HISTORIC CLIMATE CHANGE PARIS ACCORD REACHED NOW THE HARD PART WHERE AND HOW WE GO FROM HERE?

President Obama with Modi
Photo: Fox News

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.

Please click on the title of this post where you may leave any comments! 

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: NEAR END-GAME SCORECARD AND ASSESSMENT

kerry
Photo: VOA News

By

Harry C. Blaney III

The final decision still awaits in the Paris Climate change outcome. The now revised shorter text of the agreement is being negotiated on Friday and Saturday and perhaps beyond. Still we see mutual recriminations both at home and globally from all sides. Having started down the road for agreement it seems that most key powers recognize the problem and are working to put together a final document that will hopefully move us all forward towards a cleaner safer and livable world. But problems abound.

The initial release of the draft COP21 climate agreement text was criticized by environmental groups as not going far enough, especially on the side of shutting down carbon based energy sources by 2050 and not providing enough funding to do all that needs to be done. A new shorter draft text has been issued which many think still leaves key issues unresolved.

There has appeared to be many objections by a wide range of nations to the draft text. India and Malaysia want a stronger text including more resources from the richer nations. Advanced richer nations want the text to apply to everyone as the best way to deal with the climate crisis.

As we have noted, the stumbling blocks towards the last days of the conference are appearing. China especially, has a wide range of objections to the existing text including not wanting to accept a “review every five years of the pledges of action to reduce carbon emissions and to reassess the target of no more than a 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperatures.” The Chinese representative said Beijing would not be able to change its climate plans for at least another 25 years.

Many other countries have agreed, including developed and developing to reviewing the targets. The Chinese representative was against trying to look at a possible goal of a rise of just 1.5C and said it was not something that is realistic. China opposed the measure in the agreement to broaden the base of nations delivering money to help poorer countries fight climate change. The 1.5C was also opposed by Saudi Arabia in another spanner in the negotiations.

On the other side Island nations and others said without the 1.5C limit they will cease to exist. This hoped for goal is supported by a wide groups of developing nations and Europeans to deal with the climate crisis. The real problem is that even with the pledges on the table now it will be hard to meet the goal of keeping temperatures well below even the 2 degree C target. The bottom line seems that more, much more will be needed now or in the near future if the science is right on emissions and means to limit them.

This new test was issued after intense overnight negotiations Wednesday, and the Conference is going into at least Saturday or Sunday. It would be a wonder if even that extension would be met unless major compromises were found. Island nations were especially asking for yet stronger language. The reality is likely that any agreement will likely have some changes but not meet fully what any side desires. The question is does the “imperfect” defeat any agreement that will move towards the needed solutions?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an $800 million climate pledge by 2020 from the U.S. at the UN climate change conference in Paris on Wednesday. He criticized deniers of global warming, saying: “Make no mistake: If, as a global community, we refuse to rise to this challenge—if we continue to allow calculated obstruction to derail the urgency of this moment—we will be liable for a collective moral failure of historic consequence.” He said also that deniers are “so out of touch with science that they believe rising sea levels don’t matter, because in their view, the extra water will just spill over the sides of a flat Earth.” (See speech here) Kerry came back to the conference to try to bring the sides together

On the other side, the climate deniers, coal, oil and other polluters and Republican supporters of the deniers and industry, already say it goes too far. Environmental groups in Paris believe it is too weak and they have a real case to be made, but these global negotiations are places of hard realities and the real question is are we truly moving forward? No document of this comprehensive and negotiated type, with 195 participant countries, will ever please all sides.

This new draft of 29 pages is down from 49, in which the key top members from the main nations will argue and work out a new, hopefully consensus, draft in the next few days, (or not), that will again not satisfy everyone likely. There are, according to reports, some 100 items where decisions have not been made due to conflicts over objectives or methods. Officials say the key issue is still how to define the obligations of nations developed or developing in addressing climate change.

The conference will in the future either be seen as a major negative catastrophic event for the globe or the starting point for some real progress. It is this text and the commitments that will follow that will prove if the international community – all sides – are in this together and all share a responsibility or we abandon our earth and the avoiding of mass disasters that we can in fact mitigate.

An assessment of the results and future paths and options will be posted after the results are known!

 

Click on the title of this post where you can leave a comment! 

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE NEGOTIATIONS: THE WORLD AWAITS

Paris climate change conference
Photo: USAToday

All local leaders, investors, economic and social actors, citizens, must understand that the things have changed.” –Hollande

“We are the first generation to feel climate change and the last that can do something about it.” –President Obama

By

Harry C. Blaney III

With the opening in Paris of the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the ecological stakes are the highest, not just for dealing with the serious catastrophic impact of climate change, but also the ability of the international community to deal with high existential risks for the entire planet.  As President Obama has noted, this generation is the last that can possibly make a difference. But frankly, if participating parties do not all contribute to mitigating the danger, and let bitterness and self-interest overcome the common peril, then we are doomed.

