April 14, 2014
In the fall of 2015 the international community is set to adopt a comprehensive action plan to combat climate change. Paris having been chosen as the meeting place the French government is showing more interest in climate issues and trying to mobilise the EU on a rapid agreement of its 2030 climate objectives.
The UN preparatory machinery keeps running full steam to obtain a successful outcome.
This goes above all for the scientific aspects.
In the last seven years, Humanity has accumulated a huge amount of scientific data on the climate change that has taken place during the 20th century and is likely to occur during the 21st century. Never have human beings known so much about the climate. It is therefore no longer possible for anyone to deny climate change taking place and being mostly man-made.
There is also a consensus on its main causes: C02 and methane emissions from burning fossil energies for heating, cooling, transport, industrial processes and massive deforestation are the principal villains.
If Humanity were able to contain these major causal factors within the next five decades it would still have a chance of mitigating climate change.
Theoretically this is possible.
Humanity can do without burning as much fossil energy as it does. This goes in particular for the wealthy West and China.
Wind, solar, biomass and waves can substitute fossil energy, provided storage facilities and long-distance grid interconnections are in place.
As long as they are still more expensive than coal and gas temporary subsidy regimes should offer incentives.
But why should the 2015 “big bang” in Paris be any different from the 20 preceding “Conferences of the Parties” and lay out a convincing path for Humanity to throw off the burden of climate change that will weigh so heavily on the shoulders of the coming generations?
The 195 countries that will attend the COP 21 remain deeply divided on the nature of the commitments and the burden sharing they will have to accept for a successful outcome. So far they are likely to agree only on the necessity to contain global warming within the critical margin of two centigrade; but that would be nothing new and rather meaningless without firm and verifiable commitments as to the actions to be taken.
But the international community is less than ever concerned about climate change. According to the last assessments the impact of climate change on the global economy is likely to be much lower than projected only six years ago by the Stern Report. And how many politicians care already about the impacts on biodiversity, natural catastrophes or even a steep increase in the numbers of “climate refugees”!
It is therefore not surprising to see the emphasis shifting from mitigation to adaptation. Humanity seems to prefer the costs for adaptation rather than invest in mitigation efforts, even if that will be risky because of the irreversible effects of climate change.
It is fully in line with this trend that:
- big polluter countries like Japan, Australia, Canada or Russia are anything but keen combating climate change;
- all major fossil energy producing countries refuse phasing out their massive oil and gas subsidies;
- EU climate policy suffers from the global indifference. The EU rightly underlines that its efforts matter less and less as its share of global emissions is approaching 10 per cent. Contrary to the wishes of the UN Secretary General, it is not likely to play the role of a powerful locomotive in Paris, however regrettable this may be.
China and USA, the two emission giants, accounting for about half of global emissions, might be a glimpse of light in the gloomy picture.
But China will take another 20 years or so before its emissions might start falling; and the US objective of reducing its emissions by 17 per cent until 2017 compared to 2005 will not be a glorious achievement, considering its extremely high per capita emissions of 14 tons and the EU scheduled reductions and by at least 40 per cent until 2030 over 1990.
In conclusion, it looks presently unlikely that the COP 21 in Paris will turn out to be a thrilling success.
It would be a great progress if:
- the 20 major emitter countries responsible for about 75 per cent of global emissions committed themselves to formulate 20-year strategies within a UN framework and to submit annual performance reports;
- all rich countries, including the oil/gas exporters, offered the World Bank the financial means – say $ 100 billion per year – to help finance a big programmes for wind, hydro and solar energy;
- the tropical forest countries were to curb illegal wood cutting and receive appropriate compensation for these efforts.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 11/4/2014Author : Eberhard Rhein