“Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us. And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”
Last week, we recalled the words of Hitler’s social architect Albert Speer, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.” And yet, despite all the entreaties to slay the beast and make sure its dead — from Ralph Nader, Naomi Klein, Joe Brewer, whomever — we have to confess, after Paris and now after Marrakech, the only highway back to the Holocene that can support mammalian life such as ours is being constructed by and for monster corporations like Citibank and Monsanto.
At a side event in the business tent we sat down in a corner to have some local Arabica while we awaited the next session. We struck up a conversation with the elderly gent in the adjoining seat. He was John Scowcroft, Chief Credit Officer and Executive Managing Director at S&P. We showed him The Biochar Solution and the usual conversation followed. Turns out he is leaving S&P to start a CCS group to seize the profit potential in carbon management futures.
Later, at a side event called Beyond Paris: Investor actions to manage climate risk and seize low-carbon opportunities, we were listening attentively to James Close, World Bank; Erick Decker, AXA Group; Michael Eckhart, Citigroup; Pete Grannis, NY State Comptroller’s Office; Anthony Hobley, Carbon Tracker and others, when Rachel Kyte spotted our book, The Paris Agreement, and leaned over to ask, “Is that any good?”
“Fantastic!” we gushed.
A former Vice President of World Bank, she is Ban Ki Moon’s Special Representative to the business community.
Over the course of the two weeks in Morocco we had brief encounters like this too many times to catalogue. We tell you this not to suggest we are anyone special but to say that in this critical time we — you and I — have been given access.
Historically this is the rarest of moments. Crisis makes for strange bedfellows (ask James Comey and Julian Assange). Citibank, with branches in 160 countries, went from financing $12 billion in green project finance in 2013 to $24 billion in 2014 to $48 billion in 2015 and likely $100 billion this year. Deutsche Bank will tally $350 billion in investments aimed at decarbonization in 2016. More importantly, the big banks have dumped $500 billion in fossil asset portfolios since Paris and would have liked to dump much more if they only had a safe place to park it, even interest-free.
The board rooms have Trump-proofed the Paris Agreement and the whole paradigm shift that came with it. There is absolutely no way any clown show is going to hijack these negotiations now. Wall Street, the Illuminati, the Buddhist monasteries, NeoLib Academe, The Vatican, the Royals and the Chinese Triads are all 110 percent committed. They are shoulder to shoulder in the doorway.
For some it is just prudent risk management and upside profit opportunity. For others it is the stark, cold-sweat, can’t-sleep reality: that absolute annihilation leaves no gloaters behind.
Rachel Kyte told the crowd, “Carbon is an investment risk that is not yet priced in.” This situation is not likely to last much longer. We hovered longest in the venues that were looking at drawdown, and we could see that so much of the finance and political world is focused on technological fixes like geoengineering and CCS (carbon capture and storage) that putting a price on carbon and taxing the polluters is coming, Trump or no. It is the only way you can economically justify those uneconomical, harebrained, bait-and-switch schemes.
In a brief, airport encounter, an IPCC working group leader told us $45 per ton would be needed to make the 2-degree limit achievable with sequestered scrubber gas.
Of course, we know better. Putting carbon underground costs nothing and pays handsome returns if you do it by planting mixed species, mixed age, ecosystemically functioning, climate resilient and rainmaking forests and coppice, pollard and patch renew them periodically to derive food, fiber, building material and most importantly, biochar, to create cascades of products and services in a circular economy with no such thing as waste. That does not require a $45/ton price or even 4 cents. It will earn you vastly more. Real wealth.
The best way to raise land value is to increase its beauty with biodiversity, increase the organic matter in its soils, build humus, make biochar and be a contributing member of the local community. Just doing that reverses climate change and generates multiple revenue streams for any poor sod who stumbles into it.
The Secretary General of the British Commonwealth, Hon. Baroness Patricia Scotland, at the closing plenary of the Joint High-level Segment [COP agenda item 18 and CMP agenda item 14 and Item 4 of the provisional CMA agenda] uttered the word “permaculture” for the first time at a United Nations podium:
"Mr. President, I speak for the Commonwealth collectively, a family of 52 member states, among them countries in all continents and oceans that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Our priority is to move from agreement to action. Small islands threatened by rising sea levels and larger states vulnerable to flooding or desertification share the common advantages of a common language, common law, and closely related systems of governance. These similarities enable us to work together without distraction and get straight to the nub of issues.Contrast this to the buffoonery of the apparently tipsy US Secretary of State, obviously winging it:
"High on our agenda for 30 years has been the impact of climate change. This long-standing focus bore fruit a year ago when our Biannual Heads of Government Meeting assembled in Malta. Days before COP21, our member states, in their rich diversity, agreed to set ambition high and paved the way for the Paris Agreement. Our practical and distinctive Commonwealth contribution is technical support, offered by our Climate Finance Access Hub.
