Scientists think climate change is likely to have catastrophic and irreversible effects, including rising sea levels, polar melting, droughts, floods and increasingly extreme weather, if temperatures rise more than 2 Celsius or 3.6 Fahrenheit. They have calculated that this threshold is likely to be breached if global emissions top 1,200 billion tonnes, giving a “Carbon Budget” to stick to in order to avoid dangerous warming.
Unfortunately, the emissions rising trend has continued despite increasingly alarming warnings from scientists over the future of the climate, and commitments by developed countries to cut their carbon and from major developing economies to curb their emissions growth. There was a brief blip in global emissions growth at the time of the banking crisis, but this “Breathing Space” was quickly overtaken by an expansion in fossil fuel demand.
The annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions trends showed a strong rise of 2.5 percent on 2013 levels, putting the total emitted emissions this year on track for 40bn tonnes. It means that the global ‘carbon budget’, calculated as the total governments can afford to emit emissions without pushing temperatures higher than 2C (3.6 F) above pre-industrial levels, is likely to be used up within just one generation, or in thirty years from now.
At the same time, CO2 emissions for 2014, according to the research, are set to rise to 40bn tonnes. That compares with emissions of 32bn tonnes in 2010, showing how fast the output is rising.
Regardless of the lack of progress with the outcome of the efforts to curb emissions, the United Nations and the international communities around the world have constantly been attempting to devise ways to help improve the approach to climate change. Accordingly, the Paris Climate Change Conference is different from all previous efforts. For instance:
- In 1992, governments met in Rio de Janeiro and forged the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That agreement, still in force, bound governments to take action to avoid dangerous climate change, but did not specify what actions. Over the following five years, governments wrangled over what each should do, and what should be the role of developed countries versus poorer nations;
- Those years of argument produced, in 1997, the Kyoto protocol. That pact required worldwide cuts in emissions of about 5 percent, compared with 1990 levels, by 2012, and each developed country was allotted a target on emissions reductions. But developing countries, including China, South Korea, Mexico and other rapidly emerging economies, were given no targets and allowed to increase their emissions at will;
- The US signed up to the protocol, however, it was quickly apparent that it would never be ratified by the US Congress. Legally, the protocol could not come into force until countries representing 55 percent of global emissions had ratified it. With the US – then the world’s biggest emitter – on the outside, that was not going to happen; and
- So for most of the following decade, the Kyoto protocol remained in abeyance and global climate change negotiations ground to a near-halt. But in late 2004, Russia decided to pass the treaty – unexpectedly, and as part of a move to have its application for World Trade Organization membership accepted by the European Union. That made up the weight needed, and the protocol finally came into force.
The main difference of the Paris Climate Change Conference that’s also known as COP21 which took place from November 30 to December 11, 2015, is the illustration of a new paradigm emerging on climate – one in which action is decentralized, driven primarily by national, and even state and provincial, governments rather than by negotiations at the United Nations (UN). The governments of more than 190 nations gathered in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and thus avoiding the threat of dangerous climate change.
In the framework of COP21, each State was to publish its own Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), illustrating their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2025-2030 in order to mitigate global warming to less than 2 C (3.6 F) by 2100. Countries can also choose adaptation measures, meaning policies aimed at reducing the effects of global warming that are already being felt.
On Saturday 12th December 2015:
- 186 countries set out their roadmaps;
- 95 percent of global GHG emissions to 2011 are covered by these contributions;
- The agreement’s ten largest CO2 emitters have handed in their contribution. In the order of the size of the emission, they are China, the United States, Europe (a single contribution for the 28 Member States), India, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Here are the highlights of the top three emitters:
- China: China overtook the US as the world’s lead carbon polluter in total volume in 2007 and has held the title ever since. In 2013, China churned out 28 percent of the world’s CO2. But where other countries are actively trying to ratchet back their emissions below current levels, China has simply pledged to reach its peak CO2 emissions by “around 2030,” which is when experts predict that China’s emissions would naturally peak anyway thanks to economic and demographic changes. China is also pledging to reduce emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, essentially becoming much more carbon efficient. According to Bloomberg, though, that goal is actually less ambitious just continuing business as usual.
