Monday, October 12, 2015

Today's Bad News

Following the increasing tempo of climate policy news in advance of the Paris conference can be a rough ride. Each day new experts pronounce in public forums quite different from the relative obscurity in which they have been working all these years. And all their pronouncements are then spun according to the bias or humor of the media outlet that carries them. It can be bewildering, and also rather an emotional crossfire depending on which news comes to one's attention. Here then is a somewhat random trio of stories I came upon this morning:

  • First, another overall assessment of the state of national proposals (INDCs) submitted to the UNFCCC in advance of the conference. There is supposed to be an official tally that adds up the impacts of these promised policy initiatives--that tally should come from next week's meeting in Rabat, Morocco--but many observers are doing their own calculations. Today's assessment, reported by the BBC, comes from the think tank Climate Analytics. Their calculus suggests that if all existing promises are kept, the global temperature rise will amount to 2.7 degrees C--well above the danger threshold many have postulated. This is good news in relation to the 3 and 4 degree rise many feel the planet is heading for without intervention, but still an unacceptably dangerous course.
  • Meanwhile a group of climate policy academics, publishing jointly in Nature, are suggesting that the 195-nation individualized ('differentiated') method for determining climate policy interventions is itself fatally flawed. They cite research that shows that such approaches--going all the way back to Kyoto in 1997--generally produce a beggar-thy-neighbor sort of agreement, rather than the global standard required collectively. Their suggestion: a global carbon tax or charge that would affect all emitters equally and produce a single predictable result for carbon reduction. Alas, this approach will not be taken up in Paris, for reasons deeply embedded in the COP process, and more generally in the ways that nations relate to one another in international forums.
  • As if to prove their point, analysts from Climate Wire, publishing last week in Scientific American, take a close look at Turkey, whose economic growth, largely coal-powered, is one of the world's fastest, and whose GHG emissions will be among the world's largest by current trajectories. Turkey, the authors report, has been reluctant for years to participate in international agreements, and shows no signs of changing--despite its enormous potential for solar, wind, and geothermal energy solutions. Worse, Turkey muddies the assessment by producing high-minded statements of intent while committing to no such policies in actuality.  This crucial nation thus has made itself a poster child for international non-compliance--just as the Climate Wire analysts predicted.
Is there any solace in this disheartening set of news stories? One source might be the resolve many are voicing to consider the Paris agreement an interim step, to be followed by regular (5-year?) reviews to 'ramp up' policies. Support for such a provision in the Paris agreement seems to be building.  A different sort of solace lies in the very fact that these discussions are all over the media--the BBC in this case. The transparency of the problem has never been greater, and thus the inadequacy of the proposed solutions. That doesn't guarantee that more appropriate solutions will be forthcoming--but if the Paris meeting is accelerating this level of disclosure and analysis, it may be doing something necessary--if not sufficient--to bring the world to its senses.

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