The 20th Conference of Parties (#COP20) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (#UNFCCC) got underway this past week in Lima, Peru with a tough assignment. In a mere two weeks, the several hundred delegates will have to to pull together all the threads of all the conversations of these annual two-week junkets for the past 20 years and produce a consensus document that would become, one year from now, a legally-binding treaty following final negotiations in Paris.
There are a lot of loose ends that have to be tied up for that to happen.
The first loose end is the ever-expanding gap between science and politics. Ten or more years ago consensus coalesced around a number — 450 ppm — that the science of that time (with more than a few dissenters) said would hold the Earth's fever to just 2°C above Holocene average variations. The 2°C goal became part of the sausage, and with it, the 450 assumption. A couple Decembers ago the parking lot analogy surfaced, wherein the Earth's atmosphere is viewed as having a fixed number of parking spaces for our pollution, call that number 450. If we have filled 400 now, there are still 50 vacant (or about space for 565 billion more tonnes of CO2), and emerging nations like India, China and Brazil can tussle over who gets them.
|The Asheninka, who have attended every climate|
meeting since Copenhagen, came to Lima
to protest the assassinations of their tribespeople
who were defending their forests from illegal loggers.
The Structured Expert Dialogue (#SED)'s 2013-2015 Review was created to address the discrepancy. At the opening of COP20, amid all the hoohah of formal self-congratulatory statements, COP President Vidal stated that the SED is the most important discussion at the conference. If temperature increases are limited to below 1.5°C, there are more chances for adaptation. Even the US, a perennial stick in the mud at these COPs, said on Day 3 that it would be interested in quantifying the differential risk of a world that is 1.5°C warmer versus one that is 2°C warmer.
This is like asking how much worse triple parking would be than double parking, when we are standing in a single lane.
Of course all of that is just chatter, which is quickly apparent if you step outdoors. The Guardian published an interactive chart that allows people to enter their birthdate and see what kinds of changes can be expected in their lifetimes by projecting present trends forward (remembering that these changes are already baked in the cake, even if emissions are drastically cut). Here is their projection for a 35-year-old today:
This chart is quite a nice advance over the usual hockey sticks, because it makes it personal. What it neglects to do is depict the prospect if, say, the upper boundary is an underestimate and multipliers like Arctic methane, polar albedo, fugitive emissions from fracking, deforestation by heat-stress or other latent tipping points are brought in. It also neglects to mention what happens past mid-century. Correcting the chart for just an additional 50 years (never mind the next 400 while past emissions linger) produces this result:
Another way of representing the dilemma is this cartoon, which uses “Ice-Age Units” (IAUs) to measure the change over the next 86 years. Personally, we think IAUs has a kind of cool, calming feel to it and a better measure might be the Inhofe, named for the Republican climate denier who now chairs the Senate Environment Committee. Let one Inhofe represent the amount of warming beyond which near term human extinction can be assured. Two Inhofes would be just bouncing rubble. With a few possible exceptions, the US just elected 246 Inhofes.
According to the latest UNEP Report intended to draw delegates' attention, if we are to stay within the 2°C limit, zero emissions will need to be achieved sometime between 2055 and 2070. For a 1.5°C limit we’d obviously have to bring emissions to zero even faster and also embark on an Apollo-scale program to develop net sequestration.
|Next week’s Newsweek cover story says we can|
genetically engineer humans to be smaller, with better night
vision to live underground (like, say, hobbits).
There are those who think it means expensive artificial trees that suck Earth's atmosphere through amide filters like a charcoal tip on a cigarette. There are others, like Dr. Evil, who think it means geoengineering the planet, and we had best get on with that quickly. And then there are the Regrarians hollering from the back of the room but being drowned out by the clamor for patentable green tech that the solution lies directly below your feet, in the soil, and the atmosphere can be rescued just by a new agricultural revolution, involving nutrient density, holistic management, permaculture, keyline, remineralization, organic no-till, water gardens, compost teas and biochar.
You can't start a fire, worryin' about your little world falling apart
This gun's for hire even if we're just dancing in the dark
More than a little tension in the COP is being generated by the philosophical irreconcilability of voluntarians and enforcitarians. The US and its fossil allies in Canada, Australia and Saudi Arabia are for the non-binding pledge system. Europe, Africa and the island states are for legally-binding treaty-enforcement mechanisms. Whether the latter is unobtainable has been the province of game theorists with the counterintuitive conclusion that the sharpest cuts will come from soft pledges, not hard laws. NY Times blogger Andrew Revkin analogizes it to a morphine drip:
The “Will it be enough?” question leads to “What is enough?” I’ve always liked John Holdren’s notion that there’s a sliding mix of “mitigation, adaptation and suffering.” No hard lines going forward. And the learn-and-adjust aspect of humanity’s complex response will keep tweaking the two knobs as necessary.
