Thursday 17 December 2015

The Paris climate deal

The 195 negotiating countries reached a climate agreement in Paris, an agreement that includes China, India, and the Pacific island nations that will likely bear the greatest burden in the future. It is odd - it will have an impact on domestic policies and is legally binding, but a different document, the Paris decision, is non-binding and contains the more controversial issues such as providing finance and technology (for "mitigation and adaption") to those developing regions most affected by climate change. The agreement lists ways in which developed countries may help but also explicitly states that there is no liability for loss and damages or an obligation for compensations (and it does not address the issue of migration due to climate change, one of the most pressing future challenges). 
Some of the central points in the agreement are - pursuing the target of limiting global warming to 2° Celsius of pre-industrial levels (while recognising the importance of a goal that limits it to 1.5°), reaching a peak in global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2050 and then pursue reductions (an awkward compromise with oil-producing states like Saudi Arabia, which are also currently flushing the market with cheap oil to battle US shale gas ambitions).
Individual countries will have to develop policies to reach those targets and there will be a first stocktake of measures and plans in 2023. There will be no specific agency monitoring what countries do to achieve these goals but "a common framework of transparency". 
A more detailed summary of the agreement by The Atlantic here, and here is the full text of the COP21 Agreement
Rich countries agreed to raise $100bn (£66bn) a year by 2020 to help poor countries transform their economies. The overall agreement is legally binding, but some elements – including the pledges to curb emissions by individual countries and the climate finance elements – are not.
The deal was also hailed for delivering a clear message to business leaders. The International Investors Group on Climate Change, a network managing €13tn of assets, said the decision would help trigger a shift away from fossil fuels and encourage greater investments in renewable energy.
“Investors across Europe will now have the confidence to do much more to address the risks arising from high carbon assets and to seek opportunities linked to the low carbon transition already transforming the world’s energy system and infrastructure,” the group said. 
The Guardian: Paris climate deal: nearly 200 nations sign in end of fossil fuel era, December 13, 2015
Even before the beginning of the talk, Financial Review predicted that the outcome would be bad news for the coal industry - there are already laws in place in some countries for investors to disclose the carbon footprint of their portfolios and campaigns to devest in oil, gas and coal. The Paris Agreement includes no decision to push against accessing new coal reserves, and a future agreement between some countries will likely not include those that have an economy depending on extracting and exporting coal (but it could "help to create a powerful new international norm, and help to signal a market push away from new coal mines and coal in general").

Wired summarises the drastic actions that will be required to meet the goals - solve some of the issues with renewable energies, innovation in battery technology, make energy use more efficient, architecture and urban planning, electric cars, public transport, bikeability. and aviation and shipping - and agriculture and heavy industry, which will face the greatest challenge in becoming less reliant on fossil fuels. The economic hurdles for these changes are that the current actual cost of coal is not included in its price (a market failure), and that sufficient networks do not yet exist for alternatives such as electric cars. 

This is merely anecdotal, but Adelaide is currently experiencing a heatwave - five days of temperatures over 39° Celsius. Before the climate agreement was reached, NPR interviewed mayors from cities dealing with the specific urban challenges of climate change about their experiences, including Martin Haese from Adelaide - which, in addition to being in the "the driest state in the driest continent" is also facing the decline of traditional manufacturing, which will require adaptation of new technology and innovative industries in the future. The interview also mentions the Global Compact Cities Programme, an attempt to make cities more sustainable in the future. The Conversation summarises some of the challenges that Australia will face in the future to meet its carbon emission targets. 

Two views critical of the enthusiasm about the agreement:
The dynamics of national political culture also play a key role in our ability to avert or not a catastrophic climate change scenario. Indeed, a key reason as to why the Paris climate change negotiations shifted  away from mandatory, top-down targets on carbon emissions output and adopted instead a voluntary approach to the climate change challenge is because a legally binding treaty that needed ratification by governments back home would have reduced substantially the chances of reaching any kind of an  agreement. This is certainly the case for one of the world's biggest polluters, i.e., the United States. Any treaty on climate change that made its way to Capitol Hill would have been shredded into pieces by the Republican-controlled Congress. This is why Obama can claim the Paris COP21 agreement as a "turning point for the world" -- that is, because the deal does not have to go to the US Congress. 
openDemocracy: Paris COP21: the worst deal in the history of global climate negotiations, December 16, 2015
Insofar as there is any beguiling economic logic behind the accord, it relies on the twentieth-century notion of indicative planning. Now that the nations of the world have signaled they are serious about reducing carbon emissions, the argument goes, there will be a huge wave of private-sector investment in renewable energy, and in other environmentally friendly technologies, such as carbon sequestration. By the time the emissions reductions proffered in Paris start to bite, the technology will be in place for countries to meet their power needs in a green and cost-effective manner.
That is the optimistic scenario, and, after all the setbacks of the past twenty years, this is an occasion to be hopeful. In the United States and other western countries, the “dash to gas” is substituting a relatively clean fossil fuel for a much dirtier one. Some genuinely green technologies, such as solar panels and wind turbines, have already made great strides. And the decision by the Chinese Communist Party to get serious about tackling air pollution and warming has irrevocably altered the global politics of climate change. 
The New Yorker: A skeptical note on the Paris climate deal, December 14, 2015

Elizabeth Kolbert (author of The Sixth Extinction) with a portrait of Christiana Figueres, a central figure in pushing for climate agreements. 
Of all the jobs in the world, Figueres’s may possess the very highest ratio of responsibility (preventing global collapse) to authority (practically none). The role entails convincing a hundred and ninety-five countries—many of which rely on selling fossil fuels for their national income and almost all of which depend on burning them for the bulk of their energy—that giving up such fuels is a good idea. When Figueres took over the Secretariat, in 2010, there were lots of people who thought the job so thankless that it ought to be abolished. This was in the aftermath of the fifteenth COP, held in Copenhagen, which had been expected to yield a historic agreement but ended in anger and recrimination. 
The New Yorker: The Weight of the World, August 2015

No comments: