Follow developments at the COP21 Climate Change Convention in Paris, and the fallout of the landmark Paris Agreement. Guest blogger and climate science writer Jo Chandler draws on experts across the University of Melbourne to provide insight, analysis, and a local take on the talks.
17 Dec 2015
Wrapping up: there’s the good news, and the bad news
First the bad news. Sharing the floor with Professor Ross Garnaut at a University of Melbourne forum reflecting on the Paris agreement yesterday (see his comments in the blog post below) was Professor Roger Dargaville of the Melbourne Energy Institute.
In his presentation Professor Dargaville highlighted the map above, recently produced by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The data plots temperature anomalies across Australia in October 2015, scaled according to how far they fall outside the average. (This is calculated with respect to the average over the 1961 to 1990 reference period.)
The “big brown blob”, Professor Daraville explained, was where temperatures were 6C or more above the average.
“These are really extraordinary conditions. We’re very fortunate in a way it happened in October and not in January or February, because it didn’t feel so incredibly uncomfortable” - at least for humans.
But from an environmental point of view, “this is really quite scary, because all kinds of biological cycles that we depend on for agriculture and so forth are very sensitive to these kinds of changes - even in October.
It’s extremely disconcerting, and drives home the point we need action as soon as possible.
In that context the Paris Agreement, for all its caveats and flaws and uncertainties, as discussed and scrutinized by experts and commentators cited in this blog over the past two weeks (and we invite you to trawl back through them if you haven’t had the pleasure), is the good news.
Well, some good news.
We’ll always have Paris ... (caveat: unless we have trump*)
“Something really important has happened,” eminent University of Melbourne economist Ross Garnaut told a gathering at the university yesterday.
But it didn’t happen in Paris last weekend.
While the University of Melbourne Sustainability Charter Forum reflected on the implications of the Paris Agreement, Professor Garnaut - the author of two landmark reviews for the Australian Government on climate change - sought to put Paris in the context of a wider, ultimately defining, series of shifts in the global political narrative.
“You had that historic agreement of the President of the United States and the President of China at the APEC meeting in Beijing at the end of 2014. That was the first time China had committed to mitigation goals in an international context.”
“What happened in the US under Obama in his second term, and in China over these past few years, is truly historic,” Professor Garnaut said. Meanwhile the Europeans, led by Germany, Britain, and France, fed momentum by continuing to walk the talk on strong climate action.
Then the G7 meeting of heads of government in Germany last June recognised that developed countries would have to have zero net emissions by the middle of this century.
“That put an anchor on things. That was an unequivocal point of agreement amongst the seven biggest developed countries.”
European leaders and the US President then sought to use the G20 meeting in Brisbane a couple of months later “as a launching pad to Paris. Our (then) Prime Minister set out to sabotage that, and (Obama) on the spur of the moment decided to publicly rebuke him and gave that speech to 10000 adoring students at Queensland University”.
It was a defining moment in former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s downfall, Professor Garnaut said. Meanwhile in Canada, the other stand-out outlier on climate action, the winds were also shifting. “Climate change was a major issue in the Canadian election just six weeks ago,” Professor Garnaut said. “(Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau and the Liberal Party won a very big victory on a quite far-reaching climate program.
“All of those show a growing international commitment. And that has come together in Paris.”
Asked by a member of the audience whether it might all yet be undone, Professor Garnaut said that “as long as you have US leaders continuing with what is in place, it will be difficult for leaders to stand outside growing momentum.*
We’ve got that anchor point - zero net emissions by the middle of the century. You can fudge things for a little while, but there is some indisputable arithmetic implication of that end point which will put pressure on everyone.
“And for that reason I will be surprised if Malcolm Turnbull, if he is Prime Minister of Australia in 2017, if he doesn’t lead a review that leads to a substantial strengthening of Australia’s position” heading into the 2018 UN meeting which will gear up to review the post 2020 commitment.
The Paris process laid out in the agreement “will only work if peer pressure across countries, and domestic political pressures on government is effective in upgrading national commitments over time. So far so good.
“There’s big structural change that the world has to go through, but we now know that is a manageable change, it need not upset life as we know it, even economic life as we know it, if we do it right.
“The work of the Melbourne Energy Institute demonstrates that we can make a energy transitions which are consistent with playing our full part in a global movement toward zero net emissions by the middle of the century and to do that at a reasonable cost.”
* “If (Donald) Trump because President of the US next year, everything would go back into the melting pot.” Professor Garnaut is wagering that won’t happen, but “accidents happen”.
What’s in a word? just the fate of the world
Over the past couple of days, there have been several meaty analyses of the Paris Agreement which reflect in part on the question of whether after all those years leading into the talks, those last intense weeks, and finally those three gruelling, defining all-nighters, the whole deal might have been sunk by a syllable.
The drama turns on the word “shall” as opposed to “should”. It’s application is in Article 4.4 of the 31 page agreement. The difference between “shall” and “should” in this context, the lawyers explained, was that the former would legally oblige developed countries to undertake economy-wide absolute emissions reduction targets, as opposed to try really hard. This presented a huge problem for the US, because it would likely have compelled the Obama administration to take the deal to the Republican-led US Senate for approval. Game over.
This much has been well ventilated in various reports we’ve pinged to earlier in this blog (like this one from Politico).
The Guardian’s Environment Editor, John Vidal, picks up the story from there in an insight filed overnight. “According to some, it had always been intended that both rich and poor countries should have the same obligation, namely “should”, not “shall” ... Others claimed that the US was objecting unfairly at the last possible moment to the developing countries’ most important “red line”
“The whole summit, indeed, had turned on the argument that rich countries, which had admitted causing climate change, should take the lead cutting emissions.”
The US objected. There was, as Vidal describes, a very real prospect that the whole deal would unravel.
Then: “At the very last minute, the French came up with a diplomatic solution. It was agreed that there had been a “typographical error” which was put down to an anonymous sleep-deprived negotiating team transferring lines from one draft text to another. The embarrassed French presidency, it seems, agreed that the amendment change of “shall” to “should” could be dealt with as a “technical error”.
Vidal quotes several senior insiders who are just not buying it. “Was it a stitch-up?” Vidal asks? “America’s great escape? Or a genuine error? Either way, the world had a historic, universal climate change deal.
16 Dec 2015
The board room: it’s getting warm in there too
The Climate Alliance is a top-end-of-Melbourne town gathering of suits concerned about climate change - business and corporate chiefs attune to the risks (and opportunities) it presents. At the group’s recent annual business leadership awards, the focus was on how the atmospherics of a warmer world are penetrating the rarified (and climate controlled) air of the board room.
Sarah Barker, a corporate law specialist and special counsel at Minter Ellison, acknowledged in her keynote that yes, it can sometimes be challenging to engage directors on issues such as climate science. As within the wider community, it’s often formidably tough for the science to penetrate deeply held personal beliefs.
But she also observed that nothing quite “focuses the mind of a director as the spectre of personal liability”. In an era of increasing concern and activism around stranded assets, investment integrity and corporate responsibility, a responsible director can’t afford not to plug into the scientific, political and economic narratives around warming.
Directors, she argued, have a fiduciary duty to proactively and critically evaluate the material financial risks - and opportunities - of climate change on their corporation or fund. (You can find links to a similar presentation she gave to the first Global Conference on Stranded Assets and the Environment at the University of Oxford here, together with a range of other academic and corporate voices on the theme.)
So how might the new ambitions for tackling climate change thrashed out at the Paris COP21 talks play out in the context of corporate behaviour and leadership?
Professor John Howe, Deputy Dean of the Melbourne Law School, and a Director of the Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law, says that there has been a ratcheting up of talk and action in the business sector around corporate social responsibility, including environmental responsibility. In the aftermath of Paris, he expects this will only amplify and gain more traction.
But there’s a big question beyond the rhetoric. “What are companies really doing?”, Professor Howe asks. “It’s easy to have a company policy that declares ‘we are socially responsible’, but what is actually in these policies? What teeth are in these things?” What are the regulations or mechanisms that make companies accountable for walking the talk?
Community activism, much of it drummed up with the assistance of social media, has emerged as a powerful player in this context - witness the fossil fuel divestment campaigns exercised on institutional investors and universities.
“The counter pressure is that directors will often say that their central legal obligation is to act in the best interests of the company. To make money. That they can’t invest in risky green technology.” For many of them, fossil fuels have long been a lucrative safe bet. But as modelling by Professor Malte Meinshausen and his colleagues at the Australian-German College of Climate & Energy Transitions in the wake of the Paris Agreement signals, this may be about to change dramatically.
As the targets agreed in Paris resonate through industry and business, Professor Howe anticipates that corporate leaders - even those in sectors outside the front line areas of energy and forestry and mining - will be increasingly compelled to weigh their short and long term obligations in a fast-shifting framework of climate action.
how pacific island voices floated to the surface in paris
When we ponder the impacts of climate change, certain archetypal images have become part of the vernacular: the polar bear adrift on shrinking ice; the shattered mosaic of parched earth; the tropical island vanishing under a rising tide.
Climate change “will not stop at the Pacific islands”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked in a forum in Sydney late last year at the wrap-up of the G20 talks. The remark rankled me a bit at the time. Perhaps because I was on assignment in Papua New Guinea, talking to communities already wrestling the conditions predicted for a warmer future. And it is not as one dimensional as eroding coastlines, though the evidence of that is documented in the inundation of traditional burial grounds and freshwater wells; the abandoned coastal gardens; the ad-hoc seawalls being hastily improvised to try to save hallowed ground like the churches.
On Manus Island (yes, there is an island outside the wire of the Australian Government’s asylum seeker detention centre) villagers were deeply concerned about food security as staple sago and yam crops struggled or failed, and by diminishing fish catches and inadequate drinking water - the wet seasons are wetter, but the dries are longer and villages don’t have the tanks to capture a safe supply.
While Merkel’s remark was part of a pitch urging Australia to do more to cut its greenhouse emissions, the sub-voce appeal was if you don’t care about them, save yourselves.
And yet by all accounts, the plight of island communities played powerfully in shaping the Paris Agreement, rather to everyone’s surprise. As the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute’s Professor Robyn Eckersley observed in her final Paris analysis identifying the villains and heroes of the talks, a stand-out in the latter camp was the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands Tony de Brum, who orchestrated the new High Ambition Coalition “that cut across the traditional ‘developed vs. developing country’ divide”.
There’s been plenty of reporting around the clinical playbook of climate negotiations a la Paris, but in an article published in the New Yorker today by Amanda Little, we get some insight into the resonance of human voices at their most raw and impassioned. She writes that before the negotiators at the Paris summit released the final text of their agreement on December 12, members of the Alliance of Small Island States (whose ranks include Australia’s closest neighbours - PNG, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvulu, Timor Leste) started to sing.
“They continued for five minutes, a group of more than eighty delegates from forty-four low-lying coastal and island countries, through weeping and cheering and bursts of applause, until the chorus of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” had been repeated many times over.
“The words of that refrain—“Every little thing gonna be all right”—were understood by everybody to be an overstatement. For all the promise of the agreement, the alliance still has plenty to worry about. Many island nations have recently seen their populations displaced by severe flooding and erosion, their food supply disrupted by increasing soil salinity and ocean acidification, and, in several cases, large portions of their G.D.P. wiped out by extreme weather events.”
For all the excitement around the final agreement, it can only be - in the words of Oxfam Australia chief Helen Szoke, “a frayed lifeline” to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
As Enele Sopoaga, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, told Little: “Seventy-five per cent of the people of my country have already said that, if nothing is done immediately and urgently, we are leaving Tuvalu.”
Nonetheless, momentum for the “High Ambition Coalition, spearheaded by the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands and eventually garnered support from a hundred and forty countries, was an unprecedented diplomatic feat”.
Little quotes Andrew Deutz, the director of international government relations for the Nature Conservancy (which has several climate adaption programs active on Manus Island).
It suddenly became the club that everyone wanted to join. Nobody wanted to be the spoiler, and that ended up being a huge advantage for vulnerable nations in the negotiations.
15 Dec 2015
AND FROM THE DANCE FLOOR OF THE PARIS COP21 AFTER-PARTY....
We can relay this morsel, via RenewEconomy’s Giles Parkinson.
There he was at the over-the-Summit soiree, bravely getting in amongst it as the negotiators and delegates and activists and scientists maintained their epic run of sleep deprivation.
