By Stephen Murgatroyd
Article originally published by the Roughneck Magazine in their 2015 November issue. Order the Roughneck magazine here: https://www.northernstar.ab.ca/the-roughneck
In 1996, the European Council of Environment Ministers determined, simply as a basis for political action, that a rise of average surface temperatures above 2C would be more than the world could cope with. Thus, the 2C target was born.
It was based on scientific advice from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and analysis of climate models from James Hansen at NASA.
Richard Betts, a UK Meteorological Office scientist., compares the 2C limit to a speed limit.
“The level of danger at any particular speed depends on many factors… It would be too complicated and unworkable to set individual speed limits for individual circumstances taking into account all these factors, so clear and simple general speed limits are set using judgment and experience to try to get an overall balance between advantages and disadvantages of higher speeds for the community of road users as a whole.”
This December, at the Paris Climate Change Summit (COP21), the nations of the world will share their commitments to CO2 reductions which they have been led to believe will help keep increases in global surface temperature under the 2C target. However, an analysis of the commitments made to date suggests that this is unlikely to be successful.
Current commitments fall short of what is needed for CO2 reduction by 10 gigatons, according to EuroActiv France (a lobby organization) and the lead French negotiator for COP21. All are hoping that negotiations between now and December will bridge this 10 gigaton gap.
The analysis of what is needed relies on a number of climate models which are already know to be problematic. They take insufficient account of the impact of the sun and the oceans on climate change and differ significantly in their forecast of future climate conditions.
But Paris is not just about CO2 reductions. It is also about money.
India, for example, has said that it will not adhere to CO2 unless adaptation funds are made available. Many small states and developing nations say the same. The ask is for access to $100 billion a year from 2020, with the fund building up to that figure from now onwards.
On top of the contributions by states, largely via the Green Climate Fund, investment projects by other funds and private companies may also be taken into account to help reach this target. Many developing economies are looking for cash to enable them to avoid fossil fuel-based energy systems. Right now, just $10 billion sits the Green Climate Fund and no one is clear where the $100 billion a year will come from.
Some groups that will attend Paris want to move quickly to renewables. Others are looking for way of transitioning more gradually to a post-fossil fuel economy. Few agree on means, though most agree that CO2 is the focal point for climate change management, despite observed evidence which shows that there has been a pause in the rate of global warming. That is, even though CO2 has increased significantly over the last 18+ years, global surface temperature has not risen anywhere near the rate that the climate models predicted.
Paris, like the previous 20 Conferences of the Parties, will be interesting. The chances of success on a binding climate treaty are slim, especially since the preliminary meeting in Bonn this year scrambled a comprise document together to provide the basis for the Paris talks. Jan Kowalzig, climate change policy adviser at Oxfam, who attended the Bonn talks, said: “If the negotiators keep up that slow pace, the ministers at the UN summit will get … an extremely weak new treaty that will not save the world from climate change."
The stumbling blocks – as always – are cash and CO2 cuts.
Many are pinning great hopes on the Paris talks. History tells us, however, not to get our hopes up. We have been here before. What is likely to happen is that some face saving document will crafted in very late night sessions which few will then feel a binding commitment to.
It would be better to stop seeking global agreements, see climate as a regional not international issue and develop regional and local strategies to adapt to the changing climate. Global governance is gridlocked and broken as far as this issue (and several others) is concerned. The real action is local and regional.