How should rapidly developing countries such as China, Brazil and South Africa be accommodated in a new world order of climate governance? Positive sentiments often give way to hard realities at this stage, and so it was today.
The culmination of the consultations thus far was expressed in a Draft Agreement document circulated by the COP President this afternoon. It is always the crucial Presidential action in all COP meetings. For the first time the noble statements of intent are crystallised in print and countries see who has had their concerns acknowledged, and who has not.
Thus it was today (Wednesday). The late night session of the Paris Committee was quite a brutal affair with country after country criticising the draft text offered by the Presidency. Of course trying to satisfy the demands of 194 countries is an impossible task and the language of the draft ultimately had to be vague enough to keep countries on board, and specific enough to be meaningful. For the first time this week countries used language such as ‘red line issue’ and ‘not negotiable’.
How much is posturing and how much is genuine is difficult to ascertain, but for the first time this week the mood turned rather pessimistic. Many countries interpreted the text offered as unbalanced, but from different perspectives. Indeed the Malaysian delegate took the interpretation further by claiming the text could be considered balanced on the basis that it antagonised everyone to some extent. The issue of targeting not a 2oC rise in temperature over pre-industrial levels, but rather a 1.5oC rise, has emerged as a major issue for many developing countries. The issue is especially considered a national priority for the Small Island Developing States. Of course this is understandable, given their inevitable demise should warming beyond this level continue. The reality however is that the world has already warmed by 1oC and there seems to be a disconnect between the science and the policy on this issue. To avoid a further 0.5oC of warming would probably require global peaking of emissions to have happened a decade ago and net negative greenhouse gas emissions to occur within the next decade. The insertion of such an aspiration in the final agreement is likely, but how operationalising it would occur in the context of a legal agreement seems not to have been thought out.
A similar issue arises for Loss and Damage which has also re-emerged as a major issue for the Developing World. How this would be operationalised in the context of financial transfers is extremely difficult to envisage. If the final agreement has legal status, can we envisage litigation efforts targeting countries following?
For all negotiations a point comes where a risk of overplaying your hand. This point is being approached with the risk that the Developed Countries could walk away from any agreement if compromise does not occur tomorrow. This would be a failure that is not currently being considered and the active intervention of the President to force compromise may yet be required.
Ian Lumley – An Taisce’s Heritage Officer
The experience is being an observer at the Paris #COP21Paris is overwhelming, with 45,000 reportedly accredited in different categorises in a vast complex of buildings.
The entire objectives to reach an agreement is happening in closed negotiations by national Governments, with progressive amendments emerging on line and through information filtering out as to where the points of disagreement are centred, and presented in evening plenary meetings to observers.
The lessons of Copenhagen 2009 where observers were left for hours queuing in the cold have been learned in the impressive French organisation of transport access and venue at Le Bourget. Arriving at the venue there is a central covered area forming a street between enormous hangar like buildings Within there is extensive use of mainly unpainted rough plywood partitioning subdividing the interior spaces into Government delegation meeting rooms and pavilions, press and media, general meeting and conference rooms, and NGO exhibition stands including the International National Trust Organisation of which An Taisce is part (photo attached)
For an observer the options of how best to constructively engage are huge. The key role of observers is in following the progress on the emerging agreement text and through their organisations, and wider networking, lobby national delegations to support or reject amendments. Today provided the opportunity for the Irish NGO contingent with includes representatives of Oxfam and Trocaire to meet Minister Alan Kelly and the Irish Government team
Parallel to the main negotiations are what are innocuously called "side" events. This is a continuous daily programme of presentations many of which would rank as significant international gatherings in their own right. Over the last three days I have been able to attend presentations and discussions on Climate Justice, the Carbon Budget, renewable energy, energy efficiency, integrating climate action with public health, new technologies, the City Mayors initiative and financing. Most moving have been the pleas of the people of the Pacific Island nations facing immediate threat.
The calibre of the meeting platform presentation is impressive with national politicians and big city mayors , leading climate scientists, climate campaigners, representatives of and advocates for the countries most at risk, and Directors General or senior figures in so many global bodies like the International Energy Agency and the World Health Organisation.
The climate scientists Bill McKibben from the US and Kevin Anderson for the Tyndall Institute Manchester delivered an uncompromising message on the need for rapid immediate emission cuts, and the untenable justification for fracking. The Scottish Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced developing country support and other initiatives by Scotland on top of that of the UK government. I was at a number of events led by the French Environment and Energy Minister Segolene Royal. Yesterday she hosted an inspiring platform with Mary Robinson and Vandama Shiva on the role of women which was given wide media converge.
The presentations on linking climate action with public health have been particularly impressive. Leading health experts and professionals are now treating climate instability and food insecurity as the systemic public health risk for the coming century. The overlap between climate emission impact and public health threat extends for from air pollution and respiratory damage to floods compromising sewage treatment and drinking water supplies. It was so relevant today to learn the news from Ireland today on the rising Shannon flood threat
The public health case for climate action on mitigation and adaptation, achieving the benefit of cleaner air and the need to mitigate health risk, is a potential breakthrough in advancing what has been to date the inadequate public and political support for climate action . An Taisce was able to raise this as a specific issue in discussion with Minister Alan Kelly today
Note 1: The INTO (International National Trusts Organisation) stand at CoP21 https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxEVOTzgFnKEekJuaDNNRTk5bFk/view?usp=sharing
Our ninth 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 - Laying it out clearly and starkly for us all.
Report 9 from #COP21 - Wednesday December 9, 2015
Yesterday, I attended expert events conveying much information and urgency, including a high powered one on Public Health and Climate Change noting that any successful outcome here in Paris would be a major public health advance for the world.
However, the most essential information I can report from yesterday is the blunt analysis and conclusions presented by Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre (of UK climate scientists and climate policy experts). Today’s report then is a bullet point digest on the climate realities that continue to be ignored by those in the negotiating room and perhaps glossed over by many climate scientists reporting to policy-makers.
With apologies then for anything lost in my note taking, below are the key points from Anderson’s reality check:
- Cumulative emissions (carbon budgets) directly determine global warming.