A high priority for Lima is to put some actual numbers to the finance section in the Paris deal. This will not be easy. So far, pledges to the Green Climate Fund, even after the Xi-Obama deal, are something short of 10 billion, about a third of what developed countries spend exploring for oil and coal each year. UNEP puts the cost of adaptation alone at $150 billion per year during 2025-2030 and $500 billion/year by 2050 (or roughly the pre-delivery price for the Pentagon's latest F35 Lightning-II fighter jets, a.k.a. the Lockheed-Martin Yachtbuyer, with 100 million lines of on-board code and a disconcerting (for NATO combat pilots) inability to “turn, climb or run”). Presumedly the new jets will be needed to protect all the offshore wind-farms and solar arrays being planned as part of Xi-Obama, because they would not stand a chance against a Crimean pilot flying a Сухой Су-35, which can pivot 180° and glide backwards to fire AAMs at pursuers.
In the opening sessions of the committee that works on climate finance (do our readers really need yet another acronym?) the US asked that all references to the adequacy, predictability and additionality (UNspeak for double counting of earlier pledges) be removed. That was a bad start, and it has only gone downhill since then. Oz Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced in advance of her arrival in Lima that Australia would not be contributing to the Green Climate Fund. Australia has replaced its carbon tax with an $AU 2.55 billion slush fund to pay polluters incentives for “low-emission” fossil fuels.
A bright spot came on Thursday when the Africa Group introduced a well-structured, concise white paper that covered most of the essential content on finance that needs to be in the Paris Agreement. The Climate Action Network reported:
Some of the provisions that could make it a good starting point for negotiations on the content of the agreement include: the call for a collective quantified finance goal for the post-2020 period that includes a specific amount from public sources; consideration of a range of new sources of finance; a link to the amount of financing needed to achieve the agreed temperature goal; the need for continued scaling up beyond 2020; and primary but not exclusive responsibility of Annex I countries for providing support and finance.This coming week should demonstrate a quickening pace at the sausage works. The Cumbre de los Pueblos (People’s Summit) will convene from the 8th to the 11th as an open space for non-delegates to attend, get informed, make proposals, and call for urgent action by their governments, who will not be listening but will watch it on the news from plasma screens around the UN venue. The Marcha Mundial en Defensa de la Madre Tierra (People’s March) will take place on the 10th of December with around 15,000 people expected. They're putting Naomi Klein's “blockadia” strategy to a test. Which is more effective at thwarting our extinction: marching in the street listening to bullhorn chants or sitting in air-conditioned halls trying to stay awake while delegates debate subordinate clauses with delays for translation?
“Human beings are like cockroaches. It's fairly easy to kill the first ten percent of the population. And if you try really hard, you might even get the next ten percent. But no matter what you do, you'll never get that last ten percent. We will find a way to survive.”
In his address from New York on December 4th, Ban Ki Moon chided the delegates in Lima to address the need to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, and also to change their approach to “prosperity” to recognize that the strength of an economy is not in gross domestic product but in its impact on ecology, happiness and equality of opportunity. “To respect our planetary boundaries we need to equitably address climate change, halt biodiversity loss, and address desertification and unsustainable land use,” he said. “The stars are aligned for the world to take historic action to transform lives and protect the planet.”
The simple fact is, and both those in the halls and those in the streets know this, to stay below 1.5°C, if that were even possible now (and it is technically not), a serious approach might be to phase out all fossil fuels and phase in 100% renewables by 2020 at the latest, and hope that 2°C is still feasible. We'd need to stop all further mining of fossil sunlight, ASAP. That means not only phasing out those absurd subsidies, but marking the assets of the wealthiest and most widely held corporations on the planet to market at considerably lower valuation than current stock price. We'd need to put regrarian mandates into every farm bill in every country. We'd need to close the pre-2020 gap in implementation.
We'd need to do all that in Lima, and then ship this sausage to Paris. And then, keep in mind, all of this may still be so much hopium. We may be cockroaches, but even cockroaches are going to have a hard time surviving what lies farther along our present trajectory.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,We simply cannot adapt to 6°C, and let's be realistic. We are heading that way now, with no sign of turning, slowing or changing direction. If this is humanity's last century, we should not exit wimpering and prevaricating. Have a little dignity. Stop looking for parking. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Do not go gentle into that good night.
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
— Dylan Thomas