Curbing Climatic Change V

Mitigation Policies

Climate change mitigation is feasible. It is feasible to bring about a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. Consistent with humanity’s goal of avoiding an increase of temperatures of more than two degrees centigrade. Even with that increase, we are going to face big challenges on the planet, major shocks, major disturbances. But if we go beyond that level, the risks to humanity, to our safety, to our food supply, to the resilience and security of our cities, is all up for grabs. The dangers are profound with the path that we’re on right now. We’ve noted that technologically, mitigation is within reach. By moving to energy efficiency, to low-carbon primary energy sources, and to electrification of sectors that now use fossil fuels, but could shift to a clean electricity grid, we could, indeed, have an enormous reduction of CO2 emissions, and keep the planet safe. But this requires choices. We have to make sure that markets give the right signals by taxing carbon emissions. Or by putting in place feed in tariffs. We have to make sure that there is the research and development underway to improve the functioning of these low carbon energy sources to store intermittent energy, to make sure that distribution systems are working properly. We need political decisions on a direction to go. Should we deploy offshore wind? Should we deploy the large solar potential of our desert regions? Should countries get together to produce the desert tech proposal that we saw linking North Africa to Middle East and Western Europe? Without political leadership we won’t get there. But often in our world today, political leaders, we know, are followers, not leaders. They take money as campaign contributions from major incumbent industries. The power of big oil, big coal, big natural gas in producing economies is absolutely huge. These companies are able to deploy millions and millions of dollars to sow seeds of doubt in the public mind and much more directly, to keep the politicians in their pocket. It’s rather stunning that when a vote came to the U.S. Senate to put limits on emissions through a tradable permit system we got nowhere. And when we looked at steps even the smaller steps to start restricting, our greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The result was something as shown here. Have a look at, these two US maps. The shaded areas in brown on the top map are places that produce coal in the United States. About half the U.S. states are actually coal producing states. Now look at the bottom of the map, which shows in red the states where the senators voted against climate change legislation. It’s almost a perfect fit. Coal burning states, don’t come anywhere close to us, a few states that aren’t coal burning states, okay, we’ll go with the legislation. Not enough to get through the US Congress. Coal, oil, gas, the most powerful lobby there is, scares the politicians out of their wits. It’s like this all over the world, and it makes it extremely difficult to make progress. Now, this challenge of how to make progress, how to head off the dangers of human induced greenhouse gases has been with us, in a very conscious way, for decades. And it was in 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, that a major treaty was agreed, in fact, by all the world’s governments. Even governments with powerful oil, gas, and coal lobbies, to head off the big dangers of human induced climate change. The treaty that was agreed is called the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNFCCC. The UN Framework Convention is actually a wonderful treaty when you read it and I teach it every year basically since it was signed. It’s a well reasoned, well balanced document that points the way forward. And it’s worth listening to the objectives of this treaty, signed already back in 1992 in Article Two of the treaty itself. It says that the ultimate objective of this convention, and any related legal instruments that the conference of the parties that is the, the signatories, may adopt. Is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Makes perfect sense. Let’s stabilize the levels of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and the other greenhouse gases to avoid dangerous, anthropogenic interference in the climate system. Well, we’re already there, and it’s getting worse. And this treaty remains on the books. Indeed, the treaty participants meet year after year. But for the first 20 years of the treaty made very, very little headway. The first major attempt to put this treaty into implementation came with what’s called the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997. This was an agreement to implement the treaty. And under the treaty it said that the high income countries should take the lead. They’re the ones responsible, historically, for the big increase of CO2 concentrations. They’re the ones that are the major emitters, at the time. Let them take the lead and then the rest of the world, the middle income and the low income countries will come in afterwards. Well, the US Senate, not only in the grips of coal, oil, and gas lobbies but also in the, in the grips of a perception that the U.S. should do absolutely nothing if China isn’t at least doing as much or more. Said, we won’t go along with the Kyoto protocol because it puts a burden on the United States that it doesn’t put on China and other middle income countries and that’s unfair. Said the US Senate. It’s a funny sense of unfair, because the US, for decades, had been changing the world’s climate without any sense of fairness about the huge cost that the US economy was imposing on the rest of the world. But the Senate came along and said, no deal. And indeed, though President Clinton’s administration signed the Kyoto protocol in 1997 the President never sent it to the Senate for ratification, as is required under the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. never signed onto the protocol, and since the U.S., at the time, was by far the world’s major emitting country, other countries said, hey, what’s with this? Why should we take the extra costs to go with the non-coal ways to produce electricity, for example, if the world’s largest emitter and the world’s largest economy, and richest economy for any big economy, isn’t doing so? And China, from it’s point of view said, you know, we’re a middle income country. Under the UN framework convention which the U.S. itself signed, we’re not responsible for taking the lead. The United States and other high income countries should take the lead, then we’re supposed to follow. So China said, we’re not going to accept any binding obligations until the United States shows the leadership that it is supposed to show by honoring the terms of the Kyoto Protocol. And that never happened. Time flies, you know, and time flew from 1992 to 2012 when the world met again at Rio in what was called the Rio plus 20 summit. And the Rio plus 20 summit, among other things, took on the job of reviewing the three big treaties that had been agreed in the Rio Earth summit. The framework convention on climate change. The convention on biological diversity, which the United States never ratified, even