- The remaining global carbon budget to stay below a temperature limit indicates the following:
- It is too late for even a small chance of avoiding 1.5ºC without highly speculative tech, getting lucky with climate sensitivity and immediate global action with single focus on severely limiting the extremely small remaining 1.5ºC carbon budget.
- A 2 in 3 chance of avoiding 2ºC is lost.
- An even chance of avoiding 2ºC requires a war-like footing for action as for 1.5ºC
- A 1 in 3 chance of avoiding 2ºC needs urgently delivered and enforced policy far beyond anything so far contemplated.
- Every one of the 400 scenarios of the IPCC for 2ºC requires one or both of two very unlikely rabbits to be pulled out of the hat:
- Highly speculative negative emissions technologies that have never worked to date, are likely subject to feedbacks that limit any effectiveness and are often technically unfeasible – for example, CCS storage is not close to power plants and biomass for burning (a competitor with land for food) would be on a scale that would require a massive increase in shipping.
- Emissions have to peak in the past (requiring a time machine).
- Conclusion: an outside chance of 2ºC is possible but requires:
- Deep reductions in energy demand starting right now by all high emitting nations as there is not enough carbon budget to build our way out of trouble.
- A massively funded Marshall Plan for 100% zero carbon energy globally by 2050, much sooner in developed nations.
- All emission savings must be permanent, if they are ‘spent’ they don’t count. To date whatever we save, we take the cost savings and spend them on more emissions with global annual emissions up 60% in period since UNFCCC began.
In Q&A, as opinion, he noted:
- Massive and extremely rapid emission reductions are technically possible, the only question is how quickly they can be politically possible:
- Insisting on only best available tech and forbidding anything else in cars could reduce that sector's emissions by 50-70% within 10 years just at the current replacement rate. Same for other sectors.
- As the Oxfam report finds, in all nations half of the total emissions are caused by the wealthiest tenth of the population. In the EU if the richest 10% reduced their emissions to the EU average there would be a 30% reduction in emissions overnight. A massive potential exists to cut emissions very fast by reducing the emissions by the wealthiest.
- The richest nations could (and morally should) decide to leave their own coal, oil and gas [and peat] in the ground. Continued fossil fuel subsidies by these nations further undermine any credibility.
- Agriculture is the elephant in the room on emissions.
- The $100 billion on the table in the negotiations is a derisory sum given the scale of loss and damage that is being and will be caused by the current and historic emissions of the industrialised countries.
- On science:
- The role of scientists is to do research. Realism, not optimism or pessimism, is what we should expect.
- There is a vital need for scientists to communicate their findings strongly, bluntly and vociferously, especially in an atmosphere where research is being funded focused largely on continuing the current (carbon-using) economic paradigm.
As Anderson has noted elsewhere, the very difficult path to avoiding warming above 2 degrees is no reason not to start acting urgently. On the contrary it is a clear and explicit signal of the need to act fast to avoid the escalating consequences of the extreme risks of global warming above 2 degrees that humanity continues to fuel.
Glen Peters from Cicero followed Anderson and confirmed the above carbon budget analysis also saying that USA/EU etc must go to net zero emissions fast but also India and China will have to get quickly on track for zero carbon if the rest of the world is to have any emissions space at all after 2040.
Later, New Zealand MP Kennedy Graham cut through an economic event’s diversion into ‘policy credibility’ to point out that limiting the remaining global carbon budget is the only credibility that the Earth’s climate will respect. As he said, the test of our collective morality will be whether we can do this and, above all whether we can do it equitably. It remains to be seen what, if any, concrete action (as opposed to high flown rhetoric and aspiration) the “Paris Agreement” will actually trigger, and whether that action will bear any serious relationship to the implacable physical science realities of our predicament.
This is from Professor John Sweeney, Ireland's foremost climate scientist and a member of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee.
Start of Week 2
Many delegates consider the French Presidency have pulled a master stroke by reversing the normal sequence of events at a COP. Usually the Ministerial delegations beaver away the first week and then their bosses arrive to take the hard decisions at the end of the meeting. Not always being as clued in as their Ministers, the leaders have tended to shy away from hard choices at the last minute, prolonging the agony of the atmosphere for another year. This year the leaders came the first week and made their noble speeches.
Some appear to have escaped their ‘handlers’, causing consternation back home when their true attitude towards the climate change problem was revealed as less convincing than their rhetoric. But they’ve gone home now and the real graft can begin. It would have been too much to expect the Ministers charged with delivering an agreement the second week, however, to allow their profiles to be completely invisible back home. Accordingly the opening of the ‘high level segment’ on Monday had a sprinkling of Ministers eager to make their case to the world.
The business end of the conference is now in full swing, carefully chaired by the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius. His approach has been to set up facilitator teams to tackle the negotiations on a thematic basis. Themes such as ‘Means of implementation’, ‘Differentiation’, Ambition and ‘Pre 2020 Action’ may sound pretty bland; but they are code words for a plethora of conflicts between the Developed and Developing World. So the Chair’s strategy has been to nominate two facilitator countries to each task, one from the Developed World and one from the Developing World. Thus Germany and Gabon are paired, Singapore and Brazil, Norway and St. Lucia, and the UK and Gambia.
The formula seems to be working, and at the Plenary feedback session on Monday night the mood music was good, with some delegates urging an acceleration of the process towards an agreement on Friday. Having now attended 5 COPS, it seems to this writer the legacy of Copenhagen has at last been consigned to history. Genuine goodwill appears to be the order of the day. The Developed World has at last shown willingness to accept its historic responsibilities for the problem and the Developing World has realised this is as good an opportunity for deal as it is likely to get. Of course the opportunities for dialogue to break down over the next few days remains, but so far the omens are good. However, the devil will be in the detail and what concessions each side is making behind the scenes is not clear.
Outside of the main negotiating halls, the carnival that is COP continues. It is impossible to report other than on only a tiny fraction of events and activities. Despite the best efforts of corporate entities to present themselves as sustainable good guys, the main impression is one of serious engagement on the part of civil society, business and a host of other actors.
Thus while the main negotiating hall had speeches from the likes of the Prime Minister of Tuvalu and the new Chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee, the Observer Hall had excellent talks from the head of UNEP, Achim Steiner, climate scientist Myles Allen and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. The latter was particularly impressive as she outlined Scotland’s target of greenhouse gas reductions of 42% by 2020, and then announced that 38% had already been achieved. For a country with a similar population and climate as Ireland, it was an eye opener as regards what well informed political leadership can do.
