Towards a New Climate Change Agreement V

Towards COP21

We’re aiming towards COP21 in Paris in December 2015. And last lecture we left the damsel in distress on the railroad tracks. Copenhagen had not succeeded in reaching a binding new framework, a clear legal protocol to follow up Kyoto.

The conferees at COP15 in Copenhagen did make a political declaration. They said we’re not giving up, we’re agreeing climate change is real, that we need to focus on limiting the human-induced increase in the Earth’s temperature and all the other consequences of climate change that accompany that. We need to keep working. But they didn’t reach the kind of agreement that they really had hoped to reach.151

There was some statements by governments in the Copenhagen Declaration – here’s what we’ll do.  But those statements just didn’t add up to the scale of change that’s needed to head off the great dangers for the world.

So here we are COP15 and the world since 2009 has been trying to pick up the pieces and really in a way dust ourselves off and say okay, we are going to reach an agreement and the determination has put the eyes on 2015 as the date when a new protocol, a new agreement will be reached. It will take some time to go into force so we’re really looking at an agreement in 2015 that will be ratified by member states by  2018, go into force and become really operational in 2020. Where do we stand? What has happened since Copenhagen?

Well Copenhagen did set some very important markers. Copenhagen was the place where the limit of two degrees Celsius remember 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit was set based on the underlying science that said that is a limit we dare not exceed

If we do exceed that, as we’re going to be discussing, in future lectures, we face really grave risks and alas we’re on a trajectory not only to exceed two degrees celsius but even 3, 4, 5 degrees Celsius if we don’t change course. So Copenhagen did get that 2 degrees C limit in there. Copenhagen was also very important for establishing the idea that rich countries are gonna pay a meaningful amount to help poor countries to take on both the challenge of mitigating, that is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as adapting to the climate change that’s underway.

Now the year after Copenhagen, governments met in Cancun, and in Mexico at COP16 the governments really strengthened and solidified the commitment to the 2 degrees Celsius limit. That’s our limit. We have to find a way to keep the increase of the mean temperature compared to its pre-industrial temperature, that is compared to a couple centuries ago, below a 2 degrees Celsius increase and because many countries said even 2 degrees Celsius is too much.

We should review all the scientific evidence and ask ourselves the question maybe we shouldn’t even dare to go up to two degrees Celsius. Maybe we should be stopping at an even tighter limit, say one and a half degrees Celsius. This is certainly what the small island developing states are saying because they are saying we’re gonna disappear under the waves if the sea level rises so much. We can’t even afford a two-degree Celsius limit.

Now at COP17 in Durban an even more consequential and clear decision on timing was taken. That’s when the world’s government said okay 2015. No joke. That’s it. We must reach a serious agreement. Let’s get everything in place and this is an agreement that’s going to move beyond the Kyoto Protocol; it’s going to involve all countries not only the Annex 1 countries. Of course, the non Annex 1 countries, the developing countries are saying, and rightly so, that doesn’t mean we’re all on even par.

152The rich countries have more capacity, more money, more technology, more historical responsibility; so they still have to do more, in other words the developing countries are saying we still need to adhere to a standard of or like common but differentiated responsibilities. This is all still to be negotiated. How the relative burdens will be shared. But the idea is agreed that we need a universal agreement to be reached and Durban in COP17 in 2011 said that. In Doha, at COP18 the following year, 2012, the specific work streams on how to reach that agreement at COP21 in Paris were set even more clearly and the following year in Warsaw in COP19, several specific important areas were discussed.

One for example is based on the recognition that deforestation not only is damaging in its own right, destroying the habitat of other species in highly biodiverse environments, threatening viability of rainforests – say the Amazon or the Congo Basin or the Indonesian archipelago – but when the rainforest is cut down or any forest is cut down, carbon dioxide is released into the air and that’s adding to the greenhouse effect like the burning of fossil fuels. And so the governments have increasingly recognized that storing carbon dioxide biologically, by preventing deforestation or supporting reforestation is crucial and in Warsaw in COP19, important agreements were reached around what’s called REDD+, we’ll be discussing that in a bit more detail, to really strengthen the biological storage of carbon in vegetation and in the forests.

