Here’s the podcast you’ve all been waiting for — The Climate Show New Year special. Glenn and Gareth review the big climate stories of 2012, discuss at the big picture post Doha, and peek into their transcontinental Skype-powered crystal ball to prognosticate on the next 12 months. The three sections were recorded shortly before Christmas for Glenn’s New Year Things You Need To Know for 2013 summer series on Radio Live. The first two aired last week – the final section will be broadcast on Wednesday, so consider this an exclusive preview.
Is Tim Groser a Kyoto pariah? Or a Kyoto visonary? A global emissions reduction emissary or is he tar-sanded with a Canadian brush? I try to make sense of New Zealand’s double dealing and special pleading over the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period and the Doha climate change talks hooha.
If Minister of Climate Change Tim Groser is serious about New Zealand’s 2020 greenhouse gas target, why would he forego formally lodging the 2020 target into the existing Kyoto Protocol framework (where the national institutions and arrangements are already up and running), in favour of pledging to meet the target on a voluntary basis in terms of a yet to be negotiated treaty?
Let me break that question down into several parts.
Imagine you are the Minister for Climate Change in the government of a small developed country.
This small gutsy quirky country as well as having exported comedians like Rhys Darby has signed an international treaty with a few other nations which states a short-term national target for emissions of greenhouse gases.
The nation has a second publicly stated medium-term target for greenhouse gas emissions for the years following the expiry of the first target. It is to reduce net emissions between 10 and 20% from the gross 1990 baseline.
If you are serious about that second emissions target, why would you pledge the target on a voluntary basis, when you could have formally lodged your target into an existing treaty (where the national institutions and arrangements have already been set up)?
Any answers? Anyone? Would you like to phone a friend?
“So is this a great time to put new costs on our major exporting industry when we have a huge need to increase our exports?”
“Our top priority is to strengthen the recovery in extremely difficult international economic times.”
Here’s another hint. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright has said that we are on track to exceed the 1990 emissions baseline by 30% rather than meet the 2020 target of reducing emissions by 10 to 20% compared to 1990.
Net emissions to 2020
Now just because New Zealand’s net emissions are likely to consistently increase through to 2020 doesn’t automatically mean New Zealand would not meet the 2020 target if translated into a Kyoto second commitment period target. We could just buy extra emissions units from the international Kyoto carbon markets.
That is, if there was a sensibly designed emissions trading scheme that passed the carbon price to emitters. Such a scheme would be 100% “emitter pays”, with emitters making their own market-based decisions to either reduce emissions or to buy the emissions units. Well we certainly don’t have that.
So my conclusion is that it is not just that Tim Groser has absolutely no intention doing anything domestically to achieve the 2020 target of a 10 to 20% reduction in GHGs. Groser and National also have absolutely no intention of imposing any real carbon price on New Zealand’s industrial and agricultural emitters.
Where we are, where we should be and the consequences. Climate Action Tracker’s graphic on our future choices.
And so. Another set of climate talks done, this year dusted with Doha sand and labeled the “Doha Gateway”. I’m not sure what they’re a gateway to, certainly no immediate improvement to the climate. The final hours were bizarre, to say the least. We began the day on Saturday with a text much improved from the day before, but with some major issues outstanding. Ministers wrangled behind closed doors for most of the day, changing bits of text here and there.
We were preparing for Russia who, with Kazakhstan, Belarus and the Ukraine, were set to continue the talks way into Saturday night. They were holding out in the informals, furious about the discussions on hot air.
The “Russian factor” is one those of us who’ve been involved for a few years are all too familiar with. Just when you think there’s general agreement, in come the Russians who manage to drag the talks on for hours.
“Hot air” has been major problem with the Kyoto Protocol for years. Somehow, the Russians managed to get the Kyoto negotiators to agree to a baseline of 1990, before the collapse of the former Soviet Union, which meant millions of tonnes of carbon credits ended up in the hands of Eastern European countries, bringing them a handy income, and other countries an easy and cheap option to do nothing at home and buy cheap hot air. Russia has 6Gt of hot air – that’s how much it’s been cheating the atmosphere.
In Durban and Doha, New Zealand has sided with this team against the wish of the rest of the world to make sure that this “hot air” didn’t get carried over into Kyoto’s second commitment period (CP2).
A report released last week by Climate Analytics showed that if this hot air was allowed, governments could meet their pledges, buy hot air and continue emitting on a business as usual pathway to 2026. The Ukraine argued that they needed their hot air credits as their economy was growing, but the report showed that they would have to have an amazing 11.6% annual growth in GDP to do so. I don’t think anyone expects Ukraine to have such a boom economy.