Parkinson reports bumping into Professor Malte Meinshausen, a formidable carbon number cruncher who holds senior research positions at both the University of Melbourne and Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The pair started small-talking clause-and-effect on the freshly gavelled global deal. As you do.
The Professor shared “one little gem” which suddenly cast the terms of the deal in a new light, says Parkinson. If the coal industry, and indeed the Australian Government, were thinking that the terms of the new agreement were loose enough to allow some slack, “they are kidding themselves”.
The “gem” is Article 17 of the Paris Agreement, which “notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required” than those already put on the table by nations to hold global average temperature rise to below 2 ̊C above pre-industrial levels, let alone to the 1.5 ̊C aspiration. This would mean reducing global emissions to 40 gigatonnes, as opposed to the projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030.
“The Australia-German Climate and Energy College, of which Meinshausen is a member, published an analysis of what the Paris deal translates to in terms of energy and other emissions.
“The analysis suggests that to get to that, a full decarbonisation of the electricity sector must occur by 2050. And even quicker if the world is aiming for “well below 2°C” as agreed in Paris, or the aspirational “1.5°C” goal.”
Parkinson quotes Kobad Bhavnagri, the head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Australia, saying that although imperfect and falling short of a mandate to stop fossil fuel use, the agreement “naturally implies that global usage of coal will need to be curbed if the stated ambitions are to be met.”
“He said Australia would need to deepen its current pledge of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 towards the 45-65 per cent range recommended by the Climate Change Authority.”
Which, reading between the lines, had Parkinson dancing on the ceiling.
PARIS FALLOUT: the roundup
In the aftermath (afterglow?) of the Paris Agreement, as the clauses percolate through noble institutions and experts start to publish substantive analyses of the environmental and economic consequences, we also begin to accumulate morsels of insight into the human narrative behind the moment.
How the deal was done. How it might have been undone. The tactics and semantics and backroom plays.
It’s a safe bet that we can look forward to some substantial profiles focused on Tony de Brum, the driving force behind the defining “High Ambition Coalition” bloc, a “genial 70-year-old from the Marshall Islands ... an unlikely hero at the Paris talks”. But for now some words from his colleague and constituent, Selina Leem, “a small island girl with big dreams”.
Here’s a sampler of some favourite reads emerging in the past day or two:
“Deep in the legally binding part of the final draft agreement, Article 4, the text said wealthier countries “shall” set economy-wide targets for cutting their greenhouse gas pollution, rather than “should.” The words may be interchangeable outside the negotiating rooms, but in U.N.-speak, “should” isn’t legally binding, while “shall” is. That would have forced U.S. President Barack Obama to submit the final deal to the Senate, where the Republican majority had promised to kill it. Instead of protracted negotiations, (French Foreign Minister Laurent) Fabius treated the language as a typo, pushed through a quick amendment to the text. Seconds later he banged his gavel and the deal was done. “With a small hammer you can achieve great things,” Fabius joked. - Extract from the Politico’s intriguing explainer.
The Washington Post has pulled together this insight into how tiny islands drove huge ambition in Paris. Behind closed doors, “Antigua and Barbuda made a series of impassioned pleas to the nations gathered to negotiate a climate treaty ... . officials from the islands warned that their homeland was literally in danger of being swept away by rising sea levels ... Similar appeals have been made for years, but in Paris the islanders acquired new allies: African nations, Europeans, even some Americans expressed sympathy”.
The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert, whose archive of writing on climate science so powerfully blends lyrical storytelling and scientific rigour, has today published this reflection. “Though it may seem impossible, both ... those who say Paris is just words and those who call it a triumph, are probably right. In order to reach an agreement in Paris ... delegates in Le Bourget decided, in effect, to sacrifice coherence for comity. This means that the pact is not a realizable blueprint for the future but, rather, a collection of aspirations, some of them contradictory.”
- This piece in Foreign Policy by Keith Jackson looks ahead, exploring the science of the world that is shaping up in the context of the deal. “Plenty of the worst impacts of climate change are already baked into the system ...Sea levels are rising at ever-faster rates and will continue to rise even after 2100, regardless of what happens now. Some big chunks of ice, like the West Antarctic ice sheet, appear to have passed the point of no return and will disappear no matter what steps are taken. Oceans have become increasingly acidic, thanks to rising carbon concentrations, and acidification will likely intensify irrespective of any drastic changes the world makes today. That’s a big reason why even climate experts who praise the accord stress that it is just a starting point, not the culmination, of an arduous and uncertain journey.
- And for some economic fortune telling in the Post-Paris world, there’s this from Bloomberg Business. “Saving the world isn’t going to be cheap. If you sell oil, coal or old-fashioned cars, that threatens disaster. For makers of stuff like solar panels, high-tech home insulation, and efficient lighting, it’s a potential miracle.”
What does the Paris agreement mean for carbon markets?
In the lead-up to the COP21 UN Paris Summit, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim was revving up momentum for a global carbon trading.
“There has never been a global movement to put a price on carbon at this level and with this degree of unison,” he declared in a statement of world leaders championing carbon pricing.
“It marks a turning point from the debate on the economic systems needed for low carbon growth to the implementation of policies and pricing mechanisms to deliver jobs, clean growth and prosperity... The science is clear, the economics compelling and we now see political leadership emerging to take green investment to scale at a speed commensurate with the climate challenge.”
While the text of the Paris Agreement doesn’t mention carbon markets in so many words, it’s inevitable that from 2020 there will be a range of inter-linked trading systems up and running, argues Katherine Lake, research associate at the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law at the University of Melbourne.
In an analysis published in The Conversation today, Ms Lake writes that the call for a global carbon price was a central talking point in the sidelines at the meeting.
Article 6 of the agreement establishes a new mechanism to “contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development”. The mechanism allows for the participation of both the public and private sectors, and significantly, she argues, it aims to deliver an overall reduction in global emissions.
It will operate under the “authority and guidance” of a body to be designated by countries who have signed the agreement. “While much of the detail of the new mechanism is yet to be fleshed out, the framework sends a long-term signal to investors that all countries support the emergence of a global carbon market.
“Public finance alone cannot transition developing countries away from fossil fuels. The mobilisation of private sector finance through carbon markets could play an essential role in scaling up low emissions development, provided that clear accounting and monitoring, reporting and verification rules are established.”
Reflecting on Australia’s apparent softening on the concept of carbon markets - citing the comments of Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop on the importance of carbon markets - Ms Lake argues that as part of the agreement by nations to strive for more ambitious emissions reduction targets from 2018, Australia should consider enlisting carbon trading to “make a responsible contribution to stabilising temperatures at 2℃ or below”.
the psychology of climate denial, inertia and action
How we think about climate science is an exploding area of psychological research.
What are the obstacles to communicating the scientific consensus on dangerous human-caused warming? Is the main hurdle complexity, or are there other factors at play? What are the social and psychological drivers of science denial? What techniques and approaches might be enlisted to effectively debunk climate misinformation?
In terms of getting populations on board with the industrial, economic, domestic and behavioural transformations that will be required to meet the warming targets set out in the new Paris Agreement, deploying this science effectively will be critical.
For those with an interest in this area, there are some useful resources and insights appearing in the landscape. One is this online course (MOOC, or massive open online course) developed by John Cook, creator of the internationally renowned Skeptical Science website, and offered through the University of Queensland. There’s the work of UK social scientist Professor Stephen Lewandowsky and colleagues plunging bravely into the murky waters of denialism and conspiratorial thinking. Or there’s the fascinating work being conducted by Yale University’s Cultural Cognition Project. (You can find a piece I wrote about that research for The Age a couple of years ago here, opening with gratuitous sexual reference just to lure you in with that old sure-fire psychological hot button.)
In a recently published study in the journal Nature Climate Change, University of Melbourne social psychologist Yoshi Kashima and international colleagues discuss some fascinating findings that indicate that one way to really galvanise grassroots interest in climate action is to plug into our desire to live in stronger, closer communities. If climate action can deliver healthier relationships in our neighbourhood as a co-benefit, the research indicates that even science sceptics find powerful incentive to get on board.
“Co-benefits can motivate action across ideological divides,” the paper finds.
“Our study shows the most consistent selling point for climate action is the promise of increased communality, and it’s true in every country, regardless of the level of economic development,” Dr Kashima says in an article just published in Pursuit. The research draws on work by a team of social scientists working across 24 countries and surveying over 6000 participants.
“The co-benefit of communal society appears to have a universal appeal – and therein may lie a hope and indeed an opportunity for humanity.”
No matter where you go and what you do, people put a very high value on having a communal society.
14 Dec 2015
between the lines: more EXPERT INSIGHTS INTO THE PARIS AGREEMENT
Professor David Karoly, one of Australia’s most eminent, visible and outspoken climate science advocates, channels astronaut Neil Armstrong at another epic moment in human history to frame his verdict on the Paris Agreement.
“It is a small but very important step to avoiding dangerous climate change, but it is a great leap for humankind.
“It sets a much stronger target for limiting long-term global warming, which is critical for reducing the long-term impacts from global warming and minimising climate change.
For the first time, it includes targets for action by all countries, both developed and developing.
“The current commitments are not yet enough to ensure that target is reached but the agreement also includes regular reviews so that greater action can be implemented.”
His University of Melbourne colleague, Professor Malte Meinshausen, Director of the Australian-German College for Climate & Energy Transitions, has also weighed in with some reflections on the substance of the deal.
“In our assessment, the Paris Agreement rises to the challenge of limiting dramatic climate change,” he says. “It sets the framework for a chance to limit multi-metre sea-level rise in the long-term. Individual post-2020 country targets put on the table before Paris are insufficient to the task of limiting warming to 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.”
But because the so-called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) were not beefed up in the course of the Paris talks, there is still a big gap between what those pledged cuts will deliver, and what the global compact aims to achieve.
“This will need to be bridged by upgraded mitigation contributions from countries in the years to come.”
future cities: beyond the bright lights
Limiting the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels, as the new Paris Agreement decrees, let alone getting in the ballpark of the wishful ambition of 1.5C, will require nations, economies and cities to adhere to a strict low carbon diet. “It won’t be easy - or cheap.” Kicking fossil-fuelled habits is going to hurt, we’ve long been warned.
But in terms of urban realities, when thinking about life in a city geared to a low emissions future, the cost needs to be seen in the context of what it achieves not just in terms of atmospheric measurements, argues Professor Peter Rayner of the University of Melbourne School of Earth Sciences, and head of the newly formed Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub.
The reality of a carbon-constrained future does not have to be endured merely because it is nutrious and good for you, environmentally speaking. With a bit of forethought, it makes for an all-round satisfying meal.
“Good public transport means cleaner, healthier, quieter cities,” says Professor Rayner. “It also means fewer cars. Cities with more trees and shared open spaces have healthier populations. They also need less cooling. More paths for walking and cycling lower health costs, but also result in less driving and hence less emissions. Good policy must consider the interplay of all these aspects.”
Often in the silos of research, the interplay of things like health and engineering, infrastructure and emissions, gets too tangled to be measurable. Hence there is a reluctance to explore - let alone contrive - happy accidents as strategies bump up against each other in such a dynamic, complex system as a modern city.
Which is where the new CAUL Hub, drawing together expertise from a range of disciplines, slots in. “We are researching urban air quality, urban greening, urban infrastructure/planning and urban biodiversity,” Professor Rayner explains in an article just published in Pursuit. “Investing in any one of these is likely to bring benefits to many of them. They also bring a carbon dividend.
“Surveys overwhelmingly show that citizens want these kinds of changes. Yet a quick glance at growth patterns of modern cities in the developed and developing world shows that most large cities are not heading in this direction. Why do we get this dissonance between what we want and what we get?
“One reason is the commons problem,” says Professor Rayner. “Most of us believe we could improve our own situation more if we spent that money on ourselves ... But unless we democratically, strategically agree to pool these resources no one gets these benefits.”
The second problem is to recognise the gulf between the ideal city, and the messy accidents of history and politics and geography and aspiration where urban folk actually live - “to find solutions that can survive the huge multi-player game that is a real city.
That is the task of politics in its highest form: collective decisions obeyed in the common good.
A new dawn in the anthropocene?
In Paris on Saturday nearly 200 nations finally agreed - after 20 years of messing about - on a strategy to try to put a lid on dangerous climate warming.
