Paris: winners and losers

Pillow diplomacyWhat can I add to the millions of words in dozens of languages that have already been written by the thousands of journalists and commentators around the Paris Agreement? We now have a globally binding agreement that really looks like it could curtail the use of a fuel that has been central to our way of life for more than 150 years.

Of course, if we’d managed to actually make deep cuts in emissions 25 years ago, getting governments to limit warming to 1.5 degrees would have been an awful prospect – who would want that much warming.  When I started working on this, it might have been possible to have no warming at all.

And if industrialised countries had actually made deep cuts in emissions when they said they would,  would we even be having an argument about equity?  Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but let’s look forward here. What’s in this agreement?

This is an international agreement based on science.

There are two key paragraphs. The first is under Article 2, (page 21), which aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by:

“Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”

This needs to be placed alongside Article 4, where the agreement links back to the temperature “goal” where Governments

“… aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible… and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century…”

What this does spell out is the end of fossil fuels, despite not mentioning those words – or even a word containing “carbon”?

According to someone who was at the epicentre of the negotiations, scientist and CEO of Climate Analytics Dr Bill Hare tells us:

“To limit warming below 1.5℃ by 2100, the best available science indicates that the world needs to reach zero greenhouse emissions between 2060 and 2080, or between 2080 and 2100 for a 2℃ limit.

“The rate of global reductions, and hence the time at which zero global emissions are achieved, are to be “in accordance” with the best available science, an obvious, but hard-fought clause to ensure that regular scientific assessments play a role in defining when and how zero emissions need to be achieved.”

No, the agreement doesn’t include binding cuts on emissions, and the climage pledges submitted are not legally binding. Dean Bialek of Independent diplomat has spelt out what it means.

“All countries have accepted a legally binding obligation to communicate a new emissions reduction target every five years, to regularly submit information on whether they are achieving those targets, and also to subject that information to an expert technical review to determine its validity.”

While a government won’t be locked up if they don’t meet their commitments, the collective international pressure from the global community will keep the pressure up.  A special committee will be set up to oversee technical reviews of action.

What does it require New Zealand to do? 

Between now and 2020, legally, nothing – apart from what we are (not) doing already, as our Prime Minister has told us.  He wants to get on with opening up oil and gas reserves.

Given the latest information on our emissions from the Ministry for the Environment, mysteriously publicly released after  Paris, our emissions are set to be 96% above 1990 levels in 2030.  New Zealand ended the Paris meeting by making a declaration for a global carbon market. It appears our Only Game in Town is to try to trade away our emissions, and we’re desperate to get everyone else onside with this plan.

The rapid rise in emissions forecast between now and 2030 is because our “Kyoto forests” that we have used as our own “hot air” will have matured, and be cut down.There is no programme in place to replace these plantations.  Indeed, the Government will continue making its own contribution by converting Landcorp estate into dairy farms,  an essential double-whammy for our emissions.

We will no doubt hear from our new Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett that we will be forced to pay an increasing amount for our burgeoning emissions, as actually cutting emissions is an alien concept for this government.

However, the UN will undertake a global stocktake of government action in 2018, followed by a formal reviews,  and regular reviews every five years, where it will be up to civil society to push governments into action.

Nobody is allowed to backslide on the commitments they’ve already made.  New Zealand will increasingly be called out for its lack of action on climate change and there will be increasing numbers of people across the country holding its feet to the fire.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 8.30.07 amCan Simon Bridges really keep focussing solely on the sparkly new toy of electric cars while continuing to pour money into motorways, reduce spending on public transport, and ignore the fact that New Zealand’s one of only a few countries in the OECD with no emissions standards for cars at all?  And  continue to open up more blocks for oil drilling?

Civil society has reacted in quite different ways to this agreement, some hailing it as a breakthrough, and others, the activists who went to Paris to protest the meeting,  have vowed to ratchet up action against fossil fuels.

It will be up to all of us to make this deal work, but with this science-based agreement,  it will be increasingly difficult for our government to continue with business as usual. Meanwhile the biggest El Nino on record will take the world into new and uncharted territory. Let’s see whether Paula Bennett has the gumption to start joining the dots.