In practice there are few who can benefit from their hot air surplus carried over from CP1 to CP2 are not many: Australia, Norway and the Ukraine. New Zealand would have had some too, from our Kyoto forests, but we’re not in CP2 so we can’t use them anyway. At the end of the day, while the carry-over from CP1 to CP2 was allowed, many governments signed a political declaration as part of the agreement that they wouldn’t buy this hot air anyway. Even Japan signed it – but of course NZ didn’t.
The killer for Russia and New Zealand were the “elegibility” rules, where it was decided that governments outside Kyoto would not be allowed access to the carbon markets it set up. The New Zealand delegation was at the heart of the earlier draft of the text seen on Friday morning that had every government and its dog allowed access to Kyoto’s Flexible Mechanisms.
But overnight on Friday night that the Ministers put a stop to that, so NZ was left out in the cold. While we could, on the face of it, continue to trade hot air to meet our “target”, we run the risk that the credits may well not be eligible for emissions under the post 2020 global agreement as the rules for that haven’t yet been settled.
When the final plenary began, to everyone’s surprise, the somewhat flambouyant Qatari Minister Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah gaveled it all through. Watch the beginning of the webcast – it was quite something. He ignored the Russian flag being pounded on their table and simply declared the Doha Gateway agreed. It was the first bold move this former OPEC president had made throughout the entire talks – if he’d bashed heads together a bit earlier we could have achieved a lot more.
Russia was furious, and the US made reservations, but they were simply told that all of it would be noted in the report. There are precedents for such action, such as with Bolivia in Cancun. In 1992 the chair ignored the Saudis and gaveled the UNFCCC itself through when the Saudi flag was still clearly up.
Ratching up emissions cuts
Another vaguely positive outcome for the Kyoto Protocol CP2 agreement was the review by April next year of the adequacy of commitments under the IPCC’s 25-40% recommendation. This leaves open the option of Europe finally agreeing to go to 30%, something it can easily do.
Of course Kyoto, as Tim Groser argues, doesn’t cover many countries at all, and certainly a small chunk of global emissions. The global deal is on track to be agreed by 2015, but won’t come into effect until 2020. All the hot air from Groser about working on a global deal essentially means we’re off the hook until 2020, apart from our meagre pledge that remains “conditional” on a global deal. As I’ve said before, the best thing Groser could have done to help that global deal get through was to sign up to Kyoto’s CP2 to show good faith.
Finance, loss and damage
The most disappointing part of the Doha was the decision to simply keep talking on the major issue of Finance. Governments agreed in 2009 to, by 2020, contribute a total of $100bn a year to help the developing world develop clean energy and adapt to climate change, but the money is still not forthcoming. Indeed at the beginning of Doha there wasn’t enough money to pay the secretariat for another year.
The trade-off here was the inclusion of the “loss and damage” terminology in the final text, where the US had been fighting to keep it off the table. While again, like the finance section, the agreement is to simply keep talking about what to do on Loss and Damage, this was a blow to the US.
To sum up, nothing was done in Doha that will immediately stop the relentless rise of global emissions. There were some agreements to agree sometime in the future. The meeting was never going to achieve much, but to get Kyoto’s CP2 done, and blocking the “cheaters” like NZ and Russia out of carbon trading without an emissions target was the biggest win.
For us, no doubt John Key and his pals will be happy with the fact that there’s little to change our somewhat dubious status of having the sixth fastest growing emissions in the OECD.
Our government’s “drill it mine it frack it” policy can continue unabated, our foresters can continue to replace plantations with dairy and we don’t really face any pesky global rules that will make us increase our targets before 2020. How our ETS will look after 2015 remains to be seen, as we won’t be able to trade our way through it.
As I left Doha, contemplating the 3-4degC world the next generations will face unless more action is taken, I was reminded of Percy Bysse Shelley’s famous “Ozymandius” which somehow seems apt:
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.