A word that was widely used today was ‘convergence’: convergence of positions, convergence of ambitions, convergence of interests. The convergence of interests was perhaps best exemplified by the offer of African countries to develop their electricity infrastructure along sustainable lines if the required finance and technological assistance could be obtained from the Developed World. With an inevitable increase in population of around 2Bn, failure to develop a sustainable energy infrastructure would undo any pretence of the world staying below 2degrees of warming. Developing Africa sustainably is therefore a vital interest of the Developed World. Convergence of interests in action! Maybe the Pope did hit the right note when he entitled his Encyclical : Caring for Our Common Home!
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 CoPs). 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.
Our seventh 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
Report 7 #CoP21 Saturday 6 December 2015
On Saturday I learned a bit more about the negotiations but I can only add some hearsay on the state of them beyond what you can read in the media. In the unlikely event that you want something beyond that and want to launch yourself into the detail a good place to start is http://www.iisd.ca/climate/cop21/ Note. That said I’ll report the hearsay.
From what I understand Saudi Arabia and Argentina are two nations that are noted as blocking progress. Overall, the temperature limit (2ºC or 1.5ºC) is still not decided and there may not even be one. Worse, neither the associated percentage likelihood of staying under either limit nor the associated remaining carbon budget, of emissions that can ever be emitted in future, has been agreed. As of the end of Saturday, France and the French environment minister Laurant Fabius have taken over negotiations and this week sees the arrival of the environment ministers of the nations, including our ministers Alan Kelly (who doesn’t seem to understand or care much about climate change as an issue), and also Alex White (who does). So far there is nothing close to an agreed text.
Despite the pressing top down physics of the Earth system’s response to humanity’s global greenhouse gas emissions, the negotiations are now fixed on a ‘bottom-up’, near voluntary, mode of response. It is hard not to see this as perilous delay but unfortunately, where the EU seems to be on the sidelines when it could be an alliance builder for stronger action – for example with the least developed countries and small island states,.
In my understanding of the climate science, some of the calls from nations or coalitions are simply not coherent. Much as I would prefer otherwise, it is hard to see how limiting warming to a high likelihood of less than 1.5ºC is even technically possible (let alone politically or socially) simply because the required average global rate of emission cutting needed is already very high. Even limiting to a good chance of 2ºC is very difficult indeed without global action by all nations starting now (see this short paper by lead IPCC climate scientist Thomas Stocker for example) Note .
Also, equitably limiting to 2ºC requires richer nations or regions like the EU to act sooner to cut emissions much faster than poorer developing nations, meaning starting right now. Certainly, the EU’s current declared pledge of a 40% cut in emissions by 2030 falls far short of an equitable target that would be in line with the declared ambition agreed to at the UNFCCC. Far faster cuts or far greater wealth and technology transfers are needed from richer nations like our own. But the simple fact is that neither real action nor fairness are really concerns compared to the appearance of action. Even the EU’s claim of cutting domestic emissions by an impressive sounding 23% since 1990 rings very hollow when net emissions (based on consumption) have actually fallen by only 4% and are likely to rise with increased economic activity. All that has really happened is that much high emissions industry has been exported to China and we are buying the goods back.
If we really think that is addressing a global commons problem then we are just fooling ourselves or trying to fool others. I guess that’s the big question for us to answer (quickly): just how foolish is humankind?
One of the controversial topics in the negotiations is so-called ‘loss and damage’, the idea that vulnerable peoples who are in areas most exposed to climate change (those, often in the tropics who have done least to cause the problem) will need to be supported and compensated for losses and to pay for adaptation as a result of impacts from unmitigated global warming. Such climate justice was the topic of an expert panel on Saturday. A report on the major fossil fuel companies Note  describes their emissions and their poor business practices, suggesting a carbon levy on all production in order to pay for the unpaid costs of their activities. Even a small levy of $2 per tonne of CO2 emitted by burning the fuel could raise $50 billion a year collected at the minehead or oil/gas well, which would go a long way to alleviating loss and damage.
Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 ($10 billion cost), the 2008-2011 Kenyan drought ($12 billion cost) and the low but continual annual damage cost and ultimate migration from of low lying Pacific islands were all identified as having partial climate change causes due to emissions. Attribution of single events may be difficult but the science is getting ever stronger to say that a certain averaged percentage of events can be authoritatively stated to be due to climate change. From this point it may not be long before courts are prepared to agree that nations or companies bear some share of legal liability.
Financial loss is not the only issue of course because many things do not have any definite financial value. The speaker from Tuvalu (an eight island nations north of Fiji) told us that the 10,000 people live highly communally on coral atolls surrounded by a huge ocean. They celebrate, sing and mourn together. The placenta from a new birth is placed in the ground and a coconut palm is planted to celebrate new life and connection to the land. Asked about what the likely loss of that culture and traditions would mean (if sea level rise continues to accelerate) “death”, he answered, “simply death”. Another speaker said, seeking to put an economic value on nature as so-called ‘ecosystem services’ is a slippery slope to thinking all nature can be valued in this way. Indeed, how do you put an economic value on the Earth surface compared with say the surface of Mars.
A panel on marine emissions was an eye opener for me. In one way shipping is a very efficient method of transport in carbon emissions per km but it is nearly 3% of global emissions – more CO₂ than Germany. Every sector must play a part in cutting emissions from now on yet those from shipping are projected to more than double by 2050 with rising trade. A strongly evidenced case was presented by the UK funded science group that shipping could cut its climate pollution but the industry has been completely obstructive even though large improvements are technically possible. One problem is that there are 39,000 deep ocean going ships and a large number of owners who often do not benefit directly from investing in better ships because operational profits are kept by the operators who lease or rent the ships. Somehow like all other sectors shipping will have to make cuts in pollution.
Coming back to the big problem of how we somehow begin to limit global warming, a panel discussed local level and possible global level solutions. In California, clean solar and wind energy plus energy efficiency initiatives are strongly implemented giving consumers the choice of renewable energy and the incentive of saving money. The trouble with this kind of scheme is that all such efforts will be wasted if we continue to extract fossil fuel carbon and burn it. Somehow the pollution must end quickly so the only option is some kind of reducing cap on emissions.
