Sunday, November 16, 2014

Is this all we get?

As we endure the kind of 11-day Arctic blast of all-powerful Rossby Waves that will define our childrens' future, we note a sudden uptick in interest in climate. Unfortunately, the new US-China bilateral climate deal leaves us feeling like that T-shirt that says, "I went to Beijing and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

To re-cap for those living under rocks the U.S. and China announced this week a surprise breakthrough in negotiating a secret bilateral deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Queue confetti.

China is the biggest source of greenhouse gas pollution, at 25% and growing. The U.S. is No. 2 with about 15 percent and dropping (ignoring, for the moment, fugitive fracking emissions). The two countries are often adversaries at UN climate talks where finger pointing is the international sport. 

Last month, the European Union said that its 2030 emissions would be 40 percent lower than in 1990. With pledges from the top three emitters on the table a year ahead of the Paris climate summit, pressure now builds on countries like India, Russia, Brazil and Japan to present their own targets. This is good news for Paris partygoers. The mood will be festive. Start ordering your French language Rosetta tapes.

Don't expect much from India.
White House Senior Science Advisor John Holdren, a courageous climate crisis nag always looming darkly in the Oval Office shadows to dampen the President's sense of bonhomie, was probably the midwife to this deal. Appearing on national TV, he tried to put a smiley face on the baby, repeatedly using the word, "ambitious" and saying that if the two largest polluters can set reduction goals, no other country has an excuse to shirk (elbow to the ribs of India).

Coal Smog in India
Reality check: the International Energy Agency now says the world has to stop building all new fossil plants by 2017.  Price Waterhouse Cooper now says you have to decarbonize the economy at the rate of about 6 percent per year starting now. Meanwhile, scientists such as Kevin Anderson at Tyndall Centre are saying we have to slash emissions 10% per year starting now if we want a chance of still having a habitable planet after about mid-century.

Bill McKibben responded to the announcement by saying:

"It's not, in any way, a stretch goal. These numbers are easy - if you were really being cynical, you could say they're trying to carefully manage a slow retreat from fossil fuels instead of really putting carbon on the run. The Germans, for instance, will be moving in on 60% of their energy from clean sources by the mid-2020s, when we'll still be cutting carbon emissions by small increments.

"It is not remotely enough to keep us out of climate trouble. We've increased the temperature less than a degree and that's been enough to melt enormous quantities of ice, not to mention set the weather on berserk. So this plan to let the increase more than double is folly -- though it is good to see that the two sides have at least agreed not to undermine the 2 degrees Celsius warming target, the one tiny achievement of the 2009 Copenhagen conference fiasco."

Asher Miller of the Post Carbon Institute compares the deal to a patient being informed that they have terminal diabetes and so they commit to changing their diet as soon as they have lost two legs. We would compare it to a cancer patient who decides to take up smoking after being diagnosed and we would compare India to a start-up company planning to grow all the tobacco for those new smokers.

To be clear, at the 1997 Kyoto conference, Al Gore committed the U.S. to reduce GHG emissions 7 percent from 1990 levels by 2012, including by adding sinks such as afforestation and "clean coal." The Senate then voted 95-0 against any agreement that "would seriously harm the economy of the United States." Clinton never forwarded the Kyoto Treaty for ratification. President Bush offered voluntary actions to reduce the “greenhouse gas intensity” (ratio of emissions to economic output) of the U.S. economy by 18% from 2002 to 2012. This was accomplished, primarily by shifting to risky financial gamesmanship as a larger component of the U.S. economy, and growing that exponentially, rather than by reducing carbon emissions. Actual emissions during that period increased 11 percent.

Had the US met its Clinton/Gore Kyoto goal, it would have emitted 7 percent less in 2012 (5.573 GtCO2  - billion metric tonnes or petagrams - equivalent, net with sinks) or 5.183 GtCO2eq.  In 2012 it actually emitted 6.526 GtCO2eq, a gain of 1.343 or 26%. So much for Kyoto pledges.
The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research reported in 2001 that, "This policy reversal [to voluntary pledges over legally binding commitments] received a massive wave of criticism that was quickly picked up by the international media. Environmental groups blasted the White House, while Europeans and Japanese alike expressed deep concern and regret. [...] Almost all world leaders (e.g. China, Japan, South Africa, Pacific Islands, etc.) expressed their disappointment at Bush’s decision." Bush responded, "I was responding to reality, and reality is the nation has got a real problem when it comes to energy."