A select few politicians have the ability to make me (and others) shout at the radio. New Zealand’s minister of climate change issues Tim Groser is one such. On Radio New Zealand National’s Morning Report this morning he gave vent to his feelings on NZ’s Colossal Fossil winning performance at Doha. It was an “absurd and juvenile prank”, apparently, put together by “extreme greens and youth groups”. He definitely had it in for the youth groups, referring to them twice. His extreme condescension to young people who think that his policies are at best wrong-headed, at worst disastrous for the country they will inherit, caused me to interrupt my tea making to shout at the radio, much to the dog’s surprise. Hear the full interview here, and see if you are immune to Groser’s aggressively smug assumption that only he holds the key to climate action:
And then, over the now brewed cup of tea, Google’s morning newspaper presented me with a news item from the Dominion Post (via Stuff) about a new paper in Nature Climate Change co-authored by Dave Frame of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute. The basic news item’s straightforward enough: Frame and co-author Daithi Stone, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have looked back to the IPCC’s 1990 projections, and found that they were remarkably close to what has actually happened over the last 20 years — bad news for climate deniers who insist that model projections have failed and that warming has stopped. (See also VUW press release, Phys.org, The Conversation). Perhaps that’s why the journalist, one Tom Hunt, chose to close his piece with a quote from physics denier Bryan Leyland (cue coughing and spluttering):
But Bryan Leyland, from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, said science had shown global temperatures had not risen in 16 years and the world was more likely to get cooler.
Leyland, as we discussed at Hot Topic recently, is now happy to align himself with the über cranks who deny the reality of the greenhouse effect. Quoting him on climate research is about as meaningful as seeking the flat earth society’s opinion on orbital mechanics.
For that stupid piece of false balance, Tom Hunt and the Dom Post win my inaugural Media Fossil Fool award. Anyone care to design a nice badge they can wear with shame?
New Zealand Youth Delegate Simon Tapp with our golden prize: a Colossal Fossil, shared with Canada.
At the end of every UNFCCC meeting, on the last day, there’s a grand prize: the Colossal Fossil. So proud: New Zealand took top prize for the first time, shared with Canada.
For a country whose emissions are similar in scale to the Canadian tar sands, New Zealand has demonstrated exceptional blindness to scientific and political realities. Surprising many and disappointing all, New Zealand has fought hard to unseat 5-time Colossal Fossil winner, Canada, in a campaign of extreme selfishness and irresponsibility.
While New Zealand may have helped drown the talks for another year, New Zealand’s small and vulnerable Pacific neighbours should take heart that they have not been forgotten – New Zealand intends to drown them too.
I don’t think I can add much to this, except to say that for a small country, we sure manage to punch above our weight at these talks, upsetting more governments and people than is warranted for our small size. Sam from the Youth Delegation has summed it up nicely over on the youth blog. It’s all about trust.
I was going to write a light-hearted blog today, poking fun at Lord Christopher Monckton’s appearance in Doha, in his Arabic dress and antics in the plenary. But I thought about it overnight and woke this morning more angry about it than amused.Monckton turned up on Wednesday dressed in full Arab regalia - the long, white kheffiyeh that the majority of Qatari men wear every day. He held a press conference the next day with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and a Texan tea party group, with Republican Senator James Inhofe joining by video.
But this week saw a massive typhoon in the Philippines that has so far killed more than 500 people – and counting. The southernmost super-typhoon ever seen in the country. It nearly wiped out Palau altogether.
The Philippine delegate, in tears, appealed to the meeting to take action, to get agreement: “If not us, then who; if not now, then when; if not here then where?”
Later, Monckton later took the floor in the plenary, posing as a delegate for Burma, who don’t have a delegation here, and told the meeting that there had been no warming in 16 years. The whole plenary booed him. He had his badge taken off him, and was ejected (he was leaving anyway). The Guardian Liveblog covered it here, if you feel you must watch (another rant from me there too).
I got an email from the UN telling me: “Lord Monckton has been permanently barred from the UNFCCC process.”
So that’s it. Never again will I see the Viscount of Brenchley, Lord Christopher Monckton at a climate talks. Good riddance. He’s already trying to spin that he was thrown out because he was talking about no warming for 16 years, when in fact he was rightfully thrown out for speaking on the floor as Burma when he wasn’t entitled to do that.
Right now, it’s after 2 am and I’ve left the negotiations to get some sleep. There’s big deadlocks around a lot of the detail, with much focus on an incredibly weak Kyoto Protocol text. Who’s in, who’s out? Our government has been right in there, weakening rules around trading to the point that they’re actually weaker than they were in the early 1990′s.
Then there’s the issue of “loss and damage,” new to the discussions from last year. The key sticking point is over whether there is an international mechanism set up to help distribute money for the poorest countries to pay for the loss and damage from climate impacts. It’s about the industrialized world paying for the damage it’s now wreaking on the poorest.
As Seychelles Ambassador Ronny Jumeau told a press conference earlier this week:
“If we had had more [emissions cuts], we would not have to ask for so much for adapatation. If there had been more money for adaptation, we would not be looking for money for loss and damge. What’s next? The loss of our islands?”