An ambitious idea was presented by Cap Global Carbon, an idea driven by the Irish group Feasta for a global ‘cap and share’ programme. Total future emissions would be capped in line with the science of a limited global carbon budget for 2ºC and this total would be annually distributed over an emissions pathway to zero net global emissions. This is key because to stop global warming at some point the pollution must end. Permits to allow carbon pollution would be auctioned and the funds would be distributed by a new institution, whether outside of within UNFCCC, on an equal per capita basis driving a large transfer of wealth from the richer nations to the poorer, at the same time as cutting emissions.
As the presenters noted, such a scheme is unlikely be taken up any time soon. Nonetheless it is very difficult indeed to see how limiting global warming can be achieved unless such a top-down scheme, based on the physical reality we face, can drive the radical level of change in our energy systems and consumption that is ever more needed as we speed over the ground between here and 2ºC. It is a deep irony for human beliefs that the only conservative path now is to act radically to cut emissions fast, while the extremist path is to carry on as we are toward a profoundly, likely catastrophically, damaged commonwealth. If our belief systems and lifestyles are not in line with the physical reality of our Earth then it is they that need to alter.
Note  IISD Reporting Services Coverage of UNFCCC COP21 http://www.iisd.ca/climate/cop21/
Note  Short paper by lead IPCC climate scientist Thomas Stocker http://www.climate.unibe.ch/~stocker/papers/stocker13sci.pdf
Note  Who pays the real costs of Big Oil, Coal and Gas? http://climatejustice.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Making-A-Killing-FINAL-webversion.pdf
Our sixth is 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
Report 6 from #CoP21 in Paris - Friday 4 December 2015
Energy powers everything we are and do, in calories from food, fuel for heat and as the source of our electricity for lighting. These and much more. One can make a good argument that the very value basis of the money we use is simply a proxy for the energy equivalent that a euro or a dollar can buy.
To date more than four fifths of the energy the world uses continues to come from fossil fuel that, unfortunately for us, turns out, when burned at a our globalised scale, to come with the bad side effect of upsetting the energy balance of the atmosphere. By absorbing more reflected solar radiation the increase amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is causing rapid global warming and accelerating climate change. So what can we do about energy.
My day at CoP21 today, starkly highlighted the conflict between the globally accepted urgent need for all nations to make a swift energy transformation away from fossil fuels to restrict global warming (given the ever-clearer climate science), as against the hypocritical reality of the continued very large subsidies our government’s dole out to prospect for and produce ever more fossil fuels.
How the world divides up, or ‘burden shares’, effort to cut CO₂ emissions has always been the sticking point of the climate negotiations since they started twenty-odd years ago. This time, rather than insisting on nations negotiating a fair share of emissions between them, for Paris the parties (meaning all the nations here) have prepared what are called INDCs.
These Intended Determined National Contributions are supposed to be ambitious, transparent and equitable [Note 1] but the main aim has been to cajole every nation to reveal at least a minimum level of ambition as a stepping-stone to the kind of collective global effort that is actually needed. In many ways this has been a successful way of moving things on from being totally stuck, though you have to wonder about the weak ‘intended’. Meanwhile, the Earth’s climate system just keeps warming ever more, in response to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the longer real and binding emissions reduction to limit warming is delayed.
At the first expert panel I got to today, economists and climate scientists described the likely projected implications of the INDCs submitted by different countries and the climate risks attached to average global surface warming of 1.5ºC or 2ºC above pre-industrial.
Summarising the data is straightforward enough: there is a massive gap between the limited ambition of the pledges made by nations and the high level of ambition required by the very limited, remaining future carbon budget for 2ºC (let alone the even smaller quota allowable to avoid more than 1.5ºC of warming). Also, in going from 1.5ºC to 2ºC there is a serious increase in risk to future crop yields, coral reefs and heat wave duration (a very big risk to people living in the tropics). In addition there will likely be a substantial increase in crossed tipping points toward irreversible, long-term melt of the Greenland and West Antarctica. This is a boggling amount of risk to be taking on.
Economists like to do cost-benefit analysis to compare the costs of acting on a problem versus the benefits of acting. There are some big difficulties in doing this for climate change, partly because of the very difficult to determine the costs of damages that could occur from 1.5ºC, 2ºC or 4ºC of warming, but also because CO₂ is not a problem that goes away over time, the resultant planetary-scale global warming is essentially irreversible on human time-scales (lasting over a thousand years).
If the very basis of our wealth – a stable climate for our food production and habitability, and a stable seal level – is going to be rapidly degraded over time, how can we easily say that we will just get wealthier? Can we really so easily discount future bad outcomes against increased wealth? It’s hard not to think we need to step back and say to ourselves, whether there is any need for the economic analysis given the science showing that we need to get away from burning carbon very fast.
A review of climate risk economics presented at the panel today indicated that there is a fast growing economic and climate literature to show that damage costs have been badly underestimated, thereby making action at large scale right now a far smarter option. If the current INDC pledges were achieved, the costs by 2100, as indicated today would still be equivalent to bailing out the US economy from the recent financial crash every year. The costs increase very greatly if the pledges were not to be achieved.
On the current global emissions trajectory, a recent study published in the top-rated academic journal Nature estimates that up to 75% of the global economy would be lost to climate damages if emissions are not controlled. The evidence is very strong that even if it seems very expensive, acting now is very likely to be far cheaper and definitely far safer than acting later. And delaying global action only builds up trouble because of the cumulative problem of CO₂.
A question by the Tyndall Centre’s Kevin Anderson made it apparent that even the difficult pathways shown by the economists this morning are likely to be greatly over optimistic because they assume that we can somehow have negative emissions technologies in future, meaning ways of taking large amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, most of all by burning woody biomass and then capturing and burying the CO₂.