to, to join in the first place, and the U.N. framework convention, the convention to combat desertification. You know what? The report card on all three treaties was a fail. 20 years on, no real progress. We’ve seen that the greenhouse gas emissions kept rising, rising, rising. Just when we need a trajectory in which they’re going to fall sharply by mid-century. The clock moves forward. The discussions, thank goodness, they have to continue and the nature of the discussions has change a bit. One reason it’s changed is that China has changed, from 1992 until now, China has become the world’s second largest economy. And it’s become actually the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, even though China is not as large an economy as the United States, it emits more carbon dioxide because China is overwhelmingly a coal based economy because that’s China’s own home energy resource. Or its own fossil fuel resource and coal has the highest carbon emissions per unit of energy. So it’s in a way the dirtiest of all the energy mix, not only in the pollution that it causes, but also in the carbon emissions that it causes, so China finds itself now in a different situation, it’s a much richer country. It’s had another 20 years of very rapid economic growth. It is now the world’s largest emitter, having overtaken the United States. And other countries are now saying to China, hey, what about you? Now you are the major country. China still notes that in per capita terms, China still emits much less CO2 than does the United States. The US emits about 18 tons of carbon dioxide per American and in China it’s about eight tons of carbon dioxide, but since China is more then four times the population, the total amount of emissions has become much, much larger than in the United States. China has to rethink. It, it has more capacity to do something, and it has more reason to do something, including the pressures of, of the world. But also including its own reasons for action. For one thing China, itself, is highly vulnerable to climate change. A significant part of China is already very dry, and likely to get drier as a result of climate change. China’s highly vulnerable to extreme storms and extreme events and massive flooding. China, in other words, is a country deeply vulnerable to climate change, and therefore with a real reason to participate in a global mitigation effort. But coal burning is no picnic and China in early 2013, experienced what you’re looking at here. This massive smog that came from industrial pollution with a very heavy component of coal use, also mixed in with the smog coming from the increasing congestion of automobiles as well, and from the flukes of weather which had trapped all of this particulate pollution, in, over Beijing. But it was a quite horrifying experience, the air was so dangerous that people dared not go out, if they could, in any way, avoid it. The evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming that China’s paying years of a lot shorter lives as a result of this mega pollution. So, with China having overtaken the U.S. as the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter, as a country highly vulnerable to climate change, and as a country suffering now from its massive use of coal burning China has also come to the view, we need to do something much more urgently than we’ve been doing. We can’t just say, we won’t move till the US, we need to start moving. China’s already introduced major programs of scaling up solar power, wind power, and nuclear power as ways to move to a, a primary energy system, more balanced, and less coal-dependent. It still have been increasing its coal use as well, though, so it’s not a, a solution yet. But China is coming to the view that it  needs to reach an agreement with the United States. The US has long said it would be willing to move if China moves, or at least it’s implied that. Now, it’s going to be put to the test. In Durban, South Africa, in November 2011, the world’s signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change came together one more time and reached an agreement that they would reach a more definitive agreement on climate by 2015 in which all countries would take binding commitments to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions. So, unlike the framework convention, which put the onus on the rich countries as a start. The new agreement, in principle, is to put responsibility everywhere. This is, at least conceptually, a kind of break through, because now we could see the potential for the G2 as they’re sometimes called, the US and China. To agree among themselves, to bring in the European Union, and then to bring in the large economies in the G20 or the major emitting economies, almost the same as the G20 countries, and then the whole world into an agreement to be reached in 2015. It was hailed as a breakthrough. Let’s keep it in perspective. In 1992, the decision was taken to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference. An agreement was reached 19 years later that they would reach a new agreement 23 years later in 2015. And one more drum roll that that agreement reached in 2015 would then be ratified by countries and go into effect in 2020. I kid you not. This is not exactly a world standing on the precipice saying now, now, now. This is a world that sometimes acts as if it has all the time in the world. Still, at least, somehow roughly speaking, we’re now pointed a bit more in the direction in which all countries have said, we will be bound by agreements to reach lower limits and to honor Article 2 of the Framework Convention to stabilize Greenhouse gas concentrations to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference. If they read the words, they certainly wouldn’t be waiting til 2020 to implement the new agreement. But what we can be doing now, and absolutely must be doing now, is the practical problem solving in every part of the world, how each region can implement a sensible, economical, efficient, deep decarbonization program that involves energy efficiency. A shift to low carbon primary energy sources and an electrification of transport, buildings, homes and industrial uses of fossil fuel to shift to electricity fed off of a smart grid. The world could be agreeing to joint programs of research and development. The world should be agreeing to helping the poorest countries take on this challenge. For example, helping Central Africa to build Inga Falls the power plant there to capture that 40 billion watts of power potential in the hydroelectric dam there to transform the region, and to make it possible to move Africa, not only to electrification, but to electrification with low carbon energy. We have solutions, we need to make choices. And this is true when it comes to climate change. It’s true when it comes to resilience and sustainability of our cities. It’s true if we are to avoid the sixth wave of extinction of species. It’s true, in essence, if we are to move from business as usual to the sustainable, development trajectory for the world and all of the benefits that can ensue, from making that shift.

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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