"A month ago, we convened a ground breaking and dynamic gathering on Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change. It brought together biologists, ecologists, oceanographers and regenerative development specialists to consider ways of reversing the human impacts of climate change. Our focus was on developing positive action for the living world to restore climate balance, including biomimicry, permaculture, ecological engineering, and circular economies. It is through such pioneering approaches, I believe, that as on so many occasions in the past, the potential for our Commonwealth networks’ meetings will be mobilized to lay the foundations on which progressive global consensus can be built to create a safer and more sustainable future for all."
While the national commitments, or NDCs, that were pledged at Paris in 2015 bend emissions downward, they are still not on a course correcting trajectory. Our planet is moving out of the Neutral Zone, the one location we know of in this galaxy where you may find life. The UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, even while understating the risk, says we are headed towards 3.4°C warming by 2100 (we think will likely get there much sooner). To get back to a 2-degree "safe" zone (with 66% certainty) we would need 25% lower emissions in 2030 than there are today. And yet, incredible as it may seem, emissions are still rising.
When you are racing against extinction you cannot afford to fritter away time or forget the first rule of holes. 2016 will be the 15th record-breaking year this century in terms of heat, since measurements began. That is 15 new records in 16 years, a pattern any sports fan should recognize as extraordinary. Globally we are already up 1.2 degrees, although closer to 5 degrees near the poles. Humans have never lived on a planet with 400 parts per million CO2 in its atmosphere before.
2ºC is a vanished target now. But this isn’t a 2ºC or bust fight. It’s a fight to limit consequences. It’s a fight for every 1/10th of a degree. If we fail to hold to 2ºC, we have to fight for 2.1º; failing that, we battle on for 2.2º. With millennia of impacts at stake, we never get to give up, even if we end up in 4ºC. For future generations, 4º is still better than 4.1º.
It is useful to remember that in 2007 the Met Office produced a four-degree scenario on behalf of HM Government. Climate scientists from other institutions also contributed their most up-to-date research on climate impacts at the time.
As we mull (or bemoan) the average intelligence of Republican presidents, we recall that it was Group Captain James Stagg, also of the MetOffice, who changed the nail-hard mind of Dwight D. Eisenhower and got him to postpone D-day by 24 hours, despite Operation Neptune being already well underway. The MetOffice is not an outfit whose predictions should be trifled with.
You can view the changes plotted by MetOffice as a four degree interactive map or see it through Google Earth. The MetOffice reports:
- Heat changes will not be the same everywhere. Mid-continent North America and Europe and parts of Africa will be 6-7 degrees warmer. Most of Russia and Africa will be 8 degrees or above.
- In densely populated eastern China hottest days of the year are 11°F warmer. In Toronto, Chicago, Ottawa, New York and Washington DC, make that 22°F hotter. Europe is somewhere in between.
- The permafrost is gone across vast regions of Canada and Russia. Atmospheric methane, 100 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, spikes, inexorably pushing temperatures towards 5 and beyond.
- Half of the world’s population has inadequate access to water.
- Half of all Himalayan glaciers are significantly reduced, 70% of the water supply to India and China.
- In South America, many glaciers disappear completely, taking 75% of Peru’s water with them.
- Fish populations crash from acidification and coral loss.
- Forested areas burn, including a large area of the United States, Mexico, South America east of the Andes, Southern and East Africa, the Sahel, eastern and southern Europe and Australia.
- Maize and wheat yields reduced up to 40% at low latitudes. Soybean yield decreases in all regions. Rice yield declines up to 30% in Asia.
- Water supplies to rivers drops up to 70% in many regions.
- The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet contributes 3.3 meters to sea level rise. Greenland ice losses add 7 meters globally.
- The Netherlands and Southeastern England are inundated. Seychelles, Miami Beach and the Hamptons have disappeared. The San Francisco Bay extends almost to Sacramento. Most of those displaced, however are in India, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia.
|Real world tracks scenario RCP 8.5|
All countries’ leaders need to take stock, a point that was made poignantly clear by this slide from the MetOffice:
It shows that the world cannot begin atmospheric carbon drawdown later than 2020 — three years from now — or the two degrees red line will be broken.
Clear next steps emerged from discussions: end fossil fuel subsidies (including fracking); phase out coal and then ban it; cancel all new fossil fuel infrastructure orders (including supertankers, arctic exploration and DAPL); set higher efficiency standards; subsidize agroforestry and renewables (down to zero cost); enforce LDN (Land Degradation Neutrality — no net land loss to sprawl, desertification or deforestation — 102 countries have signed on); and reform agriculture to an organic, no-till standard.
These next steps got no farther than discussions, however, and what emerged from Marrakech was more palliative statements and promises that next year will be better. Tick tock. Clown show. Tick tock. "Time is not on our side." (John Kerry) Tick tock. (Donald Trump) Tick tock.