By Harry C. Blaney III
A lot of credit must go to President Hollande, his team, President Obama, and Secretary Kerry as they all worked beyond human energy levels for a positive outcome at the COP21 conference especially at the ninth hour and beyond on Saturday night December 12th. Also, some great credit must go to the political and diplomatic leaders that led the way and overcame major obstacles. Having attended a number of major conferences throughout my career, getting consensus or at least lack of opposition is a hard lift, and in too many cases an impossible task. I have long argued that one of the great historical moments in human history would be the decision by the global community to decide to act effectively to address the looming, if not already present disaster that is climate change or global warming. It is an existential challenge, not just to the nations states but for the peoples of the entire planet.
A reminder, it is not just this accord in itself that is key, but rather, the will to actually work towards its goals that are important. That will still take political will and the strong backing and daily support of citizens around the world along with strong and determined leaders who will stand by their work and their successors.
Here are comments, analysis, and questions on some of the key points of the agreement:
TEMPERATURE INCREASE AT A 2.0 OR 1.5 CELSIUS CAP TARGETS:
We need to be frank on this difference. The developing countries wanted to get some commitment to the 1.5 C target and they got that but it will be difficult if not impossible to achieve even the 2.0 C goal. But better to put this on the table for future debate as this compromise helped to get some of the developing countries on board for the entire Paris package. A number of NGOs also thought this was necessary as many scientist believe that even at 2.00 C could bring about catastrophic impacts, especially on the poorer and vulnerable nations like the Island countries.
BURDEN SHARING OF COSTS WITH RESOURCES TO DEVELOPING NATIONS FROM DEVELOPED:
Here there again were trade-offs. There was acknowledgment on the part of the economically advanced nations that they had an obligation to support those with few resources to deal with and address local climate change making assistance much needed. But there were few hard commitments towards specific amounts. America pledged $800 million but it will be up to Congress to appropriate the money, or it will come out of other development aid accounts. Already Republican leaders in Congress have said the money will not be voted on.
ABSENCE OF “GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS NEUTRALITY” FROM PARIS PRIORITIES, IS IT REALLY DOABLE OR THE BEST PATH TO THE 1.6-2.0 TARGETS:
This is a tricky issue and one with much uncertainty. There are groups, many in the private sector, that are auguring for a “technological fix” or in other terms a “geo-engendering” of our planet on a mass scale. This, in effect, would employ new means to “capture” greenhouse gasses by storing them underground. Other technologies would include taking CO2 out of the air.
None of this has yet to be demonstrated as economically proven or on a mass scale feasible. The consensus was to informally embrace this concept especially since much of the funding for this approach will likely come from very rich persons who strongly believe that this is a key path to address warming since traditional approaches are not likely to work.
But others argue that messing with nature could have unforseen consequences. Final judgement: This approach is on the policy table but no new technology has proven to be a “quick fix” anytime soon. Finally, many experts believe that stopping deforestation, planting new trees, protecting the oceans, and letting photosynthesis do its job is a better, perhaps cheaper option, with many side benefits and within the capability of poorer large forested nations. The question is the money and the commitment on all sides there to make greening of the globe work.
OPTIMISM OR PESSIMISM BALANCE OF THE ACCORD AND ITS DO ABILITY:
The key answer is that the Paris accords taken together are a major advancement towards fully addressing climate change on the part of the entire globe –developed and developing nations – which in my view, is the absolute “sine que non” for a real chance to mitigate the catastrophic consequences within the lifetime of most on this planet. It is the necessary condition for a political and economic consensus going forward to build upon if future leaders recognize the dire alternative and are willing to pay the price for saving this planet.
THE DIVIDE BETWEEN DEVELOPED AND DEVELOPING NATIONS ON WAY FORWARD:
As noted above, the masterful diplomacy of president Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry in getting the truly key developing nations on board, namely India, China, and others, moved the conference away from confrontation, which was never absent from the meeting. This was a key element in getting the final almost complete consensus and ,even more important, a sense of momentum and a framework for future progress. The introduction of a 5 year review progress was also a necessary element to give some hope of holding nations pledges to the fire, getting them to think of ways to improve their own pledges, and provide needed greater transparency to the agreement. The benefit will be future actions that will undoubtedly be required as we learn more of the science and have better tools to make improvements.
QUESTIONS FOR THE FUTURE:
Yes this was a historic achievement but the success, as always, rests in the hands of, we hope, wise leaders and wise and empowered global citizens. We need better and more resourced international institutions to help shape our global response to the high risks and challenges to our globe, and the key test of this new international capability will be climate change, and the other will be new efforts at dealing with nuclear-proliferation.
Within America we need to better educate our citizens, of which nearly a third are skeptical of climate change due to the power of true crazies, including Republicans running for president, those with massive amounts of money, from the coal and oil industries, and right-wing think tanks, along with the lack of our mass media to say the truth in front of those that argue nonsense about science like the current Chairman of the Senate environmental and Public Works Senate committee James M. Inhofe. He said that the Paris talks were “full of hot air.” The danger to our nation and world are people like Inhofe and the people behind him, as they undermine American values, and our real security and global leadership by their insanity, ignorance and greed.
We will need better leaders if our real national and global security is to be safeguarded and enhanced. We will examine in the future how the Paris agreements are implemented.
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