As a person who has held positions in government that dealt with global environmental issues, and wrote about climate change four decades ago as part of what I characterized then as a “world at risk,” we are still sadly debating the reality of this at home, and even abroad. There are strong moneyed groups that are not just “climate deniers” but actively working to destroy any effort to acknowledge the problem and above all do anything about it.

The hopes are that somehow an agreement can be reach and likely some document will emerge but will it be enough to really have people and nations and institutions and the world’s power brokers on board? That last question in not likely to be answered for another decade. But you will know when each country adds or does not add to the resources necessary to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gasses and adds to the technology that can replace fossil fuel, and our oceans and forests are protected and made whole.

To simplify, somewhat, a very complicated problem, can’t be solved by just one action like a carbon tax, or one country like China or America taking initiative. The path towards addressing climate change is doing globally a million things, doing them well, and doing them as quickly as possible.

The reason to care is very simple; we are at the 11th hour of acting and beyond that is total disaster from the analysis of the best minds in this field on the globe. Yet if one had to bet, it is now sadly possible that the Paris negotiations will fail as we see initially a repeat of some of the vindictive and inaction that took place in the last meeting in Copenhagen. People came to avoid action and accuse others, and did nothing themselves.  But from the  speeches and some  early indication progress and perhaps compromise, may yet emerge. The earth has already paid a price in floods, droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, starvation, spread of disease, loss of forests, and habitat for the earth’s diverse species on land and in the ocean.

Yet, our global political and institutional system was not, and may not be up to the task of acting together and with the necessary political and economic commitment to get the job done.  I’d first blame weak leaders and the corrosive and myopic politics back home, not only in America but in many other countries as well. But equally, one could attribute the blame then and now to the powerful forces of the “polluters,” corrupt politicians, and countries and companies that profit from dirty energy, the destruction of forests, and the plundering of the ocean’s resources.

Real progress will not be made unless we recognize and act in light of today’s realities of what is possible and what can be achieved via some compromise.

The second factor that needs to be highlighted is recognizing the absolute actions that are necessary to get the world community on a clear path towards sustainability, and “institutionalizing” the process of stewardship of the earth beyond words and pieces of paper.

Here are some key points the reader can look for that may indicate we have returned to some rationality:

– The first is to recognize what ,in reality, a country or a political leader can or cannot do and work to maximize what is possible. For example, President Obama will never get the Senate to ratify a binding Climate Change treaty. But what he can do, and is doing is by executive authority and regulatory power, and diplomacy is achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gasses. So some countries are trying to find a modality that will permit less than “legal” commitments to achieve the necessary reductions.

– The second reality is the need to go beyond the old destructive North-South divide and the useless blame game that some developing nations are playing to push the whole effort of solving climate change upon the “rich countries,” and absolving themselves thereby of doing nothing but asking for amounts of money they are not likely to get.  And on the other hand, the need for the “rich” countries to recognize that real major support for the transition to a clean energy economy in the developing world will not take place without some external significant investment, probably from public and private sources, the EU, World Bank, and IMF. Sadly, it is unlikely that the Republican dominated climate denial Congress will add much to this effort and “other ways” will need to be found to contribute to a “global solution.” If both sides accept they ALL must make a concrete effort instead of throwing bricks at each other, and recognize that the developing world is most vulnerable, will we make real progress.

– The third outcome that one needs to look at is the acceptance of the need to reform or create new capabilities and responsibilities and resources on a broad international institutional scale that empowers old or new institutions to undertake major global commons repair and renewal. The creation of the most transparent and reliable organization to hold countries and institutions accountable for their actions or in-actions on a frequent basis, staffed by the most prestigious scientists, economists, and other experts, led by the highest profile hard headed global leader available, is also necessary.

There are clearly a thousand things that need to be done, like bring forth new clean technologies, restore denuded forests, invest in closing down dirty energy sources as quickly as possible, make cars and planes more efficient and less polluting, put in place more quickly and efficient machinery and conserving resources, making houses,  buildings, and factories more conserving of energy, etc. Great strives have been made by London School of Economics scholars among others, in indicating that such efforts can be economic, grow our economies, and even save in the long run our earth and make our societies more sustainable.

In the coming days, the indicator of success and failure or in between, will emerge but in Pogo’s words “it is us” that must take responsibility  if we are to save our next generation, and those that follow. Diplomacy and leadership is now key. Keep watch.

Please click on the title of this post where we welcome your comments!