So what’s in the deal, and how effective is it likely to be to arrest the catastrophic scenarios scientists have long predicted in a warmer world?
There are plenty of commentators who ruminate darkly that only time will tell. But others venture informed perspective and some ideas about how it might play out from here.
For pithy perspective on the actual language and mechanics of the key passages of the compact, dip into the New York Times’ excellent running commentary of the talks and the 31 page final deal. It’s rich in context and expert voices, with this pared-down look at the nuance of some of the key points. (There’s also a link through to a more extensive analysis.)
For some world-weary analysis, George Monbiot does it best: “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster ... The talks in Paris are the best there have ever been. And that is a terrible indictment.”
Turning to local voices, Associate Professor Peter Christoff, part of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute team in Paris, digs into some of the politics and posturing around the push to encourage a 1.5℃ warming limit in his contribution to an expert wrap published in The Conversation this morning.
“Robust reference to 1.5℃ was strongly contested and opposed by Saudi Arabia, China, India and some other developing countries as an impediment to their development,” Professor Christoff writes. By contrast, the US and EU joined the “high ambition coalition” mustered together by the Marshall Islands.
“Some are sceptical about why they did so. To quote one negotiator: “The inclusion of these targets merely recognizes the desperate need of climate-vulnerable states, buys their support, weakens their resistance on other issues, and helps split the developing state bloc.”
Such cynicism misses the point. The new goal is not empty symbolism.
“It is still achievable and has beneficial real-world implications. It ramps up urgency, strengthens expectations for rapid mitigation by governments and the private sector, and intensifies pressure for funding transfers to the developing world. (The Agreement also calls for a new IPCC report in 2018 to look at mitigation pathways associated with achieving 1.5℃.)
In his wrap of the deal for Yale Environment 360, veteran UK science writer Fred Pearce shed some light on the tensions between the scientific and diplomatic corps in Paris. “The day before the final deal was done, climate scientists here had ripped into a penultimate draft, saying its temperature aspirations were admirable, but were made meaningless because they were not matched by mechanisms for reaching them,” Pearce reported. “Diplomats understand the economics, but not the science,” said Kevin Anderson, of Manchester University, England.
“But in the final hours, science was added to the agreement to put some numbers on reaching the aspirations,” Pearce says. “It did not bridge the gap between aspirations and pledges, but it shone a light on the gap that had to be filled and offered some opportunities for when it might be narrowed.”
Diplomats may consider the job done, for now. But scientists aren’t pulling punches on the scale of the task ahead, the repercussions of the damage already done, and the potential fallout even if the pact does surprise them and succeed in hauling back warming to under 2C over pre-industrial levels, or even achieves something in the realm of 1.5C.
“It is clear that the 1C temperature rise over pre-industrial levels that we have seen so far has triggered a whole range of effects including melting of mountain glaciers, significant sea-level rise, devastating droughts, and flooding,” said Professor Stephen Harrison of the University of Exeter.
Sydney Morning Herald Environment Editor Peter Hannam quotes research by Professor Malte Meinhausen and his team at the University of Melbourne showing that emissions must fall more than 22% by 2030 to avoid dangerous climate change. (And you can find some of the slides Professor Meinhausen presented to an expert forum in Paris here.) “Meinshausen says, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and the carbon reduction goals are in line with staying well below 2 degrees. The problem is that what nations have offered as post-2020 targets “is woefully inadequate compared to the goalpost that the international community has set itself”. Hannam also quotes Professor John Schellnhuber, director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, saying that 2C “is probably the red line for the Greenland ice sheet melting”. Global sea-levels would rise six metres with such a meltdown, US science agencies say.
There are anxieties about the amount of detail left to be resolved at the next major climate talks in 2016. “On transparency, the agreement is a little bit loosey-goosey,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey, quoted in the Nature journal wrap. “It could be turned into something that is very effective, but the delegates kicked the can down the road.”
On the eve of the final agreement being thrashed out and published, retired NASA climate scientist Professor James Hansen - the man who blew the whistle on dangerous warming in testimony to a US Congressional committee back in 1988 - had some damning words on the direction the deal was taking. He was quoted telling The Guardian that the talks were a “fraud” and a “fake” because they would not result in a carbon tax that would drive down fossil fuel use. US Secretary of State John Kerry begged to differ, arguing that the pact that emerged sent “a very clear signal to the marketplace of the world that people are moving into low carbon, no carbon, alternative renewable energy. And I think it’s going to create millions of jobs, enormous new investment in R&D [research and development], and that R&D is going to produce the solutions, not government.”
Some scientists also voiced concern about the fact the new deal allows several years to pass before ramping up emissions reduction efforts, France 24 reported. “For all that is encouraging in the agreement, the time scales -- or the lack thereof -- are worrying,” said Ilan Kelman of University College London. “Little substantive will happen until 2020 whilst clear deadlines for specific targets are generally absent.” Jean Jouzel, a leading French climate scientist, questioned the feasibility of hitting at 1.5°C target, saying it could only be achieved by overshooting the mark and then pulling back, which could take decades or longer.
13 Dec 2015
‘history will remember this day’: un secretary general ban ki-moon
The Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people.
In Summary (analysis from Scientific American): “The new Paris Agreement declares an ambition to hold global average temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius if possible, calls for greenhouse gas pollution to be balanced with greenhouse gas emissions after 2050, implements a 5-year cycle of reviews of national plans and actions starting soon as well as monitoring of those actions, and confirms at least $100 billion per year to help those countries most affected by climate changes. It also calls for scientists to weigh in on how exactly the world might aim for 1.5 degree C given that temperatures are already up 1 degree C in 2015—the hottest year on record. Global greenhouse gas pollution must peak “as soon as possible,” the pact states. The first official global “stocktake” of efforts to meet all these ambitions of the Paris Pact will occur in 2023.”
US President Barack Obama called it “the best chance to save the one planet we have”. In a statement delivered after the agreement was ratified in Paris, Obama said humanity could be more confident the planet would be in better shape for the next generation, that the deal shows the world has the will and ability to take on “this challenge.” But he warned that even if all the goals are met the world is only on its way to reducing carbon in the atmosphere.
Other commentary in the aftermath of the moment reflected a similar mix of euphoria, aspiration, relief and caution:
“Today the world is united in the fight against climate change. Today the world gets a lifeline, a last chance to hand over to future generations a world that is more stable, a healthier planet, fairer societies and more prosperous economies.” - European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
“Our chance for survival is not lost.” - Convenor of the High Ambition Coalition and Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands Tony de Brum.
“We have set a course here. The world has come together around an agreement that will empower us to chart a path for our planet, a smart and responsible path, a sustainable path.” - US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Governments must now put words into actions, in particular by implementing policies that make effective progress on the mitigation pledges they have made. That is why my key message is to price carbon right and to do it now.” - International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde.
“We called for strong ambition, for remarkable partnerships, for mobilization of finance, and for implementation of national climate plans. Paris delivered. Now the job becomes our shared responsibility.” - World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
Below, some grabs of the expert reaction from the University of Melbourne team in Paris. (You can find their full reactions on the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute Paris Blog here, with more to come over the next week.)
“We have witnessed something incredible today. Finally, we can feel hopeful that we are on a path to tackling climate change.” Climate Council chief, former Australian of the year and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute Professorial Fellow Tim Flannery
“I think there are two historic outcomes. One is the agreement itself, which sets an ambition that even gives us hope to save the Great Barrier Reef ... The other historic dimension to this is the momentum that’s been built through the commitments of cities, states, business, and civil society, to do much more.” - Don Henry, Public Policy Fellow, Environmentalism, University of Melbourne.
“The Paris climate agreement, agreed at COP21 on December 12, signals the end of the fossil fuel era and opens the door to a rapid transition to a just and resilient zero-carbon global economy.” - Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director, MSSI.
Keep tuning in for more expert analysis and insight over the next week, with a particular emphasis on the Australian angles and implications. Meanwhile, for a snappy, meaty piece of analysis in the global political, economic and environmental contexts, we recommend this piece from The Economist.
12 Dec 2015
It’s not quite 5am in Paris, and the BBC is reporting that a final text for a new global compact to act to stop dangerous global warming has been agreed after two decades of failed talks, four years of work, two weeks of intensive negotiations, and a marathon last push extending nearly 16 hours after the talks had been scheduled to close.
“An official in the office of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the AFP news agency the draft would be presented to ministers at 10:30 GMT Saturday in Paris.
“Significant progress had been reported on a range of issues in the latest version of the document, with evidence of real compromise between the parties, reports the BBC’s environment correspondent Matt McGrath in Paris.
“He adds that countries supported a temperature goal of 2C but agreed to make their best efforts to keep the warming rise to 1.5C. However, the language on cutting emissions in the long term was criticised for significantly watering down ambition.”
In other late developments:
- Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Australia had joined the “High Ambition Coalition”, although according to this Guardian report this morning this was news to the convenor of the coalition, Marshall Islands foreign Minister Tony de Brum. The coalition gained significant momentum over the last days of the talks, enlisting more than 100 developed and developing countries including the US, EU, Canada and Brazil.
- Going into the overtime slog, and having agreed on the middle-ground warming ceiling of aiming for well under 2C warming while striving for 1.5C, the major sticking point was reportedly around the “ratchet mechanism,” which would require countries to boost their climate ambitions incrementally over time. As Newsweek explained in this final-quarter wrap: “It’s an essential component for actually meeting the 1.5 degrees C target (or even the less ambitious 2 degrees C target), because the promises countries have made so far add up to about 2.7 degrees C—a level of warming that could ultimately prove catastrophic around the world”.
- Andrew Revkin, for The New York Times Dot Earth blog, filed some compelling insight into the high-stakes brinksmanship going on in the last leg. This includes an account sourced from India’s Business Standard about a “tumultuous moment Thursday night” during which US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly “threatened that developed countries would walk out if the agreement they were asked to commit to differentiation or financial obligations as ministers tussled over the scope and nature of wealthy countries’ financial commitments to vulnerable developing countries. ‘You can take the U.S. out of this. Take the developed world out of this. Remember, the Earth has a problem. What will you do with the problem on your own?’ he told ministers from other countries during a closed-door negotiation on the second revised draft of the Paris agreement.”
11 Dec 2015
save the corals: the fast-looming marine conservation mission
As human industry has pumped more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, oceans have worked to absorb the consequences, swallowing both heat and CO2 in a kind of deep inhalation that fundamentally alters the dynamics and the chemistry of the blue expanses of the planet.
So it is that coral reefs are in the gun in a warmer world, threatened by shifts in ocean chemistry (ocean acidification) and ocean temperatures, as well as being battered by more intense and more frequent storms.
The latest IPCC report stated that “the current rate of ocean acidification is unprecedented within the last 65 Million years if not the last 300 Million Years.”
But oceans were not anywhere to be found on the formal agenda at the UN COP21 talks in Paris over the past two weeks. This constitutes “the big blue elephant in the room”, in the words of legendary oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle (“Her Deepness”, and if you aren’t acquainted, here’s a piece I wrote when she visited Melbourne a couple of a years ago).
She’s been part of a campaign by marine scientists and activists to push oceans into the frame in the Paris talks. Along with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Dr Earle was at an oceans breakfast this week where Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the University of Queensland marine scientist who has lead the oceans chapter for the IPCC, laid out the scale of the emergency shaping up in the blue.
On our present emissions trajectories, coral reefs are under the threat of disappearing by mid-century, he said. This is not just a tragedy for marine life - and about one quarter of species live in coral reefs.
The loss of coral reefs will put at least 500 million - mostly poor - people at risk.
In an article published in Pursuit today, Professor Madeleine van Oppen, Chair of Marine Biology at the University of Melbourne and Senior Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, outlines some of the strategies her research team is exploring to try to help corals survive.
“Heat stress often leads to a disruption of the close association between coral and its algae, and causes a loss of the algae from the coral tissues, leading to paling of the coral colony (i.e. coral bleaching),” Professor van Oppen says. “If unfavourable seawater conditions persist, and this tight association cannot recover, the coral will die.”
There are deep concerns that the monster El Niño event now playing out across the Pacific will trigger a massive bleaching event.
One of the avenues Professor van Oppen’s group is investigating is helping corals evolve characteristics that improve their capacity to cope with environmental stress. “This approach, referred to as (human)-assisted evolution, does not create genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – no new genetic material is being inserted into corals – our work focuses on accentuating and optimising characteristics already present in some corals.”
