Rhein on Energy and Climate

COP 20, the 20th annual climate conference, has started in Lima in a mood of increasing realism. Those who still believe in containing global warming within two degrees Celsius target are becoming rarer. The issue becomes more and more if Humanity will get away with acceptable conditions of survival or succumb to famine, non-ending natural disasters, tens or even hundreds(?) of millions of climate refugees and conflicts for water and fertile land.

The 20-year history of “combating” climate change has been a succession of “too little, too late”, starting with the Kyoto Protocol that turned into a failure because of its late entry into force and the non-participation of the biggest emitter countries.

For the last 20 years, we have continued to live as if climate change did not exist. The political elites in major emitter countries like Australia, Russia or, until most recently, even USA have continued to simply ignore it, whatever the rising numbers of natural catastrophes across the planet.

No political leader has dared to impose hardship on potential voters, say gasoline prices of €3/litre or electricity rates of €0.15/kWh. Our life has remained as comfortable as ever, with no restrictions on heating, cooling and lightening our homes and using planes or cars as before the climate challenge.

The global “climate policy elite” seems satisfied with the few “positive” developments in 2014, from the bilateral China-USA“deal” with the Chinese promise to peak its emissions latest until 2030 and generate 20 per cent of its energy from non-fossil sources and the US commitment to lower emissions by close to 30 per cent until 2025.

It puts a lot of faith in the bottom-up/top-down approach for the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015, under which each of the 190-odd participant countries is expected to present a strategic road-map for reducing green house gas emissions.

Judging by the response given by China to start reducing emissions latest by 2030 and the more than wary reactions from India,which will become the biggest emitter country in a few decades the outcome from Paris will not have a a positive impact on the global climate in the first half of the21st century. After all, it will have taken the EU from 1990 to 2030 to reduce its emissions by 40 per cent and, if everything works to schedule, 60 years to reduce them by 80 per cent until 2050. And the rest of the world is far behind the EU in terms of preparedness.

Climate scientists have not stopped warning policy makers about the need to go fast. But their calls have gone unnoticed because policy makers have constantly been engaged in more pressing day-to-day issues and have not dared to confront their citizens with painful measures to be taken.

Let us therefore hope that the international community will finally get serious and step up its joint efforts, focusing on mitigation and considering adaptation as the secondary issue. Indeed, if humanity fails to mitigate emissions dramatically financing adaptation will no longer help. We must prevent the natural glaciers storage of the Himalayas from melting instead of financing artificial dams for storing water.

On December 15th, at the end of the Lima Conference, which so far has not been very successful in solving the well-known technical details, we should be better able to assess the chances of success of the crucial meeting in Paris at the end of 2015.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 6/12/2014

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