2018/12/04: At a UN climate change summit in Poland Monday, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin underlined the Holy See’s view that climate change is a moral issue and has an effect on human dignity.
“The scientific data at our disposal clearly show the urgent need for swift action, within a context of ethics, equity and social justice,” Parolin told the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Dec. 3.
“The transition to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” he stated, “is a problem not only within the domain of technology, but also a question of consumption patterns, education, and lifestyles. We are gradually becoming aware that climate change is an issue increasingly more moral than technical.”
Speaking on the first day of the COP-24 in Katowice, Parolin stressed the Holy See’s desire for the work program of the Paris Agreement be built on a “clear ethical foundation,” and on a commitment to “advancing the dignity of the human person, alleviating poverty and promoting integral human development.”
He also said implementation of the climate change agreement should be based on “easing the impact of climate change through responsible mitigation and adaptation measures” and on meeting the needs of both the present and the future.
Informally dubbed the COP-24, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is taking place Dec. 3-14. The main task of the summit is developing a program for implementation of the Paris Agreement at the national level.
The Paris Agreement, which will take effect in 2020, was made within the UNFCCC to create a global response to combatting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. A long-term goal of the agreement is to help control the increase in the global average temperature by having countries pledge individual contributions towards the mitigation of global warming.
2018/11/27: For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer.
We are not on that pathway yet — very far from it. But unlike even one month ago, the pathway is clear. It begins with the galloping momentum calling on the Democratic Party to use its majority in the House to create the Select Committee for a Green New Deal, a plan advanced by Ocasio-Cortez and now backed by more than 14 representatives.
The draft text calls for the committee, which would be fully funded and empowered to draft legislation, to spend the next year consulting with a range of experts — from scientists to local lawmakers to labor unions to business leaders — to map out a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” capable of making the U.S. economy “carbon neutral” while promoting “economic and environmental justice and equality.” By January 2020, the plan would be released, and two months later would come draft legislation designed to turn it into a reality.
That early 2020 deadline is important — it means that the contours of the Green New Deal would be complete by the next U.S. election cycle, and any politician wanting to be taken seriously as a progressive champion would need to adopt it as the centerpiece of their platform. If that happened, and the party running on a sweeping Green New Deal retook the White House and the Senate in November 2020, then there would actually be time left on the climate clock to meet the harsh targets laid out in the recent IPCC report, which told us that we have a mere 12 years to cut fossil fuel emissions by a head-spinning 45 percent.
A no-deal will have serious implications in all sectors, but, specifically on the environment, it should be of huge concern.
Greener UK, the coalition of environmental groups, published a report in July setting out how a no-deal would affect the environment, food security and pollution, and their analysis on climate change was stark: “Leaving the EU without a deal would make it harder for the UK to meet its emissions reduction targets in the long term, increase energy bills for consumers and undermine investment in critical energy infrastructure,” the report said.
A no-deal Brexit would mean the UK cutting loose from the European Court of Justice and, in turn, ending participation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Greener UK says this would cause “significant disruption to business and a loss of more than £530 million in auction revenues for the UK government”. A no-deal could lead to a drop in the carbon price, because operators will sell allowances as March 2019 nears, the report said, and a sudden departure from the ETS would “disrupt action to meet the UK’s domestic carbon target, potentially undermining domestic ambition on climate change”.
It would also see the UK leaving the internal energy market, meaning consumer energy bills would increase due to charges added to cross-border electricity trading.
Even if the negotiations result in a deal, there are still ramifications. The Greener UK report cites research by National Grid that leaving the internal energy market could cost the UK £500m – even if there were a deal on Brexit. With the detail of a Brexit deal still to be hammered out, it is unclear whether the UK will stay in the ETS. But departure from the ECJ, a totemic demand of Brexiteers, will see the creation of a new environmental watchdog, which, say campaigners, will weaken enforcement on meeting climate change targets.
2018/10/10: it’s not that the news about climate has changed, but that the scientific community is finally discarding caution in describing the implications of its own finding.
They have also, thankfully, offered a practical suggestion, proposing the imposition of a carbon tax many, many times higher than those currently in use or being considered — they propose a tax of up to $5,000 per ton of carbon dioxide by 2030, growing to $27,000 per ton by 2100. Today, the average price of carbon across 42 major economies is just $8 per ton. The new Nobel laureate in economics, William Nordhaus, made his name by almost inventing the economic study of climate change, and his preferred carbon tax is $40 per ton — which would probably land us at about 3.5 degrees of warming. He considers that grotesque level “optimal.”
But a carbon tax is only a spark to action, not action itself. And the action needed is at a scale and a speed almost unimaginable to most of us. The IPCC report called it unprecedented. Other activists often see one precedent, in all of human history, citing the model of how the United States prepared for World War II, and calling for a global mobilization of that kind — all of the world’s rivalrous societies and nationalistic governments and self-interested industries organized around the common pursuit of a stable and comfortable climate as though warming was an existential threat.