The trouble with this is that the technology does not exist yet and it seems unlikely to be viable if energy use is at anything like today’s level. The economist agreed that every one of the economic models considered that achieving peak global emissions by 2020 relies on negative emissions. Anderson’s research [Note 2] suggests that wealthy nations need to reduce emissions starting this year at “double-digit” annual percentage rates, but also that this is in fact doable if the emergency level of societal commitment was engaged to cut energy demand and switch to renewables. Time is running out for 2ºC though.
In light of all this it was very odd indeed or, more accurately, bizarrely contradictory, to hear from the expert panel that the richest nations in the world, who have repeatedly agreed to act first and most deeply to cut emissions and reduce the use of fossil fuels, are in fact continuing to massively subsidise fossil fuel exploration and production. Figures presented today showed that the G20 group of largest economies spent over $450 Billion in the last year in fossil fuel subsidies, more than four times the subsidies to renewables and also four times larger than global development aid.
Maeve McLynn of Climate Action Network noted that they are even spending $78 Billion a year in their own countries. This makes no sense at all. Ireland could be seen as one of the worst cases as we are subsidising the burning of peat for otherwise uneconomic electricity to the tune of a €120 million per year yet we have only committed to put a paltry total of €2 million toward the Green Climate Fund to help them adapt to the resulting effects. Personally, I think this is both pathetic and embarrassing, though others and other nations might well describe it a bit more bluntly.
Perhaps the only way to combat this kind of financial foolishness is to make it explicit to the banks and populaces that fund it just how much cost and risk attaches to this kind of activity. Carbon Tracker [Note 3] [Note 4] is a bunch of investment bankers who carry out just such analyses. We know that at least two thirds of the fossil fuel already discovered needs to stay in the the ground so their analyses determine exactly which fossil fuel projects and where are economically unviable. The non-profit Carbon Tracker are aligning financial and capital markets risk with climate risk. As their lead said, “carbon in the ground is our generation’s nuclear warheads and we get to decide how much of it to let out”. Investing in mines or wells that can never repay investment creates a carbon bubble risking an abrupt transition, something companies like Kodak don’t survive to regret.
Earlier today, he said, he was at an event where Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, and Michael Bloomberg, launched a global taskforce to push hard for global disclosure of financial climate risk to invested capital and subsidies. It’s becoming very obvious to investors and pension funds that there is a lot of unburnable carbon and so there is a very large risk premium attached to investing in developing fossil fuels. Given climate risk there is no economic case at all for developing new coal mines and it is only public subsidies and, effectively, politically and vested-interest motivated climate denial that keeps giving tax breaks to fossil fuel production.
In Ireland of course we are still burning peat, an even dirtier fossil fuels than coal, using it both as turf and briquettes for heat, and for heavily subsidised electric power. Tradition and local interest may be strongly against change but now a new reality does need to be faced. It makes sense not to delay.
Coal equities have already lost 80% of value in the past 5 years, taking large amounts of pension fund monies down with them. After hearing the experts speaking today it’s very hard to see how burning peat makes any sense at all for our economy. We could use €118 million a year to fund retrofits, retrofit jobs and community owned renewable energy for the Midlands [Note 5] making us more climate and energy secure, and we could still donate much more than €2 million euro every year to the Green Climate Fund. Knowing the history of continuing support from Irish people for developing countries, it’s easy to think that if we fully appreciated the level of climate risk those nations are facing due to our rich-world emissions, we’d be even more generous.
Note 1 What is an INDC? http://www.wri.org/indc-definition
Note 2 Kevin Anderson's Research http://kevinanderson.info/blog/duality-in-climate-science/
Note 3 Carbon Tracker http://www.carbontracker.org/
Note 4 The $2 trillion stranded assets danger zone: How fossil fuel firms risk destroying investor returns http://www.carbontracker.org/report/stranded-assets-danger-zone/
Note 5 Money to burn? Or 3,000 sustainable jobs for the Midlands http://www.antaisce.org/articles/money-to-burn-or-3000-sustainable-jobs-for-the-midlands
Our fifth 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 4 at #CoP21 - Thursday 3 December at the Paris climate conference
Even if while in Paris most of the attendees commute to this conference by public transit, most of them have arrived by plane. By huge irony though, neither aviation, flying so many people around the world every day, nor shipping, transporting our imports and exports, have yet been included in any climate agreement to control emissions. At home we pay a carbon pollution fee on the coal, oil and gas we use, yet the fuel for planes and ships travelling internationally is completely untaxed, and the emissions almost entirely uncontrolled. How can this be? At a couple of events today I got to find something about projected aviation emissions and how they can fit into doing something to help in limiting climate change.
I also finally managed to make my way into a meeting room to watch a discussion about ‘the text’ of the agreement, learned more about equity thanks to University College Cork’s ‘Climate Lab’ and also spent more time over in the public part of the conference so I’ll talk about that too.
First up in the first panel I went to today was Prof. Alice Bows-Larkin [Note 1] (from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, one of the UK’s and the world’s leading groups of climate scientists and experts) comparing the doubling or even tripling of aviation emissions forecast by 2050 emissions pathway within the very limited amount of emissions remaining to the world if we are to limit global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Only relatively minor technical improvements in aviation seem feasible in that timeframe – engines, materials and infrastructure have all improved but technically there is very little room left for substantial gains in efficiency, certainly nothing that would even begin to keep up with the anticipated rate of growth (never mind substantially reducing or eliminating aviation emissions). Solar or other electrically powered flying at large scale is still very far off (at best, it has been demonstrated to be technically possible with very small payloads).
What about changing the fuels for conventional engines? The only immediate option is biofuels. A panellist, who had been a senior EU advisor on biofuels, said that we should not be wasting precious biofuels on domestic car travel, given the competition for land between agriculture for food and fuel. Rather, a large portion of biofuel should be reserved for planes. To date though, biofuel use is very limited, and as Bows-Larkin made abundantly clear, all delay in cutting emissions around the world eats up the diminishing carbon budget distance to 2ºC making even harder and faster emission cuts necessary in future. This time urgency means no economic sector can be excluded from serious action right now to contain emissions. The idea that aviation or shipping can escape this reality does not make sense but that means cutting emissions rapidly, not growing them at all, let alone doubling or tripling them.
