Monday, November 9, 2015

Telling the Truth after Paris

A month from now the Paris conference will be in full swing, but already attention is turning to how the COP 21 agreement--largely drafted, though some hot issues remain--will be viewed--i.e. spun--in the follow-through. The Times 's Andrew Revkin, in last Friday's Dot Earth blog post, points to the danger of too optimistic an assessment, given the near-impossibility of reaching the stated 2C goal, even with the proposed agreements in place. He cites the sobering quantitative analysis in Brad Plumer's recent Vox article, which makes a convincing case.

On the other hand, a purely negative assessment of what COP 21 can't and won't achieve would not serve our collective interest either. Copenhagen's message of failure was not a useful one. So how can the conference and its spinners balance the daunting, frightening realities that Paris will not resolve with some positive message of what can still be done? Here's my attempt to frame a 'realistic' summary of where our species needs to go as we assess the achievements of the Paris summit, and move forward:

1) Well done: all the governments of the world agree to do something to address the climate crisis, and the value of this universal recognition of the problem should not be disregarded;

2) But it's not enough: with all the COP 21 pledges in place, best estimates suggest massive disruptions, migrations, disasters, possibly an uninhabitable planet before the end of this century--within the lifespan of our grandchildren;

3) So the Paris agreement needs to be the launch pad for a more rigorous next-phase process by which countries are reviewed for compliance, and major emitters--that means you, US of A, and you too, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey ...--ramp up their conversion to renewables immediately;

4) And let's not kid ourselves: to achieve that accelerated response, large capital sums (trillions) will have to flow from rich to poor, developed to developing countries, with some reduction of wealth in the richer countries (and guess who could afford some wealth reduction?);

5) Meanwhile, major changes in carbon pricing and/or draconian regulations must drive fossil fuel corporations out of the carbon fuel business altogether in the next few decades and into massively-scaled renewables;

6) And even with the above measures in place, research on carbon capture technologies (but NOT geo-engineering sci-fi schemes) must be funded at much more aggressive levels to avert hugely destructive effects of the CO2 already in the atmosphere (and the gigatons that will be dumped there during the painful conversion era).

That's the truth as I see it of where Paris leaves us. Need I add that the alternative scenarios are quite literally apocalyptic?

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