24 thoughts on “Paris: winners and losers”

  1. I find this comment interesting:-
    Richard Tol, a UK based economist:
    “There is a subplot to the negotiations. Because the Paris Agreement does not impose any meaningful obligations on developed countries, developing countries lost their leverage. Developing countries no longer need to approve of emission reduction in developed countries, so the latter no longer need to bribe the former. The Paris Agreement is thus the first to keep the promises of climate aid at their previous level.”

    How do you see it Cindy?

    1. I wouldn’t see it like that. All countries are obliged to stick with – or improve – their climate commitments, and everyone will be keeping an eye on that, in a very transparent way. They’ve agreed that developed should provide a floor-level climate finance fig of $100bn a year by 2020. Tol doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  2. Biofarmer. Firstly Richard Toll is a well known climate change sceptic. His ‘economic’ views need to be considered in this light.

    Secondly you are always repeating parts of the Paris agreement, what you believe are weaknesses. We have all read that stuff anyway. What would you do enforce compliance? How would you do it?

    I also don’t think heavy penalties would have worked anyway. It would have alienated various countries. At least this agreement has most countries on board, because it doesnt have heavy handed penalties. We must have the vast majority of countries included, or its pointless, so I think Paris got the basic goals right.

    I think you also underestimate the power of countries shaming each other. This is more powerful than some fine imposed by the UN, and probably dodged anyway.

  3. No international treaty is ever fully enforceable. Sometimes, when the NPT is broken and nuclear weapons suspected, etc, countries go to war over the presence (or not) of chemical or nuclear weapons, or send in an inspection team.

    Anyway, it’s the big developing countries who were worried about industrialised countries not doing what they said they’d do. And it’s not those countries who’d get the lions’ share of the GCF funds, that would be the Least Developed Countries and the Small Island States. So Biofarmer, you’re getting a bit confused I think.

    And you might want to actually click on the link I provided in the blog about the bindingness of the treaty

    1. No I’m quite clear that it is an absolutely toothless agreement, and so the contents of the agreement really do not matter at all.

      There seems to be little disagreement about that aspect.
      Nigel it was not possible to enforce compliance, so it is no surprise that there was agreement.

      Cindy was John Kerry correctly reported to have said “Nothing that we do here will have any effect on the climate”? (or words to that effect)

      1. It looks like misreporting- these are his exact words :-

        “… The fact is that even if every American citizen biked to work, carpooled to school, used only solar panels to power their homes, if we each planted a dozen trees, if we somehow eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, guess what – that still wouldn’t be enough to offset the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world.

        If all the industrial nations went down to zero emissions –- remember what I just said, all the industrial emissions [nations?] went down to zero emissions -– it wouldn’t be enough, not when more than 65% of the world’s carbon pollution comes from the developing world.”

        1. China is the nation with the fasted rate of deployment of Wind and Solar by a long shot at the moment. Paris is not the “end all” of our climate change agreements, it is a step in the path.
          At least we are all now acknowledging the problem and the need to act. You should look at Paris for what it has achieved. The real work is still ahead obviously.

          1. To my mind the greatest achievement in Paris was the recognition that is explicit in this clause :-

            “The rate of global reductions, and hence the time at which zero global emissions are achieved, are to be “in accordance” with the best available science, an obvious, but hard-fought clause to ensure that regular scientific assessments play a role in defining when and how zero emissions need to be achieved.”

            That seems to be recognition that there is more to be discovered in the field of climatology, and it provides a convenient “let-out” clause for all parties if it turns out that the current estimates of the range ECS need revision.
            The range is very wide at present.

            1. That is complete bollocks. The meaning is clear, and it is no “let out” clause.

              You really need to do some reading outside of Watts and Nova. Estimates of transient and equilibrium climate sensitivity have no relevance in policies to reduce emissions, because even if — and it’s a very, very big if — climate sensitivity were to be at the lower end of expectations, it would make little difference to the end result.

            2. ” climate sensitivity were to be at the lower end of expectations, ”
              That is the point surely?
              The lower end appears to be the 0-0.5 deg range.
              The higher end is presumably the 1.5-4.5 deg range.
              I expect that the range will narrow over the intervening 5 years before this agreement gets down to business. I do understand that your expectation is different, but good science is wherever you find it, right?