It is. And the World War II mobilization metaphor is not hyperbole.
A few weeks ago, as the IPCC report loomed, I had lunch with a prominent climate scientist who’d been involved in earlier reports and has done considerable work on local preparedness as well. I asked if he thought New York would eventually build a sea wall or surge barrier to protect the city from sea-level rise and flooding. Yes, he said, Manhattan will be protected, at any cost. But major infrastructure projects like these take decades — typically about 30 years. Even if we began building today, he said, the barrier would not be finished in time to save Howard Beach and other parts of southern Queens and Brooklyn. Soon enough, he said, you’ll see the city adjust accordingly — halting new infrastructure projects there, eventually pulling back from even quotidian maintenance like sewer repairs and generally signaling to current residents that they will not be able to leave behind their homes, when they die, to their children. And of course a sea wall to protect New York only encloses the narrows of New York Harbor, leaving all of Long Island exposed.
This is just the threat from sea level, and just one (very rich) metropolitan area. The world is much bigger than that, but so is climate change. It is also very fast, with more than half the carbon humanity has ever emitted into the atmosphere having come in just the last 25 years, since Al Gore published his first book on climate change. Monday’s IPCC may seem like a dramatic departure, and it is. But there is going to be much more like it coming. So long as we continue to squander what little time we have, the news will only get worse from here.
2018/10/09: Every scenario for keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius requires reducing per capita consumption. The scenarios range from shrinking world energy demand 15 percent by 2030 to constraining it to a 17 percent increase. Either way would mean less power for anyone rich enough to read this on a computer (if poorer people get more stuff under constrained growth, it means the richer people are going to have to make some lifestyle changes).
Some of this would come from efficiency, but it would also require “behavioural changes.”
Biofuel: Every scenario laid out by the IPCC relies on ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels to some extent, and projects an increase in farmland devoted to growing fuel. We could really use biofuels to replace jet fuel and gasoline, but it’s controversial. There are good scientists who say corn ethanol has a bigger carbon footprint than gasoline. Others say burning ethanol is already carbon negative and getting better all the time. It seems impossible to tell who is right. If you are cutting down rainforests for palm oil, that’s definitely a climate catastrophe. If you can get algae in a tank to turn sunlight to fuel, well, that’s awesome.
Nuclear power: All scenarios have nuclear providing a greater share of our electricity through 2050. Right now, nuclear power provides 11 percent of the world’s electricity. In one 1.5 degree scenario, the IPCC report has the world doubling the percentage of electricity it gets from nuclear by 2030, and quintupling it by 2050. The most “degrowthy” scenario, with dramatically decreasing energy demand, doesn’t require building new atomic plants but does require keeping the ones we have open.
2018/10/08: The Paris Agreement notes how it will take a little longer for poorer countries to fully decarbonise, raising the bar still further for the UK, USA and other wealthy nations.
To genuinely reduce emissions in line with 2 C of warming requires a transformation in the productive capacity of society, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan. The labour and resources used to furnish the high-carbon lifestyles of the top 20% will need to shift rapidly to deliver a fully decarbonised energy system.
No more second or very large homes, SUVs, business and first-class flights, or very high levels of consumption. Instead, our economy should be building new zero-energy houses, retrofitting existing homes, huge expansion of public transport, and a 4-fold increase in (zero-carbon) electrification.
Sadly, the IPCC fails, again, to address the profound implications of reducing emissions in line with both 1.5 and 2 C. Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue.
2018/10/08: This little-noticed treaty has nothing to do with the Paris accord, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations that have dragged on since 1992, or energy sector emissions, which have resumed their rise.
The Kigali Amendment, which was agreed on October 15, 2016, and comes into force on January 1, will drastically reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These heat-trapping gases are the byproduct of industrial processes such as refrigeration and can be eliminated from those processes by re-engineering. The amendment comes under the Montreal Protocol, the world’s most successful international environmental treaty, which aims to stop the depletion of the ozone layer.
HFCs are prime examples of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), a range of chemicals that are spewed into the atmosphere by human activities and contribute to global warming. While attempts to reduce climate change have rightly focused on the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, mostly produced from our use of fossil fuels, these other substances have been largely ignored.
Experts estimate that cutting down on SLCPs could reduce global warming by as much as 0.5 degrees C. That would not be enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change if we continue to burn fossil fuels, but it could buy humanity some much-needed time while carbon emissions are brought under better control.
“The only way to slow near-term feedbacks [which could drive climate change past tipping points] in the 15- to 20-year window before we lose control to runaway warming is to cut the SLCPs, which can provide considerably more avoided warming at mid-century than cuts to carbon dioxide can provide,” said Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and a reviewer of the IPCC report on the effects of 1.5 C warming. “In fact, [they could provide] two to six times more [than carbon cuts].”