It makes sense for China to offer such weak pledges. Beijing is busy trying to transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a consumer-oriented one, which will impact economic growth. Meanwhile, China’s growing middle class is demanding basics like clean air and water. It’s easy to see why: air pollution kills 1.4 million Chinese people each year. Beijing needs to show that it’s making progress toward delivering the quality lives it’s promised, without comprising the economic growth that underpins them. It’s a tough needle to thread;
- The United States: Right behind China comes America, responsible for 14 percent of global CO2 emissions. But on a per capita basis, the US emits far more. Each American produces 17 metric tons of CO2 each year on average, compared to 6 tons for the average Chinese. For the Paris meetings, America has promised to cut its carbon emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025 compared to its 2005 baseline. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that a full 25 percent of Americans still don’t believe there’s solid evidence for global warming. Only 42 percent of Americans say they are very concerned about global warming. The only international issue that’s less worrying for Americans is territorial disputes between China and its neighbors, which polls at 30 percent.
And then there’s the matter of a Republican-controlled Congress. Within hours of President Barack Obama’s arrival in Paris, Congress passed resolutions gutting EPA rules designed to limit carbon emissions. It’s tough to project solidarity with the world on climate change when you can’t even muster it in your own country; and
- The European Union: Europe, which is responsible 10 percent of global man-made CO2 emissions, has taken a more proactive approach to climate change. European leaders have signed a climate change pact among themselves to cut the E.U.’s greenhouse gases 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, mirroring their proposal in Paris. If things break right, Germany may even be able to reduce its own CO2 emissions 40 percent by 2020, 10 years ahead of schedule.
But cracks among the 28-member union are beginning to show. Poland’s new government is pushing back against the pact that was signed by the previous government, arguing that the country’s coal-dependent economy will suffer disproportionately.
Of course, between terrorism, tensions with Russia and a refugee crisis, spats over climate are the least of Europe’s worries at the moment. And that’s the crux of the issue. There’s always a clear and present danger that supersedes climate change concerns.
3. THE AGREEMENT:
The agreement commits all nations to cooperating to address a wide range of ways in which poor and developing nations deal with climate-change effects — whether from extreme storms or “slow onset events” like rising seas — an idea called “loss and damage.” The agreement states that countries signing on “recognize the importance” of minimizing and addressing damage caused by climate change and the role of “sustainable development” in reducing the risk of loss and damage.
The stated goal among global climate negotiators has long been to reduce emissions enough so that global temperatures rise no more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, by 2100. That is the level at which scientists say the most catastrophic effects of climate change can be avoided. The reality is that goal was not met at Paris, but few people expected it to be. The commitments that countries made will limit warming to only about 3 degrees Celsius. But the agreement includes provisions for revisiting emissions goals every five years with the intention of regularly revising them upward “to reach global peaking of GHG emissions as soon as possible.” The five-year time frame was pushed heavily by the United States.
Additionally, the agreement also defines a more ambitious goal: Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As the conference unfolded, a group of developing nations, including representatives from poor countries and some island nations threatened by rising seas, successfully pressed to include 1.5 degrees as an “Aspirational” goal. That threshold, experts say, could further reduce risks from global warming, potentially preventing the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, but it would require more extensive emissions reductions and, potentially, new technology for capturing carbon. The agreement invites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which operates under UN auspices, to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of such a goal.
No doubt that each country committed to phasing out the use of fossil fuels while increasing renewable energy. Each country sets its own emissions targets and comes up with plans for meeting them.
It should be noted that the agreement does not include rigid timelines by which the goals must be met, nor does it make the goals binding under international law. US Secretary of State John F. Kerry made clear in the days before the conference that the United States would not commit to binding targets, in part because legally binding targets would require approval by the Republican-controlled Senate, which has not been supportive of the Obama administration’s climate goals.