He might have added that the nation has got a real problem when it comes to politics.

The new bilateral deal with China – 26-28% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025 – is strictly voluntary and still subject to the tender mercies of the Republican-controlled Senate, dominated by coal-funded Tea Party fossils who say climate change is a hoax.

The US-China deal would not stabilize atmospheric concentrations at 450 ppm or even 750 ppm. Unless the remaining countries come forward with even greater ambitions, probability of exceeding the 2-degree goal set at Cancun COP16 in 2010 is certain and the probability of exceeding 5 degrees something like 50%. (Stabilization at 450 ppm, the UNFCCC treaty goal for Paris, would mean a 26 to 78% risk of exceeding the 2°C target.)

Peter Lee, editor for China Matters, writes:

The United States showed up at Copenhagen with the conviction that Kyoto had to go, that the United States, even though it had no prospect of passing binding domestic legislation, would claim to have enough leadership juice to create a viable successor system… and the PRC would be the designated fall guy in the necessary but politically wrenching drama of knocking off Kyoto (and spurning the needs and moral claims of the at-risk nations that had not contributed significantly to global warming but would bear the brunt of its effects, and were a major focus of the Kyoto treaty).

I harbor the suspicion that the United States deliberately framed its monitoring, review, and verification requirements on China to be as intrusive and repellent as possible — and dishonestly tied $100 billion annually of adaptation relief for poor at-risk countries (that the United States had no ability to fund) to Chinese acceptance – so that the PRC would be sure to reject them.


In 2012, Kyoto was extended to 2020, and a meeting planned for Paris in 2015 to try to get the treaty and a global response to climate change on a viable track.

The significance of the US-China agreement, and why I’m assuming it is trumpeted with such desperate enthusiasm in the US, is that the PRC, by bilaterally coming to climate change terms with the United States, has simultaneously spurned the Kyoto Treaty, the BASIC bloc [Brazil, South Africa, India], and the at-risk nations (known as the G-77 bloc).

So, instead of demanding that the United States help reform the binding Kyoto regime, the PRC has now acquiesced in the US strategy of Kyoto destruction without making provisions for a binding successor agreement.

On the positive side, the commitment made by China, which is something they need to do anyway to arrest killer coal smog, will require them to build more renewable energy infrastructure in the next 15 years than the entire combined energy infrastructure of the United States. Given the relative size of their economies, it leaves the US with no excuses to restrain its renewables build-out or to add any new fossil infrastructure (like the Keystone pipeline).

This knocks the Republican energy plan (frack baby, frack) into a cockeyed hat. Trying to put a game face on this disaster, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell went on TV to ask why the US should have to sacrifice its coal industry to meet these goals while the agreement “requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years.” Senate Environmental Committee Chair James Inhofe took a vastly different view, arguing that the Chinese commitment is so challenging, the country will never be able to fulfill it. He called the promise “hollow and not believable” and a “non-binding charade.” One of these themes will be the Republicans' mantra going forward, as soon as they decide which.

Joe Romm of Climate Progress writes:

When you add the recent European Union (EU) pledge to cut total emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, we now have countries representing more than half of all global emissions making serious commitments — and that in turn puts pressure on every other country. If the developing countries were to all follow China’s lead, and the non-EU developed countries follow ours, a 2015 global deal would slash carbon pollution this century by a whopping 2500 billion tons of CO2 (see figure).

Playing for the cameras in Beijing, President Obama said the US intends to get at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. By cleverly ignoring the monitoring of escaping fracked methane from wells, pipelines and refineries, the Energy department reported GHGs in 2012 were 10 percent below 2005 levels. Dropping another 16% in the next 10 years with the same 3-Card Monte fits smoothly within the Republican plan to frack its way to energy independence.

The toxic smog driving China's commitment and the toxic smog at the wheel in the US Congress are of a different type but in both cases the poison is already diminishing brain functions. What we are watching now, as we ride the latest round of Rossby waves, are the hallucinations all this smog produces.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I'll wait until there is any evidence at all of reduced carbon emissions before I put any credence in any agreements on reduction of CO2. The rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 is still getting larger every year. Until the Keeling curve stops bending upward it's all talk.




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