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This Might Change Some Things

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 10:53 PM GMT on December 14, 2015

This Might Change Some Things

The Conference of the Parties - 21, COP21, is over. I hope that some of you followed the students on Facebook and Twitter. ( @ClimateBlue on Twitter , http://www.facebook.com/ClimateBlue ).

This is my discussion and analysis of what came out of COP21. There has been a wide range of analyses published in virtually every media outlet we have going (Revkin, Climate Path Ahead, Harvey, Paris climate change agreement: the world's greatest diplomatic success, ExxonMobil on the U.N. Climate Talks ). There is also, at least for today, a large effort at outreach from both governmental and non-governmental organizations. This morning (December 14), I attended a telecon sponsored by the White House and this afternoon, I will attend another one. The White House has prepared a fact sheet that summarizes the outcomes as well as touting U.S. leadership U.S. Leadership and the Historic Paris Agreement to Combat Climate Change.

Here is a link to Adoption of the Paris Agreement, and on page 21 of this document is the Paris Agreement. In a number of places, I have seen it said that if you don’t want to read it all then all you need to know is Article 2. Quoted below:

This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

With reference to my previous blog, the final language chosen was the “well below 2 degree Celsius” option, and strives for 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is more ambitious than the 2-degree target, which was the long-standing target going into the Paris meeting. Many, including me, would argue that the 2-degree was already lost. Therefore, an even more ambitious target is, well, a challenge to reason. That said, if you read the whole Paris document, you will see that the writers of the document realize the challenge that they are proposing.

It is interesting that the draft language quoted in the previous blog, “while recognizing that in some regions and vulnerable ecosystems high risks are projected even for warming above 1.5 °C, ” morphed into “recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” The document does recognize that “dangerous” climate change does occur below the 2-degree mark. This is an important statement and recognition, because I know some who work in the fields of climate change and sustainability who have taken solace that “danger” was some time off, and that we had time to avert the danger.

The document reads like a proclamation that is read in the village square. The United Nations is cumbersome and contentious. Nevertheless, the U.N. appears more functional than the U.S. Congress. The document cannot and does not set out details. It does, however, set out a complex series of meetings and events to support an ever-increasing reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It builds upon 186 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), which are non-binding goals that the nations had committed to prior to arrival in Paris.

The Paris Agreement relies upon intentions and volunteerism, and, ultimately, the sustained realization and internalization that we, all countries, are already seeing harmful disruptions of climate change – directly and/or indirectly. Climate change is not a problem two or three generations in the future. The Agreement is vulnerable because of its voluntary nature. However, if it were more in the spirit of binding targets, regulations, and financial obligations, it would not exist. Plus I am not convinced that it would be any more powerful agreement. This idea of national self-determination is critical, because most countries are only going to embrace legislation by an international “government” when it aligns with their self-interest.

I list the headings in the Adoption of the Paris Agreement, from the section “Decisions to Give Effect to the Agreement”

Loss and Damage
Technology Development and Transfer
Transparency of Action and Support
Global Stocktake (appraising progress in terms of accomplishments and goals)
Facilitating Implementation and Compliance
Final Clauses

There are an enormous number of action items to take on prior to 2020. My point, here, a complex and difficult process has been started. There is the full realization that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) do not assure, in any way, that we are on the path to the 2-degree goal, much less the 1.5-degree goal. Paris is like an intervention, it is a moment of recognition that we have a problem and we have to deal with it. It is an intervention where we recognize that we have a problem, but really don’t want to talk about the problem – fossil fuels and carbon dioxide are not mentioned in the document.

The Paris Agreement requires us to reduce emissions to near zero and to take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The students in our delegation told me that there was some talk about carbon capture and storage, see also, Carbon Capture and Storage Association. As best as I can tell, the trees are the primary carbon dioxide removal mechanism. It is my opinion, analysis, that direct removal mechanisms will be required to achieve any goal of 2 degrees or less. If we don’t get a handle on emissions soon, we will require removal for, even, 3 or 4 degrees.

So with regard to controlling emissions, we are still in the same place we were last month. We need the technology and economics to support renewable and carbon free energy. We need energy distribution and transmission systems. Given the rapid growth, globally, in energy production and use, I don’t see how we can get away from needing nuclear energy and, indeed, carbon capture and sequestration for electrical generation – not just coal, but gas (and oil) as well.

After many major accomplishments in my life, someone has said to me, “now the real work begins.” For many in my line of work, the Paris Agreement is hugely positive. We acknowledge the problem. In many ways, we know that it is a problem that we can solve. The science and technology are the easy parts. All that is left is that “ We have met the enemy and he is us.”


Figure 1: (following Pogo) from OtegoNY.com

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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.