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. Continue reading “1.5 to stay alive: big issues for small countries as Paris climate talks get down to nitty gritty”

NZ: pushing the world to go beyond 2 degrees

head-in-the-sandNew Zealand is coming under increasing scrutiny in Lima, not least because it’s our turn to be reviewed by the UNFCCC process.

Early next week our representatives will have to defend our position and our lack of action to 190 governments in our first “multilateral assessment.”

Already, there have been some tough questions, coming especially from the EU and China. New Zealand’s answered them, but will have to more to defend itself than these carefully fudged answers.

Our negotiators have been trying to promote our position around the meeting, including a botched attempt in a science discussion yesterday, when they were interrupted halfway through a blatant PR presentation. They were told to get back to the issue at hand (science, not promotion of a country’s so-called “efforts”), after a number of governments objected to our highjacking the agenda. Continue reading “NZ: pushing the world to go beyond 2 degrees”

Ange Palmer: Why I Feel So Good About Climate Change

I have been marinating in the meaty world of climate change for a good five years now. I’ve been on a wild ride as a film maker producing a documentary called 2 Degrees (that’s the trailer above). Our film looks at the flaws in the UN climate negotiation process through the gritty lens of climate justice, and then follows a fantastic community uprising lead by a fiery 80 year old woman mayor in South Australia.

As a result of this process I have become intensely interested in how we respond psychologically to climate change as humans. How do we cope with the grief, anger, confusion, disbelief and disempowerment that inevitably arises when we allow the reality of those doomsday news reports to sink in? Can we keep our chins up amidst all this?

Personally, I can. I’m way beyond depression and anxiety. In 2009 I sat in at the Four Degrees and Beyond conference in Oxford when the world’s eminent climate scientists shared their current research and came to a collective realisation that the worst case scenarios that each was predicting via their various areas of specialty modelling was, in fact, already playing out. It was a sobering vibe to say the least.

Continue reading “Ange Palmer: Why I Feel So Good About Climate Change”

Oxfam on food justice: clearheaded and admirable

I thought of Oxfam’s recent report on food justice while I was reviewing Christian Parenti’s book Tropic of Chaos. He wrote of how climate change impacts are compounding the existing economic and political problems of many poorer populations. This is also very evident in Oxfam’s report on the alarming new surge in hunger as higher food prices hit poor countries. Time for a post on the report, I thought.

The message that climate change is already having bad effects on the welfare of poor populations needs to be hammered home. The fact that it intertwines with other causes doesn’t mean that it can be downplayed. It is clearly a significant part of the combination of factors threatening the food supply of many.

Continue reading “Oxfam on food justice: clearheaded and admirable”

The road to ruin

Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at the University of Manchester has been sounding alarms about the inadequate rate of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for some years now. He’s done it again in a sobering paper written with colleague Alice Bows and recently published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (free access).

A Guardian article this week indicates some of the gist of the paper. Anderson points out that that policy advisers and policy makers are working on the basis of naïve and inappropriate assumptions which simply don’t obtain in reality. Growth rates in emissions are actually much higher than those used by most Integrated assessment models (IAMs) employed by researchers today, where climate change data is integrated with economic data. Emission peaks, even on an optimistic reckoning are not likely before 2020-2030 whereas most IAMs estimate 2010-2016. The IAMs also assume untested geoengineering, and a high penetration of nuclear power alongside untested ‘carbon capture and storage’ technologies.

Anderson’s calculations have shown that, if we want to aim for a high chance of not exceeding a 2 degree increase in global temperature by the end of the century, our energy emissions need to be cut by nearer 10% annually rather than the 2–4% that economists say is possible with a growing economy.

The models are producing politically palatable results. However, the reality is far more depressing and unfortunately many scientists are too afraid to stand up and say so for fear of being ridiculed.

“Our job is not to be liked but to give a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community.”

Because policy makers are living with false hopes they are not engaging with the sweeping changes necessary for industrialised nations to drastically reduce their emissions.

“This requires radical changes in behaviour, particularly from those of us with very high energy consumption. But as long as the scientists continue to spread the message that we will be ok if we all make a few small changes, then climate change will never be on top of the policy agenda and we will fail to meet our international commitments to avoid a 2 degree rise.”

Climate change is not a problem to be addressed in the future, but a cumulative problem that needs to be tackled now. And this can only be done if researchers use realistic data and report brutally honest results, no matter how disturbing or depressing.

To turn to the paper. It points out that though the Copenhagen Accord reiterated the commitment to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees, it focused on global emission peak dates and longer-term reduction targets instead of facing up to cumulative emission budgets.  That focus belies seriously the scale and scope of mitigation necessary.  There was also lack of attention to the pivotal importance of emissions from non-Annex 1 (developing) nations in shaping available space for Annex 1 (developed countries) emission pathways. The paper provides a cumulative emissions framing to show what rapid emissions growth in nations such as China and India mean for mitigation rates elsewhere.

The consequence of focusing on end-point targets rather than facing up to emission pathways is that there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature at or below 2 degrees.

“Although the language of many high-level statements on climate change supports unequivocally the importance of not exceeding 2 degrees, the accompanying policies or absence of policies demonstrate a pivotal disjuncture between high level aspirations and the policy reality.”

In essence we are putting off what must be faced up to now:

“In general there remains a common view that underperformance in relation to emissions now can be compensated with increased emission reductions in the future. Although for some environmental concerns delaying action may be a legitimate policy response, in relation to climate change it suggests the scale of current emissions and their relationship to the cumulative nature of the issue is not adequately understood.”

We are also relying on an outdated understanding of the likely severity of the impacts of a 2 degree rise in global temperature:

“…it is reasonable to assume…that 2 degrees now represents a threshold, not between acceptable and dangerous climate change, but between dangerous and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change; in which case the importance of low probabilities of exceeding 2 degrees increases substantially.”

In relation to economic growth, the paper observes that if only a 2-4% level of emission reductions is compatible with economic growth, then it appears that:

“…(extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations.”

The paper’s judgement as to the reality underlying the political talk:

“Put bluntly, while the rhetoric of policy is to reduce emissions in line with avoiding dangerous climate change, most policy advice is to accept a high probability of extremely dangerous climate change rather than propose radical and immediate emission reductions.”

The reader won’t argue with the authors’ description of their assessment of the climate challenge as “stark and unremitting”.

But they deny any negative intention:

“However, this paper is not intended as a message of futility, but rather a bare and perhaps brutal assessment of where our ‘rose-tinted’ and well intentioned (though ultimately ineffective) approach to climate change has brought us. Real hope and opportunity, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community. This paper is intended as a small contribution to such a vision and future of hope”

Hot Topic readers may recall that Clive Hamilton’s book Requiem for a Species, reviewed here, drew on an earlier 2008 paper by Anderson and Bows and quotes Anderson at the 2009 Oxford conference where climate scientists looked at the implications of a 4 degree increase in global temperature: “The future looks impossible.” It’s a pretty slim hope that Anderson allows, but he’s right to puncture the false ones.

[John & Beverley Martin]