Agreements were reached in more detail on what’s called monitoring reporting and verification so that we know what’s actually happening, who is releasing carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide flourine-based gases.

153We need to be able to monitor; we need a realistic and accurate reporting; we need to be able to verify the actual emissions if we’re going to have a meaningful, enforceable framework. And in Warsaw also a major push was made and it was shocking because Warsaw took place just as Typhoon Haiyan was slamming the Philippines. killing many many people the the losses and damage being experienced by poor countries needed compensation. Here are poor countries experiencing massive losses from human induced climate change that they’ve had almost nothing to do with, and yet they’re experiencing huge storms, rising sea levels, flood surges droughts, famine, and there has been no reliable way to get help. So they’re saying don’t call that aid, call that compensation for losses for damages and in principle that too was agreed in Warsaw. Now eyes are pointed on Lima, where on December 1 (2014) the draft of a new agreement, the one to be adopted in Paris a year later, will be tabled. December 1 is our date, and this course, I hope, will prepare us all to look at December 1 and say, hmm. What about this? What about that?’ To have the basis for analyzing that and for negotiating a global online agreement as global citizens in the second semester of this course, beginning early in 2015.154

And so we’re aiming towards COP20 in Lima in December as the place where the new draft agreement will be put. Now what do we want in that draft agreement? Of course fundamentally it is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at levels to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system, just as the treaty as the Framework Convention Center back in 1992 and continues to apply. What does that mean? Well here I think it’s helpful and here we’ll start what will be our long and deep investigation of the actual path of greenhouse gas emissions and especially of carbon dioxide emissions, the path that we’re on and the path that we need in order to be able to honor the 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit limit.  The path that we’re on is the dotted black line that you see in the left. The vertical axis measures the tons of carbon in billions of tons that are being emitted worldwide through energy use and other industrial processes. You see that as of 2014 that reaches about 10 billion tons  of carbon being released. The business as usual path is more or less that top red curve.

This is one of the scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and you see that the business as usual path would have emissions continuing to rise as the world economy continues to grow, as China becomes an even bigger economy, as India experiences rapid growth, as Africa escapes from poverty – all wonderful things if we continue with the technologies that we have right now there will be more oil, coal, and natural gas burned, more CO2 released into the atmosphere, probably more rainforest chopped down, releasing carbon dioxide through land use change, more other greenhouse gases also being emitted, though they’re not shown in this particular graph and we would have an upward curve and what would that upward curve suggest?

Well run those emissions through our best climate science and we’re not at a 2 degree centigrade limit. We’re at four degrees increase, six degrees even. There’s a range of uncertainty but we’re way way way beyond safety on the business as usual path. Well how could we get on a business as usual path? Really we have to stabilize the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that means we have to get down to 0 net emissions this century, We have to bed the curve rather than the curve continuing to rise. We need the lower curve shown in blue of the curve bending and then coming down and hitting 0 on the vertical axis somewhere perhaps around year 2070, and if you look at that graph, it says that by the middle of this century, we have to be less than half of the 10 billion tons of carbon that we’re emitting today, maybe somewhere around four billion tons of carbon by 2050 and then down to around 0 net emissions by 2070 or 2080.

Now it’s the whole purpose of this course in the detail to understand how could we turn that curve down? How could we take carbon emissions out of the energy system? How could we experience, achieve a deep decarbonization of the world economy. That’s what it means to turn that curve down, to deeply decarbonize the world economy, even to reach 0 towards the end of this century. Now one footnote important to understand sometimes you’ll see a graph or a table measured in terms up carbon emissions, sometimes you’ll see a graph or table measured in terms of carbon  dioxide emissions. You ought to be able to move flexibly between those two.

