1.5 to stay alive: big issues for small countries as Paris climate talks get down to nitty gritty

EiffelchairsI’ve been in Paris for over a week now, and the speed at which everything goes past, including time, is frightening.   I think the 40,000 expected have now all arrived.  I’m getting worried the only Eiffel Tower I’ll see is the one made of red folding chairs at the end of the “Champs Elysee” at the meeting.

We began last week with the Heads of State arriving and making grand statements about grandchildren, climate impacts, the importance of the issue, etc..

Arnold Schwarzenegger was here today, Richard Branson was here yesterday.  We’ve had Leo Dicaprio, Sean Penn, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle: a veritable feast of celebrity and wisdom.  Ben & Jerry’s are giving out free ice cream.

There’s been major announcements on progress from climate finance, to cities taking action, and absolutely everything and anything to do with climate change and workers, and indigenous peoples, and everything else under the sun. There’s a lot of noise, everyone trying to get their message heard.  My quote of the day today was a journalist saying “my inbox is my enemy.”

Now we’re into the second week and the French Presidency is doing its best to keep this show on the road.  After a week of officials fighting over the text, we saw the Draft Paris Outcome (note: not “agreement” but “outcome”) posted on the UNFCCC website on Saturday, and government ministers took over from officials on Sunday.

Now the real negotiations have begun, in four or five different streams, each chaired by two ministers, one each from north and south.  They’ve been locked in negotiating rooms for two days now, and the most commonly heard question heard in the corridors is “what’s going on”?

From the perspective of many, especially vulnerable states, it’s a few key issues.

First, it’s the word “decarbonization.” [it has a z in the text].  That it even appears in the text is pretty big, even though it has a few caveats in square brackets, like [by mid century] and [over the course of the next century].  It’s been there since Lima and has, so far, survived.

The related issue is a number: 1.5.  1.5 degrees of warming: the “goal” – or limit –  to global warming that 120 governments are now supporting the inclusion of in the final agreement.   They want it in the “operational” section of the text, ie in a place where government action can be measured against it.

Back in Copenhagen, the world’s governments agreed to hold warming to 2˚C.  But the IPCC’s AR5 and the report that translated the AR5 back into the climate talks, which has a catchy title of the “SED” or “Structured Expert Dialogue,”  both warned that two degrees of warming is dangerous for many.  Too dangerous.  It would see the loss of the Great Barrier Reef, for one.

IMG_4965“1.5 to stay alive” has been the catchcry around the conference all week, with protests (as much as you CAN protest inside the UN space) and it’s gained a lot of support – even from  the French and German governments.  Even Obama referred to “well below two degrees.”

Does New Zealand support it?  John Key rejected the idea at this year’s Pacific Island Forum, when he and Tony Abbott had to “agree to disagree” with the rest of our Pacific Island neighbours, who were calling for the Paris Agreement to include reference to it.

To hold warming to 1.5˚C, one thing is clear: you need total decarbonisation of the world’s energy systems by 2050.   So the two are very much linked.   Yet our Government continues to open its doors to the fossil fuel industry, last week ranking 10th “most attractive” country in the world for oil exploration.  For our government, this call is definitely falling on deaf ears.

Whether it’s scientifically feasible is also under discussion.  There’s a whole heap of material on this site, for those who want to dive into it.  But,  as the Washington Post’s Chris Mooney said in a post today, “the more the world seriously considers a target of 1.5 degrees, the more likely it is that it will actually stay under 2.”

With Loss and Damage, another issue in play, the US especially is terrified of entering into any agreement that might mean paying compensation for damage from climate change that cannot be adapted to, or recovered from.

But as the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, pointed out last Saturday,  “the higher the [climate action] is, the less we will be concerned about loss and damage.”  (The press conference webcast is worth a watch – de Brum, and the St Lucia Minister James Fletcher, were great).

There’s a logic to that – if the rich nations like the US are so hung up on worrying about paying compensation and liability for the loss and damage caused by dangerous climate impacts, you’d think they’d be pushing as hard as they could to minimise warming so they don’t HAVE to pay that damage.

The French Presidency want to get this thing done by Friday. Let’s see how that goes.