Given the technical limits already nearly reached, the only significant remaining option, in the critical decades immediately upon us, is ‘demand management’ which is the fancy term for flying less. In the UK, not building a third runway for Heathrow has limited the possible number of flights and so emissions have been lower than they would have been. If as in Dublin, a runway is added to a major airport, this increases capacity and far more emissions result, all fuelled by aviation kerosene which is subsidised by all of us (whether we fly or not) because the industry does not have to pay in any way sufficiently for the climate and pollution impacts burning the carbon will create over future decades, and indeed for hundreds of years to come.
The panel’s aviation industry representative responded by talking about past efficiency gains, about biofuels and about buying ‘offsets’ (paying for supposed emission reduction in other sectors) but none of his pitch addressed the core problem of the necessity of meeting a limited and diminishing carbon budget for aviation as for other sectors. On offsets, a member of the audience from the EU transport commission pointed out that one of the industry rep’s graphs showed ‘cost-effective’ efficiencies priced at €30 per tonne of CO2 whereas the cost of offsets they were actually buying was 50 cents, making it unlikely that the long list of possible efficiency gains would be judged to be cost effective unless the carbon price was closer to the €30 mark. A young economist on the panel, working with Thomas Piketty showed that heavily taxing the most frequent, wealthiest flyers, who contribute most to passenger aviation emissions would both reduce emissions and efficiently raise revenue for carbon reduction and adaptation to climate impacts. He noted that Air France already progressively charge a higher pollution fee on more expensive tickets.
At the later aviation panel, this time dominated by industry representatives, it fell to the last questioner, a Tyndall Centre economist, to ask: Given that all sectors need to cut emissions very rapidly and the global economy needs to stop burning carbon by soon after 2050, from which other sector exactly will the aviation sector buy their pollution offsets from? Entertainingly, he commented, “it’s rather like hopefully buying papal letters of indulgence though in that case there is more chance of them working”.
It was obvious from their, I have to say smug, confidence in batting away these realities that the industry expects that our personal and global desire to fly when we need to or want to will mean that our governments will not be lobbying very hard to put aviation into any Paris climate agreement. The same likely applies to shipping which brings us cheap goods from China and exports our food and other production. The incremental damage to our global future is being discounted.
Thanks to meeting up with Jerry MacEvilly of Trocaire I finally made it into one of the committee rooms discussing actual climate treaty text, something apparently to do with agriculture, though not in any way obviously. Two hundred people in a room took two hours over a couple of paragraphs to accept a report and move on. Suffice to say it was not an heartening or illuminating introduction to the nitty gritty of negotiations. It seemed very far away from the expertise on hand in the next hall over the way.
An excellent event put on by University College Cork spotlighted the hard and eye-opening realities of distributing the remaining 2ºC carbon budget fairly. James Glynn noted his great grandparents (I think) in Ireland in the 1890s when Ireland’s per capita emissions were about three hundredths of a tonne of CO2 each year. By his parents’ generation in the 1950s annual emissions were about one tonne per person but now we are up to 12.5 tonnes per person even though we have to make our way back down to near zero emissions again. To do this and still have energy, means both keeping peat, coal, oil and gas in the ground (in that order) and getting there fast while also ensuring poorer nations can address severe development needs without going “high carbon”. As Dessima Williams from Granada (and Mary Robinson’s Foundation for climate justice) said, 1.3 billion people in the world do not have any electrical power and yet business as usual in the rich world is eating up the very survivability of organised human society, ultimately on all of the planet, but most of all the survivability of poorer, more exposed and more vulnerable communities right now and ever more so.
As the Indian academic pointed out, it we don’t price this uncosted effect, a “negative externality”, into what we do then we are not judging what is ‘cost effective’ in real terms at all.
Over at the public part of CoP the experts are again much in evidence at films, debates and available to talk to. One would wish it were more crowded with people waking up to the urgency of what we face but at least there are visitors in good number able to listen to and ask experts in every scientific field. There is great technology on show that can illustrate coral bleaching events almost live and in virtual reality, diving without diving, to reach beyond scientific papers and conferences into classrooms. If we turn our attention and some of our busy lives toward getting on a better path then much more is possible.
Perhaps that is the biggest question for us all. Do we prefer to be distracted by our immediate lives and businesses, or can we look up and spend some of our time pushing our leaders and government to let us all get ourselves – and our businesses, our farms, our children, and other future generations at home and elsewhere too – on the road to a far safer future?
Note 1 Prof. Alice Bows-Larkin http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/people/alice-bows-larkin
Our fourth is 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
#CoP21 Wednesday 2 December, 2015
Today would have been a good day for Enda Kenny and his advisors to take a hard look at reality, especially as it was agriculture and farmers day at the CoP21. I learned a good deal myself, and had a chance meeting that will stay with me, a stark reminder of what all these climate summits really mean for people in places beyond Ireland’s pastures.
First though, I went to an expert panel on oceans. Despite the calm academic tenor you’d have to be tone deaf not to detect an undertone of scholarly distress. Over a third of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the sea: we are very much an ocean world even if land is our home. And yet our pollution is rapidly killing it, not just through acidification due to our CO₂ emissions but also due to nitrogen, litter and microplastics, with four fifths of the pollution coming from land. As with carbon dioxide’s effect on the atmosphere it is hard to fathom the scale that industrialised, globalised consumption-oriented humanity has had on the planet within only a hundred years. Planetary scale change at extraordinary rates in marine ecosystems that are simply unable to respond quickly enough.
It was very apparent from the assembled expert panel that marine science is seriously under-resourced – just four people in the office of the UN’s International Oceanographic Commission oversee much of global marine science – and lacks the money to do ongoing monitoring to underpin good science. It was very evident that the science does not have the capacity to keep up with staggering rate of change now evident. As with all climate change risks, if we want any optimism we need constant reality monitoring and we need to be supporting the work that gives it to us..
The ‘US Center’ at CoP21 is clearly better resourced than the IOC, with staff and slick presentations proclaiming America’s seriousness about looking like they are doing something, though I doubt the Earth’s climate system is particularly impressed. A carefully stage-managed presentation on the ‘Climate Smart Agriculture Initiative’, had a panel featuring the USA, Costa Rica, Vietnam and, yes, Ireland, represented by our Ambassador to France. There are all sorts of ‘learnings’ to be done, challenges to be met, and listenings to stakeholders to be undertaken to meet the many challenges. The US rep said that 60% more food needs to be produced per year by 2050, which would only be possible with rapid innovation and gains in efficiencies – as much as in the last 10,000 years – but all in the tone that it was all ahead, and all part of being ‘climate smart’.
