Saturday, December 12, 2015
Compared to Copenhagen, the new deal reached today in Paris is a surprising success. It is a success in that parties to the conference have agreed on a document that represents a compromise on several issues that have proved contentious among different countries, and among different social groups within each nation.
It is surprising in that the agreement is even ambitious in that it goes further than the 2 degree limit, which had been widely seen as unachievable. Through some cunning diplomacy, EU leaders were able to use this lower limit in order to gain the support of poorer nations, while at the same time denying them any compensation for past, present or future climate damages.
How much real progress will be made with regard to the goals of the treaty depends entirely on its implementation through national measures. Two points are important here: the treaty leaves it open to each nation how the GHG reduction will be made which introduces an element of flexibility and is a welcome bottom-up instrument. However, the final text does not mention the need for public funding of radical technological innovation leading to cheap and safe zero carbon solutions. But these will be needed if the limits are to be taken seriously. In this respect, important decisions have been postponed.
Below is a collection of statements that were published on Saturday afternoon, while people were waiting for the final agreement to be announced.
James Hansen has come out to lambast the treaty, using strong words:
“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
Meanwhile, Lord Stern is optimistic about the outcome, calling it a historic achievement:
“This is a historic moment, not just for us and our world today, but for our children, our grandchildren and future generations. The Paris Agreement is a turning point in the world’s fight against unmanaged climate change, which threatens prosperity and well-being among both rich and poor countries. The Agreement creates enormous opportunities as countries begin to accelerate along the path towards low-carbon economic development and growth.”
There is debate about the meaning of the 1.5 degree limit, with even strong advocates from the science community showing a degree of scepticism:
Here is Myles Allen, stating that the 1.5 degree limit is possible, but adds: ‘Possible does not mean straightforward. The RCP3PD scenario involves a substantial element of industrial-scale CO2 disposal: rapid deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) on fossil fuel plants, followed by large-scale deployment of Biomass Energy with CCS to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere in the second half of this century. It still has not been demonstrated that CO2 disposal on this kind of scale is even possible, and early progress in CCS deployment has been slow.’
The blogger from And There is Physics sees the danger of the ambitious degree being counterproductive: ‘Accepting such a target without also accepting this reality seems potentially counter-productive, especially as some people will be looking for any reason to find fault with this agreement.’
Most Green groups have welcomed the agreement, with a few exceptions that see the treaty as not going far enough.
George Monbiot is torn in his evaluation: ‘By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.’
As with the previous Kyoto Protocol, the Paris agreement will enter into force only after at lest 55 parties, representing more than 55% of GHG emissions, have ratified.
The debate will rattle on. Only the coming years will show if the Paris agreement was ‘cheap talk’, or if a self-binding dynamic has been set in motion that gains momentum.