            3. There is no credible science that suggests CS of any kind is under 1C. You presumably get that from Nova/Watts – and that says a great deal about your own credibility. The scientifically credible range is as assessed in AR5, which you quote as the “higher end”. The range will probably not narrow down much, if at all, because it hasn’t changed much in 20 years. Of course, if we wait long enough, we’ll find out…

              The real power in this agreement is that every nation has agreed to do something. It will, I hope, provide the context for business and political decision-making from now on – and that will (again, I fervently hope) result in emissions cuts being both made and found to be surprisingly affordable.

            4. O.K.
              I’ve been an organic farmer for over 30 years, I drive an electric vehicle , and I’ve never flown outside of NZ .
              What does credibility, of yourself , or myself , have to do with science
              I can answer that for you , if you like.

              But you are wrong about there being no credible science on ECS being lower.

              I agree that we will find out , but it will be much sooner than you appear to think. Within 5 years , at a guess.
              And that will be a very good thing.

              Because then we can start to discuss the future of NZ, and how we want it to be , and cease worrying about things which we have no certainty will ever happen.

            5. There’s science done by real scientists – people who know the subject and who publish their work in reputable journals and who command the respect of their peers – and there are fools on the internet making assertions. I put my trust in the former – and none of them think climate sensitivity will fall outside the IPCC range.

              You make incredible assertions, without a skerrick of supporting evidence, and expect to be taken seriously. Well, not here. I don’t care if you have an electric stair lift to take your tired legs up to bed: you don’t get misrepresent climate reality with impunity – certainly not here.

              Go away and read some science, then come back here and try contributing without bloviating.

              And have a merry Christmas.

            6. In all fairness I should at least give you a link

              [Snipped: a link to David Evans’ rubbish at Nova’s place. You make my point nicely. Wake me up when Evans stupid nonsense makes into a proper peer-reviewed journal. Meanwhile, all you have is the wishful thinking of fools and charlatans. One has to hope that you are not one yourself. GR.]

            7. Biofarmer the science papers claiming low sensitivity have no credibility. They are based on giving a large weighting to the “pause”. This is cherry picking a short period, so has no validity. The alleged pause has likely ended with this years temperatures, so further invalidates the studies.

            8. Bio: All uncertainty in the science goes both ways. It is truly amazing how climate skeptics ALWAYS interpret uncertainty as a “get out of jail card” and an argument for promoting a do-nothing attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth!!
              The clause in the agreement may well end up shifting us towards greater urgency to act, should feedback mechanisms such as permafrost thawing, ice cap instability and others turn out to be greater than now factored in.

            9. ” All uncertainty in the science goes both ways.”
              Of course, that is why the response will be mediated according to the best available science at the time.

              “The clause in the agreement may well end up shifting us towards greater urgency to act”.
              And as you point out above it may equally well mean the opposite.

              It is good to see that you are acknowledging that there is uncertainty.

            10. “The clause in the agreement may well end up shifting us towards greater urgency to act”.
              And as you point out above it may equally well mean the opposite.

              Actually it would not be equally likely. In fact it is Highly Unlikely – in the order of around 99% unlikely for temps to be less than 1.5 degress (bearing in mind that we are now 1 degree above pre – industrial levels and still climbing). But you go on believing it – but don’t go promulgating your belief because it is far from the truth, and it only make you look silly.
              I suggest you read this article

        2. not when more than 65% of the world’s carbon pollution comes from the developing world.

          It’s good to see that you recognise that we in the developed nations have a heck of a job to reduce our emissions. You do understand that that end product of the 65% of the world emissions produced by developing nations is not destined for them – but for the developed nations. Developed Nations have been exporting their manufacturing base off shore for some years now (courtesy of giant multi corporates). Just think how much NZ produces in country now and how much is imported. The USA cannot clothe itself any longer, imports 50% of its cars, 99% of it computers and smart TV’s, and the same goes for every other developed country.
          Consumption is the name of the game in town as you well know. It’s not just a matter of reducing our transport and home emissions – important as they may be – its also a matter of reducing consumption. Actually living within the resources of the planet, living with what one needs – not what one wants and urged on by aggressive advertising.

  4. The amazing thing about this agreement is that , while those of a warming bent have not been exactly fulsome in their praise of it (James Hansen being the notable exception), skeptics generally have welcomed it as significant progress.
    I rate the diplomacy involved as being of the highest order ; to have united all concerned in this way is something that few would have thought possible.

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