From Ireland the script was expertly delivered: Holistic; Transformative pathways; Feeding the world while saving the planet; Coherent twin challenges; Sustainable intensification; Excellent grass growth. It sounded fantastic, which it mostly was. All very well if Ireland, starting on the hard task of really cutting total annual and cumulative impacts from agriculture, was stating this modestly, but boasting loudly at events around the world that Ireland is suddenly at the forefront of sustainability when this programme has barely started has the hollow ring of PR spin.
Meanwhile of course total impacts are rising, not least methane and nitrous oxide emissions from more than six million (and increasing) cattle, however efficient production may be. Constantly and wrongly claiming that ‘carbon intensity’, meaning emissions per unit milk or beef produced, is the same as the ‘carbon footprint’ of agriculture in Ireland is getting more than a little irritating. Equating ‘efficiency’ with total impact is not going to win Ireland any sustainability awards unless they’re self-awarded. For our emission targets it is total emissions that matters.
Later in the day a very different vision of Climate Smart Agriculture was presented based on the mature science of agroecology solidly grounded in the major UNEP report, Agriculture at the Crossroads [Note 1]. Entirely contradicting the earlier presentation, Prof. Hans Herren said that globally already twice as much food is being produced as needed. We could feed the future enlarged population with the food we already grow. What is needed he said is not more yield, but better yield with more nutrition and, above all, “more health per acre”. Asked about the phrase Climate Smart Agriculture, the panel’s answer was that the term has gained currency before it was properly defined with a full body of research, so that, unlike agroecology, it is a very easy term to misuse. Herren was very forceful in saying, “We know why and how to change. We need to ask why it is not happening”.
It came through very loudly that maximising nutrition security is more than food security. Worryingly, the data shows that while the rising CO₂ level in the air acts as a fertiliser it also seriously, negatively affects uptake of minerals by plants and decreases protein content, badly reducing the nutritional value of grains in particular. Agroecology, minimises external inputs, such as fertiliser, and concentrates on increasing soil organic matter to increase resilience in all conditions and build biomass. Practiced at a landscape level this approach can and has transformed degraded land into very productive land, as an example from Tigray in Ethiopia showed very well. With only $16,000 and the buy-in of local farmers an entire dry, low biomass valley was transformed into a green and fertile area with rapidly increasing biomass.
Talking to the senior FAO panellist afterward, he had some words for Ireland: yes the grass is ideal for growing beef and dairy and should continue at some level, but meat consumption does need to be curbed globally both for health and for climate. In Ireland, as elsewhere in richer nations, far too much meat is being consumed; in Africa consumption has fallen due to failing crops. In a smarter world beef prices should be far higher (3x higher he thought) in richer nations to limit consumption.
All very enlightening, but for me this day will stay in the mind for a long time for one chance meeting that revolved around a powerful piece of science presentation and its affect on a fellow CoP attendee. Before the agri presentation at the US Center I watched the NOAA Science on a Sphere [Note 2] projection showing past, present and future climate – temperature, ocean acidification and rainfall – truly startling in displaying how completely and how rapidly our planet is changing due to our carbon pollution. By 2100 with high emissions, most of the sphere, turns red for temperature and the shells cannot form for ocean creatures due to the increased acidity of seawater.
A fellow watcher asked for the weblink spelling but he also seemed a bit at a loss. He asked me if this was the future and how it could be. I said yes, if we, and especially the richest in all countries whose consumption is causing the most emissions, do not take a very different path then this is very possibly the kind of future coming this century. He listened and asked deep questions that I tried to answer as well as I could from the science. As a member of the Lesotho delegation he said he would take this information to his minister who would be speaking at the plenary on Monday. It was very obvious that the reality ahead that his nation (a troubled enough one already) might well face and the essential drivers for this change had not been at all clear to him previously. I said that it is not easy to come to terms with but we need to know what the science has understood and now we do need to act fast. He said he would very definitely ask more and say more to his minister, and we shook hands.
In the face of the vast changes underway in the ocean and on the land that support our shared global civilisation, It must surely be that any more hopeful path surely rests on such exchanges of clear words and clasps of warm hands.
Note 1 Agriculture at the Crossroads http://apps.unep.org/publications/pmtdocuments/-Agriculture%20at%20a%20crossroads%20-%20Synthesis%20report-2009Agriculture_at_Crossroads_Synthesis_Report.pdf
Note 2: Science on a Sphere http://sos.noaa.gov/What_is_SOS/index.html
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 descendants.
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.
Our second 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 2 (Not) At #CoP21Paris
We may be in Paris but not having access to them in person, we did what anyone would do and watched many of this afternoon’s national leaders’ CoP21 three minute speeches online – okay more like 5 to 8 minutes each with much repetition by all. The contributions were as notable for their insularity as much as their fine words on saving the planet.
None more so than our own Enda Kenny defending Irish agriculture, looking to export its ‘efficiency’ (never mind its rising total emissions), and waffling convolutedly through past climate finance monies, to distract from for coming up with nothing above the paltry amount already announced. To anyone with even a little understanding it was as good as saying, ‘save the world if you like but we are here to look after our biz-as-usual interests, and we’ll not be helping anyone else out either’.
Coming after the urgency from Tuvalu’s Minister - Pacific islands rapidly losing all possibility of any future at all to rising sea level, and the reports of the failing of once-predictable rains in African nations like Malawi, Kenny’s was a pathetic and embarrassing contribution. Surely we can do better than this?
The strong divide between richer nations and poorer ones was evident throughout the afternoon. The richer ones acknowledging the need to keep to 2ºC and listing technofixes (innovation, green growth) to make it happen; the poorer stressing the need to keep to 1.5C and for equity transfers – to cover ‘loss and damage’ caused by climate change and technical support to avoid the high carbon energy path to increased prosperity that richer nations were able to take.
The reality, that for any likelihood of staying under any particular warming target there is now a science-defined limit to total future human-caused greenhouse gas emissions – that can EVER be emitted – still has not seemed to filter through to these our planets leaders.
