Climate Change: Was the Paris Summit the only chance we had?


COP21_logoBack in the first week of last year the Paris summit (also known as COP21  – the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC)) was held.

There an agreement that had been hammered out in the build up to that summit was finally agreed by an unprecedented number of nation states, 196 to be precise. It matters, it truly does because this was a commitment by each and every one of these nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strive to limit average global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees C.

This now hopefully enduring legal framework will in the decades to come, ripple out into all our lives. It is not a done deal, instead this is simply a start, a first step. It requires nations to not only stick to the commitments they have made, but to also continue down this road and take the next step, and then the step after that. In 2018 each nation will need to submit specific plans that lay out how they will proceed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Then, each and every five years after that, summit new plans for even greater reductions.

Clearly there is prevailing consensus that doing nothing is not an option, and the string of successive monthly temperature records being broken each and every single month of not only this year, but also during the quarter of the last year, underline that point. Last July was the hottest July every recorded since formal record keeping began in 1880. The June just prior to that was the hottest June, and the May just prior to that was the hottest May, and … well, you get the idea, it runs all the way back to Oct 2015.

After the Dec 2015 agreement, starting in April, it was formally opened up for nations to sign up to the agreement. So far, (as of Aug 2016) 180 nations has formally signed up to it, but only 23 have actually ratified it, and that is not yet enough for it be to legally binding, we need 55 nations to ratify it for that.

One Small Problem

Well, OK, not exactly a small problem, The Paris agreement is not enough, and everybody knew that even as they moved forward.

“This didn’t save the planet, but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.” – Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, said of the agreement.

… and that perhaps sums Paris up – basically there is a consensus, and so they did clearly highlight that more needs to happen …

Notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2 ̊C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030, and also notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the intended nationally determined contributions in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing to a level to be identified in the special report referred to in paragraph 21 below;

So what other options do we have?

There are further battles and so here are a few that will be needed…

Fossil fuel subsidies: Yes, they get tax breaks and similar, but last June the G7 committed to eliminating all such subsidies by 2025. If that can indeed be achieved then it will help to create a greater nudge to ween society off fossil fuels.

The battle here is to persuade the G20 to do the same and fall in line, so will they? Perhaps, because climate change is clearly own the agenda and this specific items is being lobbied for.

The 2016 G20 Hangzhou summit will be the eleventh G20 meeting. It is planned to be held on 4–5 September 2016 in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang, so we shall soon, very soon, see.

US Election: The US is the No.2 producer of greenhouse gasses on the planet (China is No.1). What happens in November will be a decisive moment, not just for the US, but for all of us. There is a very decisive split between the Democrats who are pro-science and very much progressive thinkers who wish to continue the Climate Change initiatives started by Obama, and the Republicans who are very much anti-science climate change denying lunatics (Seriously, I’m not making this up, they really are).

The US already has the 2025 carbon reduction goals in the bag, but if the next step of even tougher goals for 2030 are to happen, then only Clinton will have the will and vision to do it.

Aviation: This is a big one and is even recognised by airline owners such as Richard Branson. The irony there is not lost on many. When Mr Branson tweeted a green message last March, a well-known UK comedian tweeted this back at him …

It is of course a funny tweet, but also makes a serious point. There really are no easy answers here and so some really tough decisions will be called for. Right now aviation accounts for 2% of the total greenhouse gases, and by 2050 that will potentially triple … yikes.

Should the real cost of air travel be reflected in the ticket price?

HFC coolants: Replacing the previous CFCs was a big win, but we can’t avoid the fact that the HFCs now used are a climate change problem. It might appear to be a small issue (Fridges etc…), but some analysts who have crunched the stats suggest that reducing HFCs could cut temperature rises 0.5C by 2100 on business as usual scenarios. That would potentially be a big win and so a cut is on the agenda of the UN’s Montreal Protocol next 8-14 October.

Shipping: This accounts for 3% of global emissions, and so far nobody has done anything … yet. This needs to change.

Back the the Title Question

Was the Paris summit our only real hope?

In the sense that it needed to set the stage for decisive action, then yes it very much was, and it has done exactly that.

It was not however the ultimate and complete solution, that was clear to everybody, and so no it was not our only hope. As listed above, we need to move forward and fight further battles, taking each and every step one by one. We don’t have all the answers (airlines, shipping, etc…), but we do, all of us (apart from the Republicans in the US), have a common goal, and so we need to keep pushing forward and build upon the foundation that has been laid by Paris, not only to implement and ratify that, but to take bolder more ambitious steps.

The alternative is truly unthinkable. Rapid sea level rise is now a real possibility and that would be massively disruptive, not in a small way. Several meters of sea level rise within about a century would wipe our many major well-known cities such as London and New York.

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