11 thoughts on “1.5 to stay alive: big issues for small countries as Paris climate talks get down to nitty gritty”

  1. It seems odd to me that the Americans are against the 1.5C movement as they have more to lose than most. If you put a sea level indicator like this http://flood.firetree.net/ and set the level to 2 metres. Then run down the East coast of the USA and all the way round to New Orleans and you will see the massive amount of infrastructure that is going to be inundated.
    Apart from a few cities, Florida and farmland, most of the oil refineries and ports in the Gulf of Mexico will be lost. NASA rocket launch stations, naval ports. A quick look at California will show sea reaching Sacramento.
    The loses are going to be huge and will bankrupt the economy. If it were not for the dysfunctional system of government and the political corruption they would be very worried.

    1. I know, there doesn’t appear to be any logic to this. Neither with the Saudis – at 4degC of warming some of their country will be rendered inhabitable. And India, too, where the impacts will be huge.

      Shows the real power of the fossil fuel industry over politics.

  2. Whatever goal is adopted in terms of temperatures, we also have to consider how we achieve this. NZ uses the emissions trading scheme as a so called mechanism to reduce emissions. This is the main “strategy”.

    The ets seems fundamentally flawed to me as follows. Even with quite a big price on carbon, intuition tells me industry will tend to prefer the option of relying on buying carbon credits from planting trees as this is easiest, at least until land runs out. Or they will make token efficiencies elsewhere.

    Industry will be reluctant to invest in truly affordable electric cars and charging networks, and renewable energy, or significant cuts to high carbon industry because this is hard work. This makes these investments very slow, too slow to deal with the real world problem. Real world evidence also shows this to be happening. Even Europe’s ets has had dismal results, with most emissions reductions due to other factors.

    This is the fundamental flaw at the heart of the ets. Its too damn slow no matter how its designed. The ets is a market solution that has a huge inherent market failure in it. We have been sold a total croc!

    We need a carbon tax. This immediately hits the fossil fuel industry hard, so is a solid incentive to reduce emissions. A carbon tax immediately provides money that can be used to subsidise renewable energy, forests, and electric cars. This is a fast solution and is just so obviously a workable mechanism. The tax could be set quite high, as even if its passed partly onto consumers, electric car subsidies would help partly cancel this.

    The Economist Journal is now promoting a carbon tax. They have also woken up to the problems with an ets, although they see other problems different from what I have covered.

    1. the fundamental flaw at the heart of the ETS, I think, are several:

      1. the price of carbon too low
      2. Govt subsidises companies who bleat about being uncompetitive.
      3. no barrier to trading international credits (well, there has been one, recently, but Kyoto ratification will take care of that)
      4. We’ve such a low target that there’s no “cap” in the cap and trade system.

      Heaven help us if our energy system were actually forced by an ETS to actually cut emissions! If companies cut emissions they’d get credits to sell and they’d have to pay less for their emissions.

      1. No-one in the media seemed to pick up that the only reason the Government re-joined Kyoto was to gain access to overseas credits. This Government has no intention of actually doing anything serious to mitigate emissions, it will simply try to buy out it’s obligations by purchasing overseas credits. The risks are huge, it is likely most of the dodgy ‘hot-air’ credits will be disallowed, and the price it has to pay could increase dramatically. It makes much more sense to spend Government taxes in this country and stimulate the economy.

  3. We need a carbon tax. This immediately hits the fossil fuel industry hard

    This immediately hits the public hard, especially the poor and vulnerable.

    The fossil fuel industries are not against carbon taxes. That’s why companies like BP and Shell have carbon trading departments.

    1. Correction.
      We need a Carbon tax and a rebate funded by the income for the poor and vulnerable, and investment and subsidies to households and businesses to invest in alternative energies and immediate cessation of Govt investment, subsidies, and tax breaks for fossil fuel exploration, extraction and distribution.

    2. Correction, Andy: the poor and the vulnerable are being hit hard by fossil-fuel-induced climate change, and carbon trading is different from a carbon tax.

      PS: To save everyone’s time, here is a debunking of the latest denialist cherry-picking and lies in the WSJ, lest Andy be tempted to run them again here:

      12 scientists contributed to analyzing the article and estimated its overall scientific credibility to be ‘Low’ to ‘Very Low.

      The opinion piece in the WSJ by Matt Ridley & Benny Peiser contains numerous false statements, cherry-picked evidence, and misleading assertions about climate science. It attempts to surround the hard facts about climate change with clouds of uncertainty, even though these facts are agreed to by the scientific academies of every major country in the world and the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists.


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