Having cultured the algae that live inside the coral, in the laboratory her team expose them to elevated temperature and CO2 levels over many cell generations. The strains that survive will be offered to young corals, and we will “see what happens”.
Other strategies involve manipulating the bacterial populations that associate with corals, and selectively breeding relatively stress-tolerant corals in the laboratory.
“While the root causes of climate change need to be addressed, ways of mitigating the impacts of climate change on our natural systems need to be explored,” Professor van Oppen argues.
Our project is one possible biological approach to preserve some of the stunning biodiversity present on the world’s coral reefs today.
‘I think, dear friends, that we will make it’: laurent fabius
It’s 4 am in Paris. Not a lot of sleeping going on. Below, some dispatches from the front line:
- Around 1 am, the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, and the marshall of the strengthening “High Ambition Coalition”, whose ranks include the US and EU but not Australia, sent this into the ether:
Recognition of need to work to limiting warming to 1.5°C means I'd be able to go home & tell my ppl that our chance for survival isn't lost.— Tony de Brum (@MinisterTdB) December 10, 2015
“This text is a good attempt to work through some of the options toward finding landing zones. It forces countries to fight for what they really need to see in the final Agreement.
“There is a clear recognition that the world must work towards limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that it would be much safer to do so. With this, I would be able to go home and tell my people that our chance for survival is not lost.
“The language on emissions neutrality sends a clear signal that the world will rapidly bend the emissions curve and phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century. Governments and businesses across the world would know that renewable energy is unquestionably the new game in town.
“The text maintains 5-year updates, starting in 2020, as we’ve been arguing and as is supported by our new High Ambition Coalition. Critical this is maintained. Anyone that seeks to water this down is irresponsible and not committed to urgent climate action.”
- Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute Research Fellow Cathy Alexander filed an update from Paris on the MSSI Blog reporting that the mood was upbeat and focused, and a meaningful deal to try to avoid the most dangerous extremes of warming so close “earnest, tired negotiators can almost taste it”. The two most likely scenarios taking shape are a) a “fairly strong deal which charts a course towards avoiding dangerous levels of global warming” and scope to be racheted up over time; or b) a less ambitious compact that would “let countries off the hook on their emissions”, and not feasibly keep the planet out of the too-warm danger zone.
The New York Times reported expert opinion that the ultimate measure of success of the agreement would be whether it would be strong enough to persuade financial investors to move their money away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. “Without that signal, there is little chance that emissions will be reduced enough to stave off the most catastrophic impacts of global warming ... (The latest draft) dodges the issue of how countries would monitor, verify and report their levels of planet-warming pollution.”
And if caffeine and momentum aren’t enough to propel negotiators to the finish line, there’s this contextual pick-me-up courtesy of the World Economic Forum:
between 1.5C of aspiration and 3.5C of action, an unfriendly earth
The draft now in the hands of the deal makers/breakers in Paris aims to contain future warming at somewhere well under 2C above pre-industrial levels, while also aspiring to haul it back to under 1.5C.
But there remains a whopping gap between this ambition and the reality that would be delivered by the actions nations propose in their emission reduction commitments (or INDCs). Research papers presented in Paris calculate that these strategies would deliver us into a future somewhere between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees warmer, which in turn puts the Earth into the orbit of so-called “tipping points”.
What are these tipping points? They are defined as the “critical threshold at which a tiny pertubation can qualitatively alter the state or development of a system”. In this context, we’re talking scenarios of runaway climate change. They include things like the melting of ice sheets as warm waters erode them from below; the bubbling up of methane hydrates from the sea floor, releasing potent greenhouse gases; the disabling of the powerhouse rhythms of winds, rains and currents on which nature turns and human civilisation is founded.
“The good news from Paris is that there are we now seeing many technological, economic and political ‘tipping points’ which demonstrate huge potential for accelerating the speed and scale with which the global economy can be decarbonized,” says Professor John Wiseman, deputy director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, in his latest dispatch from Paris on the MSSI Paris Blog.
He then proceeds to outline priority actions needed to accelerate the speed of economic de-carbonisation in Paris (and you can read his 10 point strategy here.)
In the Australian context, Professor Wiseman argues an absolute priority must be for Australia to “get on board with the language of zero carbon economy or economic de-carbonisation and the goal of a mid-century target date.
“As research conducted by the Climate and Energy College at Melbourne University shows, real climate leadership by Australia would require a 2030 emissions reduction target of 66% below 2010 levels (the current target is a 26 to 28% cut).”
Professor Wiseman echoes the call of the Australian Climate Change Authority for the federal government to undertake an immediate review of climate targets and policies, recognising and reflecting the new evidence tabled in Paris over the past two weeks.
Australian leaders also had to encourage a “mature public debate” around the need to accelerate progress towards a robust global carbon price.
And there was encouraging news to this end with news overnight that the Turnbull Government had signed up to a New Zealand-led declaration backing the use of international carbon markets in tackling climate change. “After a brutal six-year war on carbon markets, is this the Coalition softening its position?” asked The Age’s Environment Editor, Tom Arup, in his latest report from Paris.
Professor Wiseman also urges that Australia pursue “a significantly stronger commitment to assisting the most vulnerable Asia Pacific communities meet increasingly formidable climate resilience challenges”.
We are now in a race against time to trigger the promising range of deep decarbonisation actions before we find ourselves confronting irreversible and catastrophic tipping points in the Earth’s climate system.
DAY 11: Paris when it sizzles
Just before 7.30am Australian time the UN published a new draft text for a global compact to try to halt dangerous climate change. It’s 27 pages and with far fewer brackets (defining the areas of remaining disagreement) but it’s still not a final text - that is supposed to be hammered out within the next 20 hours, though odds are that the deadline will be blown one way or other. Delegates were given two hours to digest the latest draft before getting back to business in closed sessions just before midnight in Paris. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, delivering the draft, said countries would need to compromise. “We want an agreement… we are close to the finishing line. We must find the responsibility for common ground.”
On the crucial question of what the deal’s ambition will be in terms of putting an aspirational ceiling on temperature rise, there were three options on the table The most ambitious said the target should be 1.5C, the windiest allowed for 2C. The latest text lobs somewhere in between. It proposes the deal:
Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C, recognising that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change.
Because this latest draft text landed late in the Paris evening, there’s unlikely to be much deep analysis by weary negotiators and commentators for a few hours yet. And by then it will hopefully have begun to morph into its final shape. But early reactions to this latest draft include the following:
- Global green campaign group 350.org, argues in its quick analysis judges that “overall, this is a missed opportunity. What the world needs right now is a clear signal that the era of fossil fuels has come to an end. The text though as it stands right now shows a disconnect between diplomacy and science.
- The Guardian’s Paris bloggers observe that the language around a long-term goal for phasing out fossil fuels has weakened. The previous text had options for specific dates and percentages for carbon and emissions cuts. “By contrast today’s text only has wooly language about cutting emissions as fast as possible, with no time scale or numbers”.
- Dr Helen Szoke, CEO of Oxfam Australia, was positive. ““In a big win for developing and vulnerable countries, the draft has affirmed the need to set quantified funding goals for both climate change mitigation and adaptation for the years after 2020. This is a very encouraging development and we strongly urge negotiators to keep this in the final agreement. The only caveat is that no firm target for funds meant to help vulnerable people adapt to climate change has been identified.”
- The Washington Post roundup quotes an upbeat Nat Keohane, vice president of the global Environment Defense Fund. “We can see an agreement in sight. Impressive progress has been made. Of course differences remain, but it’s clear that the countries here are very, very serious about the challenge before them. There is strong momentum as we head to the finish line.”
- Suzanne Goldenberg, for The Guardian, reports the UN climate chief Christiana Figueres saying that “the draft text is still incomplete because it doesnt close all the issues, the political crunch issues.... differentiation, finance, and certain aspects of ambition and transparency. However it is already pointing towards an agreement that is ambitious, that is fair, and has the transparency of implementation over the few decades that the agreement will last ... so a very very good start for the government to go back into regional groups ...”
10 Dec 2015
READING ROUNDUP: the big picture
- “We didn’t come to Paris to build a ceiling. We came to build a floor,” declared US Secretary of State John Kerry in a speech pledging up to $860 million in grant-based funding to developing countries by 2020. “We will not leave the most vulnerable nations among us to, quite literally, weather the storm alone.”. He stressed that the Paris deal had to have a legally binding enforcement system that would reassure energy investors. “What we’re doing is sending the marketplace an extraordinary signal – that those 186 countries are really committed – and that helps the private sector to move capital into that, knowing there’s a future that is committed to this sustainable path.” You can find a strong analysis from Forbes magazine here.
How does a country negotiate its own perceived demise? This is the question posed by Newsweek in this exploration of the role and tactics of Saudi Arabia at the COP21 talks. “The simple answer is that it does not. Instead it undermines and blocks those negotiations and their goal wherever possible. Of course, it’s more complicated than that: in doing so, it is also wittingly accepting death by other means, but with its eyes wide open.
“What is going to happen here in Paris is certainly that the direction will be very clear, but the pace is going to be insufficient,” UN climate chief Christiana Figueres tells Nature in a wide-ranging Q&A.
And in a stark reminder of the precarious state of play in the world beyond the Le Bourget conference centre, scientists held a news conference highlighting one of the potent variables that could yet undo the best efforts to put a lid on warming. “It’s called permafrost,” the Washington Post reports. “As the planet warms, this frozen northern soil is going to continue to thaw — and as it thaws, it’s going to release carbon dioxide and methane into the air. A lot of it, it turns out. Potentially enough to really throw off the carbon budgets that have been calculated in order to determine the maximum emissions that we can release and still have a good chance of keeping warming to 2 C or below it.”
Latest from team australia
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop got the credit, but Greens leader Richard Di Natale collected the honors for Australia’s latest “Fossil Of The Year” gong in Paris overnight.
The ignominious title is awarded each day of the talks by climate activists to recognise which country has - in their view - done the most to obstruct a meaningful response to climate change in the previous 24 hours.
Ms Bishop gained recognition on Day 10 for a speech to an Indonesian-hosted forum the evening before arguing that while the world was going through an energy transition, coal still had a significant place in the mix. “Barring some technological breakthrough, fossil fuels will remain critical to promoting prosperity, growing economies and alleviating hunger for years to come.”
In their latest Paris dispatch, the Fairfax team report that Australia has “serious concerns” about the latest draft version of a climate change agreement being hammered out in Paris. They quote Australian lead negotiator Peter Woolcott saying he was “deeply disappointed” that some areas have been weakened in a bid to get deal.
putting food on the negotiating table in paris
Farmers are already enduring the storms of climate extremes and shifts. Most vulnerable are smallholder farmers in the developing world. For the 70% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas, agriculture is the main source of income and employment.
Agricultural scientists, NGOs and civil society groups have been agitating for more focus on questions of food security and of agricultural research and investment in Paris - and you can find a discussion of their concerns in this conversation hosted by the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting.
The latest indications are that they may be finally getting some traction.
New Zealand’s Climate Minister Tim Grooser is quoted in a report today declaring that “after many years of banging my head on a brick wall, trying to get attention for agriculture in UNFCCC, we are finally being heard”.
Such a breakthrough is critical, argues Professor Richard Eckard, Director of the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre (www.piccc.org.au), a joint research initiative between the University of Melbourne and the Victorian Department of Economic Development.
“The world needs to increase food production by more than 70% to meet the demand of a projected 9 billion people by 2050,” Professor Eckard - part Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute delegation in Paris - writes today on the MSSI Paris blog. “This must be achieved in the face of increasing climatic variability and change, and growing constraints on water and land for crops and livestock.”
Of the 160 country-specific Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted prior to the summit, 80% include mitigation targets and 64% include adaptation strategies for the agricultural sector specifically. “This means that globally there will need to be a significant increase in the research effort to provide agriculture with profitable adaptation and mitigation options, to improve sustainability and food security.
“The protection of food security is a core objective of the UNFCCC and, while a new global climate agreement is likely to reiterate this, it is unlikely to be prescriptive about how adaptation in agriculture is supported and how agriculture might contribute to emission reductions.”