However, while emissions targets themselves are not binding, nations, according to article 13, will be required to submit to outside monitoring of their progress — an idea negotiators referred to as transparency. The United States successfully argued for a single framework, but developing countries like China and India ensured they will not need to meet the same requirements.
Another tender topic. Poor and developing countries wanted wealthier nations to pay to help develop new, clean energy sources that would not prevent them from growing economically. In the end, that is basically what happened, but some developing nations were frustrated that the agreement does not include a legal commitment to an annual amount — specifically, $100 billion per year, a figure that has long been suggested. However, developed countries have pledged to provide no less than that figure and ramp up their contributions in the future, a provision that India wanted.
Money was always the key to a deal, with big business, global banks and many rich countries lined up to pledge billions of dollars; 450 mayors of the world’s largest cities had agreed to slash emissions and the World Bank and others had said they would increase climate funding by more than $100bn. But behind the scenes, arguments raged as rich countries locked horns with large emerging nations such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa over money, legal liability, compensation, and how emissions cuts would be verified
Canada was welcomed back in the global climate community after four years when Canada became the first country to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that set global targets to reduce GHG emissions. Canada was pulled out of the Kyoto agreement and was not on track to meet its own target of a 17 percent reduction in GHG emissions below 2005 levels by 2020.
“Canada is back,” said Canadian Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna at a news conference Sunday in the French capital. McKenna and Stephane Dion, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, signaled from Paris that Canada is committed to introducing carbon pricing.
On Monday, less than a month after being sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister, Justin Trudeau leads a Canadian delegation to the United Nations climate change summit in Paris, eager to negotiate a new global agreement.
Stephane Dion reminded reporters on Sunday, the provinces have jurisdiction over electricity and natural resources. Many have taken the lead on climate action:
- Ontario, Canada’s largest province, is the first North American jurisdiction to permanently ban coal-fired electricity generation. It set targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 — and by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Ontario is also collaborating with California and Canada’s French-speaking province of Quebec to develop a cap-and-trade system that sets a limit on the amount of pollution industry can produce and a mechanism by which companies over their quota can buy carbon credits from those that don’t use all of theirs; and
- Quebec along with the western Canadian provinces of British Columbia and, most recently, Alberta, have introduced carbon taxes. Alberta, whose oil patch has come under fire as a major polluter, has announced an aggressive plan to address climate change that sets limits on emissions and begins a transition from coal to renewable electricity sources.
Last week during a meeting in Malta of leaders of British Commonwealth countries, which include Canada, Trudeau announced a nearly $2-billion contribution over the next five years to help developing countries combat climate change.
At the climate summit in Copenhagen six years ago, industrialized countries committed to provide $100 billion annually to poorer countries by 2020, and environmental groups have urged Canada to embrace a 4 percent target, or $4 billion, based on its national wealth. Those extra funds could come from a tax on bunker fuels used in international aviation and shipping, which if they represented a country would be among the world’s top 10 polluters, according to Dale Marshall, national program manager with Environmental Defense Canada.
- The Guardian: Record CO2 Emissions “Committing World to Dangerous Climate Change”;
- The Guardian: Don’t Expect Recession to Meet Lower Carbon Emissions;
- The Guardian: Climate Change – IPCC Issues Stark Warning Over Global Warming;
- The Guardian: IPCC – 30 years to calamity if we carry on blowing the carbon budget;
- The Guardian: World Carbon Emissions – The League Table of every country;
- The Guardian: 2014 officially the hottest year on record;
- The Guardian: Everything you need to know about the Paris Climate Summit and UN talks;
- The Guardian: What is the Kyoto Protocol and has it made any difference?;
- The Guardian: Russia vote saves Kyoto Protocol;
- United Nations Conference on Climate Change;
- Time: Science – These are the 5 facts you need to know about the Paris Climate Summit;
- Los Angeles Times: Here’s what the Paris Climate agreement will do – and what it won’t;
- The Guardian: How the historic Paris deal over climate change was finally agreed; and
- Los Angeles Times: Climate Change Summit – Canada starts to regain its green glow.