Could it be they’d rather we did not know the scale of the “challenge” they kept talking about.
The one aim of this conference should be to get on a fast track to fairly dividing that total ‘available’ carbon budget (for 1.5ºC or 2ºC) among all the nations and future generations of the world. Judging by its omission, the one thing that all the speakers seemed to agree on was that this is one thing they really, really don’t want to talk about.
The sad scientific reality though is that limiting the future carbon budget for 1.5ºC would likely require a global peak in emissions right now and an all but impossible average cut in emissions by over 6% per year, every year from now on. Even 2ºC requires a massive commitment by all nations to peak global emissions very, very soon and decarbonise quickly – richer nations such as our own already by in the region of 10% per year. That is the reality of the 2ºC limit. Yet avoiding talking about reality can only make the reality ever more difficult and more dangerous. Every year we are going down a path of irreversible climate change that can only be stopped by a global societal commitment to urgent change to zero net emissions. If our ‘leaders’ cannot spell this out for us, they are surely culpable in good part for where they are now taking us.
The UK’s David Cameron took the prize for double-speak: “what will our grand children say when we said it was too difficult” he said, claiming the UK’s leadership on climate budgeting, legislation and action (achieved before his Government), and entirely failing to mention the recent scaling back under his own leadership of renewables supports and CCS research in favour of yet more investment and subsidies for high carbon gas from the North Sea and fracking. For jaw dropping hypocrisy it was hard to know if he didn’t take the prize. At least Ireland has been consistent in doing nothing to cut total emissions except by crashing the economy. (Hint: that’s not the way to do it.)
Today (Tuesday), I’ll be at the CoP at Le Bourget properly for the first time. A big programme of forestry and agriculture events is on in the debate area of the public zone. In the conference area, not open to the public, there are many ‘side events’, tomorrow ranging from a ‘high level event on carbon pricing’ (which I presume excludes the likes of me) to "Achieving a paradigm shift with the Green Climate Fund: The critical role of civil society.” There is much to be diverted by. And I suspect we’ll have eat up this intellectually distracting feast rather than hearing from and pushing our delegation on upping our policy ambition.
Judging from today’s Irish Times report, Ireland’s main aim at CoP21 seems to be to schmooze as many fellow EU nations as possible while here in order to minimise our required ambition for the 2030 targets, especially for agriculture of course. Enda Kenny’s boast of transitioning to a low carbon economy through ‘efficient’ agriculture and penny pinching is strikingly similar to parading an ever-higher carbon economy down a Paris runway, clad in a laughably transparent gown of PR spun gossamer.
If only it was just a laughing matter.
Our first is from Paul Price, a member of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee
Sunday November 30, 2015
I registered for accreditation at Le Bourget CoP registration this morning. There was Airport level security there, which is going to be a pain going out to the public area on any regular basis. I’m not planning to be at CoP proper until Tuesday when the leaders have had their say and gone home (happy if anyone can let me know if this is the wrong call).
Hearing about peaceful protesters circulating the Place de la République we walked to go and see. By the time we got there at about 14:00 though, approaching from the west, there was already a heavy CRS presence. Nonetheless we and other pedestrians were allowed into the square on the edge of the police cordon. On our side a large group of entertainingly clown-dressed protesters were peacefully but animatedly going up to and back from the police who stood and watched calmly enough.
On the east side of the Place though, some tear gas was being sent into the crowd but we were too far away to see what had precipitated that. We watched from just inside the square and then on the south side where most of the crowd was gathered (at least a thousand at a guess) some objects were clearly thrown from the crowd toward the police on the south-side, and then a lot of tear gas went into the crowd – at which point there was tension brittle in the air and thin drifts of choking tear gas came our way (not pleasant, I got almost nothing and was coughing for 30 minutes). The cordon behind us had closed but, a bit concerned the crowd might surge our way and sandwich us, we managed to head back out through the gap in the police line back in the corner of the square we’d first entered through.
It was impossible from our distance to tell who in the crowd threw things at the police to the south (though it seemed to be a small number of objects, half a dozen at most visible in the air above the crowd. Similarly it was impossible to say whether the response was justified. Clearly it is a hypersensitive time here. After the attacks all around Paris the level of security is fairly high though certainly not everywhere visible. We can say that the huge majority of the crowd we saw seemed peaceful, though they were clearly knowingly in harm’s way even if feeling they needed to be there.
We managed (dammit, oh well!) to miss the silent shoe protest: such a great idea and a fitting statement in so many ways.
In a café we mentioned the protest. The waiter said, “all these people flying in, saying they will fix the climate but flying and just sending out more emissions”. But the waiter’s response is so common (at home too and all over Twitter) from a great many people who think they can cover for their own inaction by pointing to a negative in those willing to engage at this critical time, even if they need to fly here. It’s just denial though. If we had heard our waiter say he was going to catch the RER out to Le Bourget then he might have had a point to make; but no he wasn’t doing that.
“Yes” we said to him “but we have come by ferry and train” – the smugness! However, I’d say that by spending more money than flying here there is a good case for saying our decision to come has cost every bit as much as flying here. Even though our apparent emissions for the trip might seem lower than flying, the money we spent getting here is mostly underwritten by fossil carbon energy so were we really saving the planet by travelling in a supposedly ‘low carbon’, ‘climate efficient’ way? Or is this just another way of deluding ourselves about the hoped-for beneficial effects of our decisions. Yes, I think so. And yet if we had not come here we would have spent that same money in many other ways that would also ultimately cause emissions, simply because that is the system we live in.
So what else can any of us do except act within the present system and still raise our voices now to secure a safer future? Unless we can agree globally and definitively to keep a very large amount of already discovered fossil fuel in the ground then it seems very likely that such delusions about ‘efficiency’ and about the real basis of our wealth and the ever-increasing level of change actually needed, will just continue to fuel more climate change. Not understanding the depth of the problem is making our waking up to dealing with it very difficult indeed. Like those caught up in the Place de la République and those marching in cities in Ireland and around the world all we can do – even if it means burning more carbon to get here – is add our voices and our actions right now to push for the ever stronger action so urgently needed to get onto a far safer path.