The UN should make sure that food security, incorporating agricultural adaptation, mitigation and sequestration, are prioritised for funding through the Green Climate Fund, he argues. Money should be channelled through international agricultural development organisations like the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and their research centres rather than through national governments, where they risk being inefficiently utilised.
“Invariably, the majority of this funding will be focused towards developing countries where the need for food security is greatest, with a focus on smallholder farmers (as they feed 80% of the world’s population) and an increasing focus on reducing food waste.”
DAY 10: 29 PAGES, 2 DAYS TO GO, 0.5 DEGREES OF SEPARATION, 3 degrees of resignation
And they go to the mattresses in Paris, literally and mafia-metaphorically as negotiators stockpile provisions and bedding for the marathon of close combat talks ahead.
The story in numbers:
- The new draft text for a global climate compact has been whittled down to 29 pages from the 48 negotiators agreed on last Saturday.
- On the central issue containing warming, there are now three options. As the BBC summarises, the first says that warming should be kept below 2C above pre-industrial levels; the third says they should be kept below 1.5C; the inbetweener aims below 2C but scales up efforts to stay under 1.5C.
- “How 1.5C became the most important number” at the Paris talks is explained by University of Melbourne analyst Kate Dooley and Professor Doreen Stabinsky (College of the Atlantic) in The Conversation today. “Scientists consider that as 1.5℃ is breached, we will risk passing critical tipping points,” they argue. “While some say limiting warming to less than 1.5℃, or even 2℃, is out of reach, ultimately 1.5℃ is a political signal for greater ambition, and a more serious global engagement in addressing climate change.”
- Such numbers are only so much hot air, argues activist Naomi Klein. “The deal shaping up “will not be enough to keep us safe. In fact, it will be extraordinarily dangerous,” she argues. “We know, from doing the math and adding up the targets that the major economies have brought to Paris, that those targets lead us to a very dangerous future. They lead us to a future between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius warming.” (You can find detailed analysis on the scenarios presented in Paris by the University of Melbourne’s Professor Malte Meinshausen here.)
- After 20 years of negotiations, “the next 48 hours are seen as the crunch time in reaching a deal to avoid a dangerous rise in temperatures”, The Guardian reports. “After years of fierce argument, pitting wealthy against less wealthy countries, negotiators and campaigners described a spirit of cooperation and willingness to tackle climate change in Paris – symbolised on Wednesday by a US pledge of $860m (£566m) in climate aid to poorer countries, a doubling of its existing commitments.”
Future temperatures will be determined by the speed and scale of the shift away from fossil fuels. The options in the new text range from cutting carbon emissions 40-70% below 2010 levels or 70-95%, or to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end or after the middle of the century. The term “decarbonisation” is still in the text, in brackets.
And in letters? The Atlantic pulls the most stupendous acronym out of the COP21 alphabet soup:
“Yet CBDRILONCWRC turns out to be pretty important. According to Ryan Mearns, a Kiwi university student who has become one of the conference’s most important (if unofficial) scribes) stands for “Common But DifferentiatedResponsibility In Light Of National Circumstances With Respective Capability.” This describes, in so many words, how the UN now hopes to limit carbon emissions: not with mandatory cutbacks, but with voluntary national commitments. Instead of handing down orders from on high, the UN expects every nation to bring their best dish to the party. If an agreement comes out of Paris, we’ll have this principle to thank.”
9 Dec 2015
THE DAILY digest: day 9
“How many years have we been discussing?” mused U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a press conference. “Talking, talking all the time.”
UK science writer and author, Fred Pearce, who has been reporting the climate story deeply for the best part of 20 years, begins his wrap of the state of talks for Yale Environment 360 plainly feeling Ban’s pain.
“Ban is optimistic that climate diplomats will conjure an agreement,” but concedes it won’t be perfect. “The pledges on the table here in Paris may be enough to halt warming at 3 degrees Celsius, but not the declared aim of 2 degrees. “But we are not living in a world of perfection.”
Pearce says that as the second week of talks opened, Ban expected the final deal to include a review of emissions targets every five years starting in 2020. This would lock in accountability and allow scope to ratchet up to more ambitious goals as technology comes online to achieve it.
But by yesterday “concern was growing that this vital review mechanism could be lost. India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, told a press briefing that his country had a 10-year review process, and it wasn’t about to change track. There is “still a debate” about the review process, said Laurent Fabius, the conference chair and French foreign minister.”
In other recommended reads:
There has been a strong focus in Paris on the potential of renewables to help nations reach their emissions reduction pledges. But RenewEconomy’s Giles Parkinson and Jon Walter report that the Australian Government is still championing coal as good for humanity. “Foreign minister Julie Bishop used a forum hosted by Indonesia ... to push the case for Australian fossil fuels,” they report. They quote Ms Bishop arguing that “barring some technological breakthrough fossil fuels will remain critical to promoting prosperity, growing economies and alleviating hunger for years to come”.
India has been the subject of intense focus in Paris (including in Pursuit and this blog earlier) because of the sway it has over what a final deal will look like. In this fascinating analysis just published by the Council for Foreign Relations, council Fellow Varun Sivaram, previously sceptical about India’s chances of meeting its ambitious solar targets, reports back on a whirlwind fact finding mission to India. “After digging into India’s progress to date, asking Modi administration officials about the sincerity of their target, and understanding the calculus of Indian and foreign solar developers who are pledging billions of dollars of solar investment, I am turning into a believer. India’s target, still aspirational, could actually materialize.”
Are the Paris climate talks too blokey? That’s the charge laid by the UN’s special envoy on climate change, former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson. “This is a very male world [at the conference]. When it is a male world, you have male priorities,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. She pointed to the line-up of ministers now leading the talks, few of whom are women. “Women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change ... Women have to be here in large numbers, to have critical mass”.
Also headlining in The Guardian is a report of an undercover sting by Greenpeace that has revealed that two prominent US climate sceptics were available for hire by the hour to write reports casting doubt on the dangers posed by global warming. “The findings point to how paid-for information challenging the consensus on climate science could be placed into the public domain without the ultimate source of funding being revealed.”
New Matilda has a Pacific take, with Thom Mitchell reporting from Paris that the Kiribati President Anote Tong, deeply concerned that talks won’t save his sinking island, has resorted to lobbying for divine intervention at Notre Dame Cathedral. “I hope you would all join us in saying a prayer that we leaders can make a bit of a sensible decision.”
Olafur Eliasson, an Icelandic-Danish artist, has transported tonnes of ice from Greenland to Paris and arranged it in the shape of a clock face. Passers by can watch it melt in real time as the climate negotiations to lock in a new global climate compact grind on a short distance away. The exhibit is called Paris Ice Watch. It sits on a street in Paris, Eliasson explains to the New Yorker, because “a street in Paris can’t be more important than it is right now. We all feel that strongly”.
What goes up while appearing to go down?
Australia’s greenhouse emissions, under the “Australia Clause” at the Kyoto talks back in 1997.
JJJ Hack has published this neat explainer, including insights and commentary from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute’s Research Fellow Cathy Alexander, who is part of the University of Melbourne’s team in Paris. (You can find more of her analyses - and that of other members of the @Unimelb delegation - on the MSSI Blog.)
The “Australia Clause” is shorthand for the deal that first allowed Australian emissions to rise 8 per cent during the first commitment period of 2008-12, while most other rich nations had to agree to a cut.
In Paris, the deal has delivered a further gift. As Fairfax’s Peter Hannam reported, late on Friday night Environment Minister Greg Hunt “got what the Turnbull government had keenly sought: the acceptance of accounting rules that allow Australia unrestricted access to the 128 million tonnes of surplus emissions credits it claims from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol”.
That surplus will allow a big increase of emissions above current levels. “Had Australian negotiators not prevailed, the country would likely have struggled to meet the modest goal of cutting 2000 level emissions by 5 per cent by 2020. Excluding land use changes, the increase could be as high as 11 per cent, Melbourne University estimates.”
Hannam quotes one negotiator for a major nation saying the deal means Australia can now lift emissions outside deforestation with little if any cost until at least 2020.
TO paris, LOVE melbourne
What’s the talk on the street about the COP21 Paris climate summit?
To get a snapshot of how Melburnians are engaging and thinking about the talks, we took our camera into the city centre and asked around. While we hoped to capture a wide demographic - and really, we tried - as you will see the folk who were happy to share their insights are firmly in the younger bracket. Which is curious given that my observation of the tens of thousands of people who paraded down Swanston Street for the People’s Climate March as the talks began was that the crowd was dominated by very senior ranks and young families.
Here’s what our commentators had to say:
8 Dec 2015
shameless exploitation of celebrity (all in a good cause)
Famous folk with stuff to say at the Paris talks:
- Her Deepness, legendary oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle, paired up with Sir David Attenborough.
- The Governator made an appearance.
- Jane Goodall, primatologist and anthropologist, weighed into politics.
- And Robert Redford teamed up with representatives of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Marshall Islands for a discussion at the Unesco headquarters.
The writing on the wall?
This is the document that the Paris climate deal negotiators have pulled together, four years in the making, now pared back to 48 pages but littered with more than 900 sets of square brackets fencing off the areas of disagreement politicians will have to hammer out by 6pm on Friday.
It’s still “dense with landmines of coded language, both substantive and tactical”, explains the University of Melbourne’s Professor Peter Christoff, part of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute delegation now in Paris.
In this analysis for the MSSI Blog, he provides a guided tour of the text, detailing the yawning gaps down which negotiators may yet vanish. He also provides some backroom insight into the mood and tone of the summit so far.
“A huge graffiti with the words ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur’ - Paris’ official motto since 1853 - has just appeared on a building near Canal Saint Martin,” Professor Christoff observes.
“It refers to a ship at sea and translates as ‘tossed but not sunk’. The slogan is cropping up around the city as a sign of resistance to the recent terror attacks. But it is perhaps also a comment on the Paris climate negotiations.”
As a weathered veteran of too many groundhog days of climate forums, Professor Christoff observes that trust has a defining influence in these gatherings, but it can be a tricky thing to find.
Failures of trust between parties have undone previous COPs.
“Transparency of process is critical, but ensuring that transparency while maintaining momentum is a challenge when some 20,000 delegates representing 195 states are hunting for solutions in a forest of concerns.”
The sheer scale and logistical complexity of the summit conspires against intimacy, collaboration and authentic engagement between parties. There were over 150 formal and informal negotiating groups meeting in the first week, often simultaneously.
This week the negotiations shift gear, pouring players into a single unified forum. “This cumbersome format will have its own challenges, as is evident whenever the mass of states come together in a plenary,” Professor Christoff says.
He notes that last week it was hard to discern which nations were taking the lead in the various states and blocs. “One senses that a weak deal suits the US and China - that they have already announced what they intend to do.
“The good news is that, apart from some curmudgeonly outbursts and filibustering on Friday, a surprisingly cooperative tone prevails - a marked contrast to the ebbing of enthusiasm and dark energies which had emerged by this time to cripple other COPs.”
the formguide: cop21 day 8
Now let’s take the temperature of the negotiations inside the tent in Paris, as reflected in the international headlines:
- The agendas of rich versus poor nations are the crucial fault-line. “There are splits over what the long-term goal of the deal should be,” the BBC reports. “Many island nations want the text to reflect the fact that if the world warms more than 1.5C, their homes may be lost to rising seas. Other countries favour a two-degree goal.”
- Nonetheless the world’s biggest climate polluters - the US, Canada, China and the European Union - have declared they are open to the 1.5C warming limit push rather than the current 2C goal, The Guardian reports.
- Reuters is also reporting a positive vibe, encouraged by the comments of US Secretary of State John Kerry as he returns to the negotiating table in Paris. “Even without a fixed number and a legal shell, we are going to see an enormous amount of movement,” he told a cheering crowd.
- How much movement might all come down to the inevitable: money. The big questions, pithily summarised by the New York Times: who pays, how much, and how often. And for more on the money trail, Time magazine has this analysis explaining the politics and posturing around the shortfall in the 2009 commitment from developed countries to send $100 billion a year to the developing world to support initiatives to address climate change.
Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you
Forecast for Paris for Tuesday 8 December: rain and a top of 12 degrees Celsius. A grim, grey day as politicians from around the globe knuckle down to the business end of determining a new global climate compact.
Forecast for the planet? Well, that rather depends on what happens over the next four working days (and nights) of the critical COP21 UN Summit.