Now the point is that there’s an easy translation. If we’re putting a ton of carbon into the atmosphere, we’re putting more than a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere   because we’re putting that carbon in the ton of carbon plus the weight of the oxygen, the two atoms of oxygen, that go along with every atom of the carbon. So carbon dioxide per atom of carbon weighs more than than carbon alone. That’s obvious and chemistry reminds us how to make that translation of the weight of carbon dioxide relative to the weight of carbon. The atomic weight of carbon is 12, check back on the periodic table from your chemistry class and the weight of an atom of oxygen is sixteen so the weight of two atoms of oxygen is 32. Add the weight of the oxygen to the weight of the carbon the weight of carbon dioxide is therefore 44. If we add 10 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere we’re emitting ten times the ratio 44:12 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

155So let’s do the arithmetic. 44/12ths, the ratio the weight of CO1 to carbon, is 3.6666… or 3.667 let’s say and that means that if we are emitting 10 billion tons of carbon, that would be the same as a emitting 36.67 (billion) tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I want you to be very flexible on the two because you’ll otherwise be confused. When we go back and look at this graph, this is a graph of carbon but were often going to be referring to carbon dioxide emissions. But the point either way is the same. We need to bend the curve of emissions rather than a business as usual path which could take us to forty, fifty, even sixty billion tons of CO2 emitted per year compared to the roughly 36 billion tons now. We need to get down to maybe 12 or 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide by the middle of the century and down to 0 by 2070 or 2080.156

That’s the goal. That’s the commitment. It ain’t easy. It is not easy at all. Deep  decarbonisation is massive challenge and we’re going to have to find technologically meaningful, sophisticated, economically sensible pathways to it. That’s what we’re after. Now will we reach an agreement in time? Will COP21 prove to be the breakthrough for universal meaningful agreement that really turns the curve of carbon dioxide emissions down sharply.

Let’s be aware as we enter that discussion seriously of the obstacles. Many countries are not paying so much attention. They want to find and they want to burn more fossil fuels. That’s their economic base and we’re living in a period of a boom of some kinds of fossil fuel discovery and production. In the United States we have the shale gas boom. In other places the deep sea oil. In other geologic formations, what’s called tight oil, that otherwise could not be pumped through traditional means now can be extracted. And so there’s a hydrocarbons boom and a lot of money behind it that’s saying don’t stop our carbon emissions. Let’s go for even more discovery and development of our fossil fuels. There’s not high trust among the major countries.

Poor countries say rich countries make promises that they don’t live up to. Rich countries say the poor countries they’re stealing our industry. There are so many charges and counter-charges that the level of trust required for a deep agreement is something that we’re going to have to build actively and consciously over the coming year. There are many exit ramps, I would say, for politicians who want a good photo opportunity but not the very heavy responsibility of turning that emissions curve downward as deeply as possible. Some politicians say let’s make an agreement to 2025, just a short term  agreement; let’s not look too far into the future. And they want to do the easy things, the low-hanging fruit not the deep decarbonization pathways that are gonna be really required to get down to net 0 in the second half of the 21st century.157

Many countries say, not now, we don’t want to think about this. You know low-carbon energy systems are likely to be more expensive. Okay yes it’s true, we will wreck the planet but right now our priority is our budget. Our priority is unemployment. Our priority is starting growth. Don’t bother us about the long term. We have short-term political problems. Politicians today, they’re not going to be facing an election in the year 2050, they may be facing an election in the year 2016. And so how do we make a negotiating process face the long-term realities of the planet even when the incentives facing the negotiators may be very very much short term.

And finally we have a simple fact that absolutely needs to be emphasized but you’re gonna face it whether we emphasize it or not in the coming weeks, this is not an easy process technologically. You see, ever since James Watt brought the first really effective steam engine to the market in 1776 the world economy has developed with fossil fuels. In a way you have to love coal. It brought us the modern world.158

Oil brought us modern transportation, brought us the possibilities of aviation. Natural gas brings us a massive increase of access to electricity and I can tell you as I work in places that don’t have access to electricity because they’re so poor you don’t want to go there because without electricity there is no modern life. Without electricity there is desperate disease that can’t be brought under control, hunger, food that can’t be properly stored. Modern energy is a vital need for society. We want the world economy to continue to grow.

We want poor countries to develop. They will need to use more energy and therefore the technological challenge of recognizing the reality of a world economy that has developed for more than two centuries on the basis of fossil fuels, that wants to develop more energy resources to enable the poor to escape the trap of poverty, that wants to help promote economic development and improvements of material conditions, but also to decarbonize the energy system is a first order technological, systems, economic, social, and political challenge. It’s hard, its  complex, it’s the topic of the lectures to come.

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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