Sunday, December 14, 2014

COP20 in Lima -- All Over Except for the Shouting

As predicted, COP20 – the climate change talks in Lima, Peru – ended with an agreement which is both a “breakthrough” and which everyone dislikes. It asks UN member nations to volunteer information about their strategic intentions with respect to emissions reductions and encourages “rich” member nations to contribute to a fund to help alleviated the impacts of climate change in developing nations.

Here are the key elements of the “deal”:

  • Nations may disclose and declare their intentions with respect to emissions reductions or may chose not to. It is entirely voluntary. The thinking is that the political pressure will be such that nations will feel obliged to declare their intention – this despite a survey showing that, in almost every country, climate change is not a major issue for voters. There is also no guarantee that the aggregate of these “intentions” (not commitments) will “save” the planet from warming above 2C (3.6F) from pre-industrial levels.
  • Developed nations are encouraged to contribute to the UN Green Climate Fund established to help developing nations either reduce emissions, adapt to climate change or deal with “loss and damage”. Previously (in 2010 in Cancun at COP16), a commitment had been made to offer $100 billion annually by 2020. But this has gone nowhere (there is $10 billion in the fund, but some of it is multiyear funding). There is an understanding that there will be work done between now and the Paris talks in December 2015 on how the previous pledge can be “honoured”. But this is most problematic. For example, Japan committed and then spent $1 billion, but this was the costs of them building coal fired power plants in Indonesia. Coal fired power plants are significant CO2 emitters, even when the plants have “clean coal” technology.

This is the achievement after two weeks, many hours of negotiations and discussion with close to 10,000 attending. Included among these are close to 4,000 government officials, a small group of whom negotiate the text of a deal.  What they ended up doing was kicking the ball down the road to May 2015 in preliminary work for the COP21 in Paris. There are some key issues left to deal with:

  • The legal status of any commitments made in Paris – the Paris deal will replace Kyoto, which was legally binding for those who signed up (not that this had any significance). 
  • The analysis and aggregation of targets set by nations within a “global budget for CO2” to ensure that the targets will not lead to CO2 enabling warming above 2C.
  • The mechanism or mechanisms for funding developing nations through the Green Climate Fund and the size of the contribution of each of the contributing nations.

 That is, all the things they tried to settle in COP1-20 but didn’t. Gone is talk of the world not using fossil fuels after 2050. Gone is talk of legally binding agreements. Gone is talk of global governance mechanisms (including a Court of Justice for Reparations). Gone is talk of a global tax on carbon and market mechanisms for carbon offsets. Gone is, well most of the things which many have said are needed to respond to the climate change narrative.

Should we be concerned at the “smoke and mirrors” of these COP events? If you believe the climate change = man made disaster narrative, you might want to think about how this narrative is working for you. If you believe, as a growing number of climate scientists actually do, that almost all of the changes in climate we can now see are within the realm of natural variation, with man’s contribution being low to next to nothing, then we should be focused not on emissions reduction (which are a good thing), but on adaptation.

To suggest, as most developing nations do, that extreme weather events are a result of “man made climate change” and therefore “reparations” must be made by those who emit CO2 (the industrialized nations), is a claim that is not well supported in science. It’s the narrative some like to use, but it is not that scientific. The incidence and severity of extreme weather has not increased. There is little evidence that dangerous weather-related events will occur more often in the future. The U.N.’s own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in its Special Report on Extreme Weather (2012) that there is “an absence of an attributable climate change signal” in trends in extreme weather losses to date.  Such events do occur and have consequences, so nations need to prepare for them. But I am not sure why floods in Pakistan or Philippines require “reparations” when in fact what they require is “preparations”.

The fundamental challenge for negotiators is to face up to some hard truths and not to select some science which supports some ideological position. The science is much more uncertain and evolving than Ban Ki Moon, Al Gore or David Suzuki would have you believe. Even the much touted 2C threshold is problematic. Writing about this, Professor Judith Curry (a highly respected and credible climate scientist) suggests that the emphasis on the 2C constitutes “oversimplification of both the problem and solution in context of a consensus to power approach, plus failure to actually clarify the meaning of ‘dangerous climate change.”  She is building on an important contribution to this debate by Oliver Geden. Geden points out that this 2C is not a “set in stone” scientific threshold – it is not a scientific imperative. But it has become one. This is what happens to science – it becomes part of a narrative that cannot then be revised (too many reputations are built around the narrative), even though it was never intended to be used in such a “touchstone” and imperious way. So the idea that we base a “new world order” on science is not in fact what is happening here: the proposal is to base a new global agreement on a story, some of which has some connection (but weak) to science…that may shed a different light on all the talk at COP20 and all the talk to come between now and COP21.

1 comment:

Chris and Jan Farthing said...

Well put Stephen. I appreciate your insight on this topic