But as nations wrangle about whether to aim to put a ceiling on warming of 1.5C or 2Cs, and experts question whether either aspiration is even achievable, the journal Nature published new data showing industrial emissions of greenhouse gases rose only slightly in 2014 and appear to be on track to decline in 2015. And this happened in a period of economic growth.
This raises the hope that the long boomtime of rapid global emissions growth may be coming to an end. The New York Times today reports that the figures “suggest that there is a chance that global emissions have already peaked and may be starting a long-term decline ... which would be an important inflection point for the international effort to limit the risks of global warming”.
Experts from the Global Carbon Project - collaborators on the research - were not so optimistic presenting the research in Paris, casting it more as a blip on the radar, albeit one that perhaps signals emissions growth may be slower in coming years than in the past decade.
To provide some context, it’s worth checking in on today’s measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide, plotted on the Keeling Curve by the US Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which right now sits at 401.25ppm (parts per million).
When American scientist Charles Keeling started tracking measurements of atmospheric CO2 from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii back in 1960, the level was 316ppm. Since then the curve has swung relentlessly upwards, the mean line tracking up through the seasonal zigzags of the planet breathing - dipping down when great forests of the northern hemisphere sprout leaves and soak up CO2 CO2, pushing up when they release it again in the fall. The Keeling Curve has become the world’s most famous expression human-caused emission of greenhouse gases.
When CO2 levels crossed the 400ppm threshold solidly in May this year, Peter Tans, lead scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said: “This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120 parts per million since pre-industrial times. Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.”
It represented a “milestone on a road to unprecedented climate change for the human race,” Dr Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading told The Guardian. Modern humans hadn’t evolved the last time the planet had this much carbon dioxide.
Experts such as NASA’s Professor James Hansen have long argued that to preserve a recognisable Earth, the number has to be hauled back to 350ppm or less. (And you can find a collection of other reflections from NASA experts here.)
“The steady increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases should serve as a stark reminder of the task facing politicians as they sit down in Paris later this year. - Dr Ed Hawkins”
7 Dec 2015
Message to Ground control
As foreign and environment ministers from around the world arrived in Paris this weekend ready to get down to business on the make or break second week, this message landed from space.
An international collective of astronauts past and present share their unique perspective on the planet.
“We wish you could be holding your meeting in space, with the beautiful horizon to horizen view as your backdrop. It would be an awe inspiring distraction for sure, but there would be nothing better for reinforcing the signficance of what you are doing there together today.” (Astronaut Nicole Stott, US.)
“We are not on a sustainable path with our life support systems. In order for us to ensure the survival of our species and all the other species on this planet we need a positive course correction and we need it now.” (Astronaut Ron Garan, US)
“If I could transfer the experience which I have to you, then you would go out and see the Earth ... and start to love the Earth. And if you really love something, you don’t want to lose it. Our Earth has cancer.” (Astronaut Wubbo Ockels, first Dutch citizen in space, who died of cancer the day after the interview was filmed.)
Watch and weep.
‘The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole.’ (Oscar wilde)
And the political analyst sees both in Australia’s performance in Paris.
Professor Robyn Eckersley, part of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute delegation at COP21, has written an unflinching critique of climate diplomacy Oz-style on the MSSI Blog today. It’s “like a doughnut: a few promising initiatives around the edges but nothing in the middle”.
The chewy bits look appealing enough. Australia has signed on to strive to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, “a matter very dear to the hearts of Pacific Island nations”; announced that it would ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol; pledged $1.2 million to help preserve Coral Triangle reefs; positioned to co-chair the Green Climate Fund; unveiled a Blue Carbon research project at the University of Melbourne; played nice as a flexible and persuasive broker on sticky bits in the draft deal; promised $200 million into climate finance.
“Yet appearances can be deceiving,” Professor Eckersley writes. “The $200 million in climate finance comes from the aid budget and is not new or additional.”
And why wouldn’t Australia ratify the Kyoto II since it had one of the lowest targets in the developed world for 2020, and benefits from greenhouse gas accounting sleights-of-hand that allow room for emissions outside the land sector to increase by around 11% by 2020.
The missing middle, of course, is robust domestic targets and policies for 2020 and the post-2020 period.
Despite talking the talk in Paris, “Australia’s domestic policy settings, including significant fossil fuel subsidies, actively encourage fossil fuel production and use,” Professor Eckersley argues.
“No amount of flexible and constructive climate diplomacy ... can hide the fact that Australia’s domestic policies are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.”
She points out that Germanwatch’s Climate Change Performance index for 2015 ranked Australia 60th out of the 61 countries surveyed – second last to Saudi Arabia. This is down from 57 last year.
No Planet B, but a plan b?
When the politics and economics of weaning civilisation off fossil fuels all becomes too hard, the prospect of magic geoengineered solutions looms as appealing, imperative, crazy - and terrifying.
There’s the notion of vast banks of giant fans sucking carbon dioxide right out of the air, and syphoning it into a potential fuel. Or wrapping Greenland in a blanket to deflect the sun’s rays and prevent it from melting. Or spraying aerosols into the atmosphere to bounce off solar radiation in much the same way as volcanic ash plumes do naturally.
Professor Tim Flannery, of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (and chief of the Climate Council) writes on the MSSI Blog today that even a 1.5 degrees warmer future wipes out the Great Barrier Reef. A 2 degrees warmer world is one “at risk of tipping into the abyss of climate chaos”.
How to dodge these scenarios? Reduce emissions (and here we go around again, in Paris); launch drastic geoengineering projects like pumping sulphur into the atmosphere (“catastrophic”, he warns) or find mechanisms with the power to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere at a scale that could make a difference to climate.
These “third-way” pathways are, Professor Flannery argues, “extraordinarily varied, from seaweed farming to the manufacture of carbon-negative cements and the production of carbon fibres and plastics from atmospheric CO2.
Today, all such methods and technologies are nascent, and if we hope to have them operating at the gigatonne scale by mid-century we need to start investing in them now.
“If we are serious about limiting temperatures to 2 degrees, they need to be high on the agenda of the first post-Paris meeting to review actions, hopefully in 2020.”
Professor Flannery elaborated on his hopes - and fears - around engineering technologies along with Professor David Karoly, atmospheric scientist from the University of Melbourne School of Earth Sciences, in interviews with ABC Environment Editor Gregg Borschmann on Radio National.
Whatever deal emerges in Paris, it is already likely too late to be sure avoiding 2 degrees of warming, Professor Karoly said. Hence the backroom efforts to find negative emissions strategies “to suck out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere ... in order to stabilise the climate”.
But like Professor Flannery he is deeply concerned about programs that aspire to cooling the planet by messing with the stratosphere.
Such interference could play havoc with rainfall patterns, contrive droughts - particularly in the already vulnerable tropics - and have adverse health impacts including increasing UV radiation.
Geoengineering is “thought about as curing the symptoms of the problem.
But this cure might kill the patient ... and I’m not sure that is a good solution.
Paris weather report: Stormy, Squally, but is that a glimpse of blue?
By Saturday morning, after a week of desperate wrangling culminating in a brutal all-nighter, delegates from 195 nations at the UN summit in Paris had an approved, slimmed-down text to deliver to their foreign and environment ministers to mull over on the weekend. In a few hours time the politicians will come to the table to start thrashing out the sticking points and nail a comprehensive settlement by the end of this week.
Despite being plagued by conflicting proposals on many key points, the blueprint was being described as the most complex and consequential global accord ever attempted.
“In the words of Nelson Mandela, it always seems impossible until it is done,” said South Africa’s negotiator, Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, after the draft was adopted to loud applause.
Hopes are pinned on the Paris accord achieving a turning point in international efforts to haul back the trajectory of global industrial emissions and contain warming to levels that won’t trigger the environmental catastrophe scientists warn is looming under current scenarios.
The Guardian reports the whiff of cautious optimism from both negotiators and non-government observers, including Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace, who recalled that Paris had so far progressed far beyond the disastrous 2009 Copenhagen talks. “At this point in Copenhagen we were dealing with a 300-page text and a pervasive sense of despair. In Paris we’re down to a slim 21 pages and the atmosphere remains constructive. But that doesn’t guarantee a decent deal.
Right now the oil-producing nations and the fossil fuel industry will be plotting how to crash these talks when ministers arrive next week.
And there is plenty of scope for mischief, obfuscation, national self-interest, any one of which might bring it all undone. There are huge obstacles and disagreements looming. One way or other they mostly spin on questions of money, and on the obligations of wealthy nations and the expectations of poorer ones.
Accountability and answerability down the track also loom as critical stumbling blocks. China’s chief negotiator Su Wei told reporters Saturday that “all the provisions, starting from the preamble to the final clauses, would be legally binding’’. But the US can’t sign on to a deal making countries’ pledges to limit greenhouse gas emissions binding without having to send it back to the Republican-controlled Congress, where it would be sunk.
On the local front, The Age yesterday reported that Australia would support the inclusion of a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees – the level demanded by low-lying countries most at risk from climate change, including our Pacific neighbours – in return for favourable carbon accounting rules.
Under the deal Australia is obliged to exercise some muscle to get the 1.5 degrees limit recognised in the text of the final accord, not just the preamble.
4 Dec 2015
Shooting the paris breeze
For your weekend podcasting pleasure, and some engaged debate by local up-and-coming journalists on developments in Paris, checkout Pidgin Politics, put together by students and graduates from the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism.
COP21: THE STATE OF PLAY
They’ll be getting stuck into their Friday morning petit dejeuner just about now in Paris. The hard core and harried might be tempted to go native, and toke on their electric gauloises. There is much to be done if the summit players are to have something meaty and meaningful to work with over the weekend.
So how are things looking?
Storify is feeling bleak. (Rude words - be warned.)
“Currently the talks are a mess. There are too many things to keep track of, and many observers fear that an agreement will be reached not out of consensus but out of sheer exhaustion.
“Loss and damage, as the issue is known in wonk-speak, must be properly addressed - this is a unifying feature of developing countries and civil society demands ... and without a mechanism to deal with displacement caused from climate change, we’re a bit daffy ducked.”
Pacific islanders are even bleaker.
- Damien Ryan, International Head of Policy for The Climate Group, says “negotiators have not moved as far as many observers would have hoped. This is not unexpected for the first week of a COP. But given what is at stake, concerns about whether negotiators can deliver something useful for ministers by Saturday are understandable.” BUT ... he’s not abandoned. hope: “there is still good reason to believe that an ambitious deal remains on the table”.
- In news just in, the Fairfax team are reporting that the money talk is getting ugly?
- While appeals to act for history, for humanity, for justice, for equity are the vernacular, veteran campaigner and former US Vice President Al Gore arrived in town with a pitch to hip pockets and the big end of town: Invest in renewables or risk stranded assets. Investors should move their assets from fossil fuels to renewable energy not just for social or moral reasons, but for their own financial health.
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, “tried to temper expectations ... He urged negotiators not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” the New York Times reported. “There is no perfect agreement. But our goal is clear: an agreement that truly addresses climate change, and puts the world on track for long-term prosperity, stability and peace. That is what the days ahead in Paris can and must deliver.”
I Love a sunburnt country. also quite partial to a proxy climate record
Dorothea Mackellar gave us the poem, and now science gives us the 500-year epic narrative of Australia’s droughts and flooding rains. While the latter may lack a certain lyrical intensity, for those of us intrigued by the way the earth records its secret history, it’s a beautiful bit of storytelling.
In an article published in The Conversation today, the University of Melbourne’s Professor Patrick Baker with his University of NSW colleagues Chris Turney and Jonathan Palmer discuss their recently published paper (Environmental Research Letters) tracking drought variability back to 1500.
To extend the drought record beyond the data collected since 1900, they used 177 tree ring and coral records from Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia to reconstruct summer (spanning December to February) drought conditions in New Zealand and most of Australia.
“Trees and corals are sensitive to their environments. For example, trees grow less in dry years and more in wet years. We carefully examined, dated, and measured each growth ring in thousands of trees and then compared the patterns of growth to an index of drought variability, the Palmer Drought Severity Index.”
Proxy records such as this are critical in helping scientists compare modern climate shifts with those through deep history, and to untangle human-related climate change from the long story of natural variability.
What we found was a remarkably rich and complex history of wet and dry conditions, particularly across eastern Australia.
“The data reveal that despite the severity of the Millennium Drought, the five worst single years of drought happened before 1900. But 2011 was the wettest year in our 513-year record.”
Stormy weather, or an indian summer?
Veteran UK freelance climate author and journalist Fred Pearce is in Paris for Yale Environment 360. His provocative piece today explores the question of whether India is the main stumbling block to a meaningful deal emerging.
He opens with the observation that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rushed from the podium at the summit opening to an emergency unfolding at home in Chennai, where 250 people have died in the worst floods in a century. “Some of Modi’s compatriots here in Paris believe he would have been staying around to up his country’s contribution to the battle against climate change — and prevent future climate disasters for India’s 1.2 billion inhabitants,” Mr Pearce reports.
“By some measures India has offered a lot to the talks. Its national pledge on future emissions includes perhaps the most ambitious renewable energy program in the world ... But many here nonetheless see India as the biggest single threat to curbing CO2 emissions in the next few decades. The problem is coal.
The speed of India’s industrialisation is so fast that, even with a huge surge in solar energy, the country still plans the world’s fastest rate of construction of coal-fired power stations.
Elsewhere here on Pursuit you can find a more optimistic analysis by experts from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, who argue that there’s a sweet spot emerging in the agendas of India and the wider world, and within it potential for India to embark on a very different emissions trajectory.
And another eminent climate science writer and meteorologist, Eric Holthaus, has also written a long piece for Slate arguing that India hold’s the planet’s future in its hands - and that that’s good news.
PARIS OR BUST: DAY 4
This morning one of Australia’s foremost climate scientists and forthright climate commentators, the University of Melbourne’s Professor David Karoly, invites us in a column in The Age to think about risk.
We manage risk every day. When we choose to take the stairs and not the lift. When we buckle our kids into their safety belts. When we make payments on our insurance policies.
What chances do you want our government to take that will expose you and your family, or other people around the world, to dangerous climate change?
Our climate is not safe, Professor Karoly writes. Emissions of greenhouse gases have pumped carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to levels the planet hasn’t experienced in over 800,000 years, and in this era it is humanity that has driven the rise. “To limit global warming to less than 2 degrees, emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities must be reduced immediately and must fall to zero as soon as possible.”
The task in Paris is to determine what each country should do to tackle this global emergency. Australians are the highest emitters in any developed country. The cuts proposed by our government are not enough, Professor Karoly argues. The land of the fair go is not doing its fair share.
3 Dec 2015
And as Day 4 cranks up in Paris ...
We’re closing down for the evening in Melbourne with this neat wrap of the story-so-far from the Fairfax crew of Tom Arup and Peter Hannam in Paris.
Highlights include a diplomatic close-call courtesy of Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt; why India reckons There Is Nothing Like A Dane; and an introduction to the carbon-sucking hero we’ve been waiting for. Meet Capman.
Fresh perspective on the shifting tides of humanity
Human history shows that climate shifts inevitably drive population shifts as people seek out safer, more productive ground for their families.
In a future of wilder climate extremes, many more people are expected to be on the march. Hundreds of millions, maybe a billion, will become climate change migrants in the decades to come, according to various scenarios around how environmental and geopolitical conditions will evolve. Drought, floods and food shortages are already being blamed as powerful imperatives in the international migration crisis playing out right now.
Cathy Alexander, Research Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, joined a packed forum discussing climate migration at the Paris summit on Tuesday evening. She reports in an article published today on the MSSI Paris Blog that the panel of seven European academics agreed that climate-related migration is happening and will increase, whether in response to emergencies like floods, or slower-burn shifts eroding sustaining agriculture and other livelihoods.
But they urged a radical shake-up in the narrative around these movements, which were much more complex than often recognised. “Rather than treating climate refugees as a threat, as something to be feared and perhaps excluded,” the panellists urged a fresh mindset, she writes.
Two of them drew on their research in our own highly vulnerable Pacific neighbourhood. Dr Angela Oels from Sweden’s Lund University cited findings that most people don’t want to relocate. Dr Koko Warner from the United Nations University countered by saying that her research in three Pacific nations - Vanuatu, Kiribati and Nauru - found 40-70% of residents thought that like it or not, migration was on the cards because of climate change.
“Dr Warner pointed out that only about a quarter of people could actually afford to migrate, even if they wanted to. Dr Oels’ research also found that many people are trapped by a lack of resources and could not migrate,” Ms Alexander writes on the MSSI blog.
The experts suggested climate refugees be seen as rational people adapting to climate change, not as victims.
a few choice words from the “granddaddy of greenhouse science”
The American summer of 1988 was a scorcher, notching up the highest temperatures then on record. In the same year NASA scientist James E. Hansen testified to a US Congressional hearing ‘with 99% confidence” that a long-term warming trend was under way, and that he strongly suspected that the human-induced greenhouse effect was to blame.
The consequences would be felt within 50 years, he predicted back then, outlining a future with more frequent storms and floods as well as heat waves like the one then playing out across the US. It was, he told reporters, time to “stop waffling, and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here”.
Last night in Paris Dr Hansen, 74, now retired and an outspoken and occasionally handcuffed activist, spoke at a side event at the summit. The man variously described as “the granddaddy of greenhouse science” and “the Paul Revere of the climate change movement” minced no words in his judgement on how the deal being negotiated was shaping up.
This is half-assed and it’s half-baked.
He said the deal would allow emissions to continue to increase - until 2030, in the case of China - when what was needed is an immediate and rapid reduction, according to a New York Times report today.
“Our parents did not know that they were causing a problem for future generations by burning fossil fuels,” Dr. Hansen said. “But we can only pretend we do not know.”
who pays the price for prosperity?
Underneath all the hyperbole, this is the question which has stymied so many rounds of climate talks over so many years.
It’s front and centre in Paris again. Can COP21 negotiators strike a deal which meets expectations about climate justice and recognises the historical responsibility of advanced nations that - in the words of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi - “powered their way to prosperity on fossil fuel”? How do we lock in mechanisms powerful enough to haul back emissions quickly - as science says is imperative to avoid catastrophic change - while protecting the welfare and aspirations of the planet’s most vulnerable?
Professor John Wiseman, Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, is part of the institute’s team in Paris. He attended a high-level developing economy panel on the opening day of the summit which allowed some insight into the attitudes of Chinese and Indian negotiators - pivotal players in the talks - on these make-or-break issues.
In his report for the MSSI Paris Blog Professor Wiseman writes that “Sue Wei, head of the Chinese delegation, began by reaffirming his government’s view that while climate change is ‘a profound and imminent threat to humanity’, we should also remember that “the root cause of this threat is the historical accumulation of greenhouse gases by developed economies”.
Ravi Prasad, head of the Indian delegation, echoed the line. While he was “very optimistic about the achievement of a just, equitable, durable climate deal”, it must also be full consistent with the sticking-point principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibility” - that is, that those who have contributed the most to the climate emergency should do the heavy lifting to fix it.
As Professor Wiseman concludes:
These strong reaffirmations of the need for developed economies to fully recognise their responsibilities ... have very clear and challenging implications for prosperous, high-emission economies such as Australia.
Waving, not drowning
In Paris overnight Environment Minister Greg Hunt announced a project to research the potential for “blue carbon” to reduce emissions and help tackle climate change. The research will be led by the National Centre for Coasts and Climate, based at the University of Melbourne.
So what is “blue carbon”? It’s the carbon stored in the underwater forests of the oceans and on coastlines. We’re talking sea grass primarily, together with things like mangroves and salt bush.
Why does it matter? Because as explained in this article today by Fairfax environment editor Peter Hannam, one hectare of healthy sea grass has the capacity of holding 15 times the carbon of one hectare of Amazonian rainforest. Which makes for a powerfully thirsty carbon “sink”.
Blue carbon could play a significant role in reducing emissions, while also supporting biodiversity conservation, fisheries habitat protection, and disaster risk reduction, Mr Hunt said. “We now need to find out how much blue carbon can be stored by these ecosystems and how this can contribute to emissions reductions.”
Which is where the University of Melbourne research comes in. Lead by marine biologist Professor Stephen Swearer, it aims to explore how coastal management activities impact on carbon emissions and to identify priority areas for restoration and conservation.
The study will measure the existing carbon store, estimated now at about 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon, with the potential of using money from the $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund to extend the resource “if accounting issues are resolved”, Mr Hunt said.
Paris or bust: day 3
As commentators contemplate the formidable landscape of the grunt phase of the talks, the leaders having jetted home, hope and hype is tempered by anxiety about just how much needs to be done.
Anthony Hobley, chief of the Carbon Tracker initiative, shared an insightful roundup with Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast from the back of a Paris taxi. “What everyone is talking about is a text emerging on Friday (to review over the weekend) ... that will be critical.” The trifecta of obstacles are all too familiar: a ratchet mechanism (whether, and when, progress on targets is assessed); money (“in many ways it is the last opportunity for a number of countries to maximise support” for adaptation and mitigation); and whether the final deal will be legally binding or not.
Some other reporting highlights:
John Cassidy serves up a lovely three-course meal of a read for the New Yorker, characterising the Paris talks as “a huge potluck dinner, in which each country brings what it can” to the table. He’s not optimistic that even their best efforts will ultimately be satisfying. “Whatever happens in Paris, it is generally agreed that over-all emissions will still be rising in the period leading up to 2030, which means that, if the pessimists are right about the trigger point, it could be too late to prevent a drastic shift in the earth’s climate.”
Lenore Taylor, in Paris for the Guardian Australia, reports on a side event at Sorbonne University where innovator and energy entrepreneur Elon Musk had some ideas about how to put down the accelerator and avoid the worst. He’s championing what Australia had and dumped - a carbon tax - as a mechanism to supercharge the shift to renewables. “If countries agree to a carbon tax and it’s real and it’s not super watered down and weak we could see a transition [to clean energy] that has a 15- to 20-year timeframe as opposed to a 40- or 50-year timeframe ... (Developing countries) could leapfrog the fossil fuel situation with powerlines, you could have remote villages with solar panels and a battery pack”.
Want to keep track of which countries are pledging what cuts to their greenhouse emissions? This CarbonBrief site is a great resource for keeping tabs on the all-important INDCs (“intended nationally determined contributions”) put forward by each nation.
After which, you deserve a treat. Save this for your lunch break.
2 Dec 2015
Close to home: PNG endures the weather of the future today
In Paris yesterday Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill told other leaders at the UN climate summit that communities in the Pacific were already living and dying in the harsh realities of changing climate.
“Lives are being lost to extreme drought and frost, and the most devastating tropical storms in recorded history strike each year. This ongoing disaster must be stopped, and support be given to the victims of climate change so they can rebuild their lives. We, in this room, have the power to do so,” Mr O’Neill said.
At home a monster El Nino is playing out, with drought and disease taking a shocking toll on communities in some of the most remote and rugged parts of his nation. It’s precisely the kind of emergency the World Food Program - right now being lobbied to deliver urgent relief to PNG - warns is pushing the humanitarian system beyond its limits, financially and operationally.
“Weather disasters require responses in more places and for longer periods,” the WFP director, Ertharin Cousin, told The Guardian’s John Vidal. “The global climate negotiations are critical for a world without hunger.
The current El Nino and complex droughts, storms and floods the world is experiencing today provide a window into what our future could look like if a meaningful climate agreement is not reached.
And I shall declare here not so much a conflict of interest as an intersection of concerns.
When opportunity allows, your blogger travels and writes regularly around PNG. As it happens I have a report published today in The Guardian quoting expert networks raising the alarm on the drought and disease emergency now taking shape. In the last big El Nino, in 1997-98, hundreds died in PNG, the toll estimated at up to 7% of populations in some rural pockets.
Is the future too much to trust to our politicians?
This is the question being contemplated by Sir Simon Hughes - former UK Liberal Democrat, Justice and Civil Liberties Minister, Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary and soon-to-be featured speaker at the Melbourne School of Government’s “Democracy in Transition” conference.
Sir Simon was among the bruised ranks who limped out of the broken COP15 Copenhagen 2009 talks wondering “whether democratic structures can reach agreements at all and, more importantly, reach worthwhile agreements”.
In an article co-published today by Pursuit and www.democracyrenewal.edu.au, he reflects on some inglorious moments in the history of nations bumping up against each other in their efforts to secure their energy and resources needs. But today, he argues, there are other players, and they are growing more influential.
The people’s voices outside government have grown louder and their campaigns more effective and inside and outside the parliaments of the world.
“The good news is that in a more interconnected world where facts, figures and learning are more commonly shared and understanding grows about those geographically further away, evidence-based argument is more able to be made and prejudiced judgements more able to be challenged.
“The science in the minds and the briefing papers of those going to Paris will have a much greater common basis even than the science of the Berlin gathering 20 years ago.”
Crunching the numbers on a 2C (or less) warmer future
The Paris COP21 extravaganza includes a crowded agenda of official side events, tackling everything from the finer points of emissions trading to civil society discussions around supporting communities in a warmer, more unpredictable, more dangerous future. (You can find the full official program here.)
On the program last night was a seminar titled “Keeping Warming Below 2C”, co-hosted by the Australian-German Climate & Energy College, where the headline act was the University of Melbourne’s Associate Professor Malte Meinshausen.
The session assembled leading emissions number crunchers - battle-scarred veterans who have spent years in the trenches of international negotiations - exploring the finer points of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (or INDCs, and if you’ve not yet made their acquaintance, there’s a nice explanation from The Huffington Post about what they are and why we will all be talking about them here.) For now, let’s shorthand them as the core currency of the all-important emissions targets argy-bargy. Last night’s session walked through the geography of individual INDCs, digging down into what the countries’ post-2020 targets should be if the collective goal is to keep warming to below 2C.
To learn more, click on the link provided on the tweet below, where you can access the slides presented by Professor Meinshausen and the other speakers.
For climate pow-wow newcomers stumbling in here curious to know what all this Paris palaver is about, what COP21 is, why it matters, (if it matters?) and how it will change your world, be not afraid.
As the talks cranked up this week, major news agencies around the world rolled out their dummies’ guides to help punters navigate their way through the mire. After so many years in which climate science communicators and journalists have found themselves in the gun for not cutting through the jargon, many are deploying monumental resources to make the issues engaging and accessible.
Our own Cathy Alexander, Research Fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) and part of the University of Melbourne team now in position in Paris, has also weighed in with this plain-spoken explanation of the summit.
Below find links to some of our other go-to Paris guides:
- The BBC’s Environment Reporter Matt McGrath rolls out a ripper Beginner’s Guide to COP21, including an impressively economical “What Is Climate Change?” in six graphics.
- For the New York Times, Justin Gillis sets the scene by acknowledging readers’ pain: “The issue is overwhelming. The science is complicated. Predictions about the fate of the planet carry endless caveats and asterisks. We get it.” And so he rolls out “Short Answers To Hard Questions”. If you’re still perplexed, there’s a link inviting readers to submit their own questions.
- Mashable’s “12 Days That Will Decide Earth’s Future” includes a neat formguide to some of the nations and individuals to watch.
PARIS OR BUST: DAY 2
Morning Earthlings. A quick round-up of some of the best reading around how events in Paris are unfolding.
The Guardian’s Environment Editor John Vidal confesses to something of a sinking feeling about the monumental task ahead after two days talking to key lobbyists for the most vulnerable countries. With the leaders having delivered their big pitches and flown out, and the negotiators and politicians getting down to the drag-out business of brokering a deal, “there are mountains to climb over, cuts, long term goals, finance, equity” - and that perpetual obstacle of what the wealthy world owes the developing world for all those historical emissions. Vidal is predicting a “monster collission” but is betting on a happy, albeit compromised, ending. “It will be painful, but it’s the only chance of success”.
The Atlantic reports on the US realpolitik awaiting President Barack Obama as he returned home from Paris. Only hours after delivering his speech urging international resolve to haul back climate change, declaring that it “could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other” issue, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to block efforts on his home turf to curb greenhouse emissions.
Before he left Paris President Obama met Pacific island leaders, who are pleading for stronger curbs on emissions to save their countries from rising sea-levels. (And for a confronting, intimate glimpse of the stakes for our Pacific neighbours, ICYMI, check out this powerful interactive report by The Age’s Adam Morton and Penny Stephens.) Kiribati Prime Minister Anote Tong emerged from the meeting in Paris sounding winded but determined. “We haven’t come to any agreement yet ... I think it is the game of negotiating.
But for us, it’s not a game. It’s a matter of survival.
And also worth a read are the thoughts of influential US blogger Joe Romm of Think Progress on the billionaire-led push for a “Breakthrough Energy Coalition”, one of the headline moments of the past 24 hours in Paris.
1 Dec 2015
seeing through the smog to the new india
India, which after the US and China ranks as the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter, will have a defining influence on whatever global deal transpires in Paris.
Quite how the Asian powerhouse will play its hand is a matter of nail-biting interest. It’s shaping up as a champion of the energy needs of the developing world. Today’s New York Times features a lengthy analysis under the headline that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “could make or break Obama’s climate legacy”.
Meanwhile Mr Modi held a news conference alongside French president Francois Hollande to launch a global initiative for the promotion of solar power – an alliance of over 120 countries pledging to invest in solar for the developing world.
Recently published figures showed India’s emissions jumped by 7.8% in 2014, making it the largest contributor to global emissions growth in that year. But this was the same year in which Mr Modi campaigned and won leadership with a declaration that “the time has arrived for a saffron revolution, and the colour of energy is saffron”.
An analysis by the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute’s Dr Ben Parr and Professor Don Henry, published by Pursuit, catalogues the dramatic shifts set to underwrite the potential for a very different emissions trajectory.
“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is undergoing a rapid transition towards a low-pollution and climate-resilient future,” the pair argue. The program ushers the prospects of powerful social, environmental and economic benefits to India. The transition is playing out across the nation’s cities and agricultural, transport and electricity sectors, they explain.
The good news is that Modi’s vision of a “modern” India is largely compatible with the UNFCCC’s “action on climate change” narrative.
It’s a rare moment, they argue, in which national and international identities and interests, significantly align.
Science as a contact sport
“You’re the one who wrote the alarmist report,” a senior Australian politician once chided Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a University of Queensland marine scientist with a formidable international reputation in his field. “No,” he corrected. “I’m the one who wrote the alarming report.”
In the aftermath of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, scientists around the world became increasingly vocal about the whacks they were enduring, both personal and professional, as a consequence of speaking up about the causes and catastrophic consequences of climate change. These were coming thick and fast in both the political and public spheres of hard-core denial.
In 2010, 255 members of the US National Academy of Science published a letter in the journal Science highlighting “the escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular”, attacks which were “typically driven by special interests or dogma, not be an honest effort to provide an alternative theory”.
On ABC TV’s Lateline program last night, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg and the University of Melbourne’s Professor David Karoly (right) - two of Australia’s most quoted, credentialed and consistently visible climate experts - recalled some of the bruises of engaging in science as a contact sport (as it was memorably characterised by the late Professor Stephen Schneider of Stanford University). We’re not talking name calling. Rather flaming vitriol and death threats, as The Guardian has reported in the Australian context. There was a sense in their reflections last night that the headwinds of boofhead denial (and for your edification you can find some choice examples here) have lost their power if not their hyperbole.
“There were orchestrated attempts funded by lobby groups that wanted to destroy the scientific credibility of myself and others,” Professor Karoly told the program. But the science and the manifestation of extreme conditions in ways no-one wants but the experts have long predicted are underwriting a shift in the tone of debate.
Australian political leaders are now more open to the science message.
Professor Karoly, of the School of Earth Sciences, continues to loudly advocate the science, and is cautiously optimistic about the prevailing political climate. At some stage, he predicts, “human activity will be such that the climate system will stabilise and we will start to have reductions in global average temperatures determined by a reduction in emissions”.
FROM BUSH VETerinarian TO CLIMATE WARS VETERAN
University of Melbourne Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty started his scientific life as a vet in rural Queensland back in the 1950s. He credits his training and experience looking after cows and sheep in the bush for his passionate engagement on climate science today.
“It was the first time I heard the word ecology. We learned the disciplines of medicine, soil science, toxic plants and agronomy.” Experience in this raw, hands-on classroom provided a boot camp education in the interconnectedness of earth and water and weather systems.
Despite his illustrious diversion into medicine, Professor Doherty - today part of his namestake Peter Doherty Institute for Immunity and Infection - remained plugged into environmental science. By the early 1990s he was growing increasingly concerned, and distressed, about issues of environmental degradation and climate change. “Reading into the issues, you realise, we don’t really understand the risks.
“I follow it as closely as I can from the scientific literature, not the propaganda. And basically I got offended by the sheer dishonesty and arrogance and bully-boy tactics of the denialists.”
His response in recent years has been to launch himself into social media as a defender of science, engaging in some close combat in the twittersphere as @ProfPCDoherty.
Today in Pursuit, Professor Doherty discusses the life and death stakes of the Paris COP21 talks, from mosquito-borne disease to the fallout of political instability as nations compete for vital resources.
Make no mistake. Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to human health.
Copenhagen V paris: from farce to a future?
Let’s recall 2009 and all that - the last major round of UN climate talks. And break the ice, so to speak.
As a journalist, author and editor I’ve been writing about climate science over the past decade. Just before Christmas 2009, on assignment for The Age, I flew down to Antarctica with a team of Australian scientists embarking on field work at the absolute front line of the climate story. For all the excitement of the moment – venturing deep into the extreme latitudes, touching down an ice runway off the map of the habitable world – we were all feeling a little bleak.
The headline in The Age that day declared “Copenhagen Cop-Out”. “The Copenhagen climate change conference last night appeared to have ended in chaos,” the report opened. “A handful of developing nations rejected a last-minute accord stitched up in a backroom between the world’s biggest emitters and announced unilaterally by US President Barack Obama.”
Years of negotiations on a new international climate treaty had vanished in so much hot air. The future felt adrift. As veteran Guardian environment correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg reflected last week, the much-hyped “Hopenhagen” COP15 talks “lay buried under two weeks of mistrust, rancour, sleep deprivation and unspeakable catering …. It is hard even now to fully grasp the degree of dysfunction that took hold of the conference.”
Fast forward six years. And here we are in Paris, where representatives of 195 countries try again to reach a new global deal on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2020. It’s been characterised by the more optimistic players as the “anti-Copenhagen”, and whether that aspiration will be realised is the core concern of the next 11 days.
Though they may counsel after enduring so many groundhog days of negotiations that they should know better, many experts, commentators and engaged observers (and I’ll park myself in that last camp) are daring to be optimistic about Paris, without counting on it providing a magic fix. Expectations are much lower this time around.
Professor Peter Christoff, part of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute team of Paris delegates, observed as the meeting got into gear that the long shadow of Copenhagen “still falls across the Paris meeting”, arguing that it might galvanise some energy and discipline “to finish the business of that earlier conference.
In his scene-setter for The Conversation and the MSSI Paris Blog, Professor Christoff explains how “the outcome rescued from Copenhagen was an approach that is voluntarily cooperative, defined by a “bottom-up” approach in which countries determine their own targets, submitted to the conference but no longer dependent on an international legally binding agreement.
“Critically, this approach has breached the previously impermeable divide between developed and developing countries, allowing major emitters in both camps to engage in ways that reflect their own capabilities and circumstances.
So can it still all go wrong? There are still pitfalls.
Rather than outright failure, Christoff cautions, “we face the problem of dangerously lukewarm success. Being the result of an uncoordinated, unnegotiated effort, the aggregate outcome of these current INDCs – if they are in fact achieved - will still lead to global warming of at least 2.7℃ by 2100”.
Paris or bust: the view from melbourne
Welcome to Paris or Bust. I’m Jo Chandler, and I’ll be your blogger over the next two weeks as we take a Melbourne perspective on the crucial United Nations COP21 climate change talks now underway in earnest.
It’s a seismic political moment, the planet’s “breaking point”, and civilisation’s “turning point”, in the language of French President Francois Hollande.
On this blog we will be tracking the talks, drawing on the insights and observations of the University of Melbourne’s expert team now on the ground in Paris (and we’ll introduce them all to you shortly). We’ll also be delving deep into our various faculties and institutes and laboratories to provide analysis, explanation and ideas, and to explore dimensions on the climate story from agriculture to zoology and all things in between.
We’ll guide you each day through the key moments of the COP21 talks, signposting the must-reads, the must-sees, the must-hears. And when it all gets too much, we’ll indulge in the odd intriguing, inspiring and kooky diversion along the way.