This isn’t going to finish any time soon. What we’ll get tomorrow is up in the air, but what we do know is that air will continue to be filled with increasing amounts of C02 – and nothing that’s happening here is going to slow it any time soon.
I’ll know more in the morning, but bets are on that it’s going to last through to late Saturday.
It’s the run up to Christmas, and the annual ritual repeats. Diplomats gather in Doha to discuss and debate action on climate change, so Glenn and Gareth talk to their correspondent on the spot, New Zealand climate media strategist Cindy Baxter to find out what’s happening in the oil kingdom’s echoing halls. At the Fall AGU meeting in San Francisco, NOAA has published its 2012 Arctic Report Card (grim reading, it has to be said). Plus Gareth talks about truffles as a bellwether for Europe’s changing climate, and the boys get all enthusiastic about nanophotonics and steampunk.
Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.
‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012′ finds that higher average temperatures have been observed across Europe as well as decreasing precipitation in southern regions and increasing precipitation in northern Europe. The Greenland ice sheet, Arctic sea ice and many glaciers across Europe are melting, snow cover has decreased and most permafrost soils have warmed.
Special guest NZr Cindy Baxter, a climate media strategist who has attended just about every major international climate meeting over the last 20 years. Veteran of the talks, blogs for Hot Topic. In Doha with climate scientists.
The efficiency of solar steam is due to the light-capturing nanoparticles that convert sunlight into heat. When submerged in water and exposed to sunlight, the particles heat up so quickly they instantly vaporize water and create steam. Halas said the solar steam’s overall energy efficiency can probably be increased as the technology is refined.
“We’re going from heating water on the macro scale to heating it at the nanoscale,” Halas said. “Our particles are very small — even smaller than a wavelength of light — which means they have an extremely small surface area to dissipate heat. This intense heating allows us to generate steam locally, right at the surface of the particle, and the idea of generating steam locally is really counterintuitive.”
This morning I stood with 40 other youth from all around the world to represent the voices of 1.5 billion youth who are not directly represented here at the climate change negotiations in Doha.
We stood for one and a half hours, while thousands of negotiators and NGO’s passed us on their way to the negotiations. The response was pretty overwhelming.
Between us in NZYD, we were interviewed by eight different international journalists. Youth that I had never met in my life came and stood next to me to hold up the boards with our message
”Dear Negotiators, 1.5 billion youth are not directly represented here at COP18. Your decisions must reflect their demands”.
The Irish ex-president and nobel peace prize winner , Mary Robinson, shook our hands. Thousands of photos were taken, iPhones and cameras left right and centre.
But to me, this international media attention was not what made this experience so special.
What blew me away, was the exchanges of smiles from a select few negotiators and this huge sense of pride I felt from standing with youth from all over the world who are fighting for action on climate change.
Negotiators who looked us in the eye, acknowledging our message and saying “We are with you” have given me this new sense of hope among this place full of cold stares and pressed business suits. In particular, it was the negotiators from the developing countries that really stopped to acknowledge what we were doing, as many of their youth are un-represented here at COP.
I have learnt this morning, that as youth we can give such a powerful message to the world, simply by standing together to show that regardless of our nationalities, we are all here for the same reason.
We are here to be heard, and we are here to show that we already doing what we can to make sure that our generations actions make a positive, lasting change. Regardless of the amount of negotiators that gave us a smile, it is us – today’s youth – that have shown that we have the strength in numbers and unity to actually make change.
People send me stuff. Imagine my surprise when this morning’s mail included the text of a round robin email from Tom Harris — the Canadian PR man who heads the Heartland-funded denialist lobby group the International Climate Science Coalition [full text here]. It gives an interesting insight to how these groups work behind the scenes. Here’s Harris appealing for signatures to a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon:
Time is short if we are to mount a significant counterpoint to the scientifically invalid assertions already being broadcast by the 1,500 journalists and 7,000 environmentalists attending the UN climate conference now underway in Qatar.
Please find below our “Open Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations” to which we are inviting your endorsement. We have 61 qualified endorsers as of 9 pm EST, about 19 hours after we started to ask people.
Because we have an agreement with a major media outlet to publish the open letter on Thursday, I will need to know of your support within the next day if possible, please.
The denialist spin machine in action. The usual suspects queuing to sign up to a letter that’s going to be published — where? My guess would be the Wall Street Journal. Even more interesting is the nonsense these luminaries are so keen to endorse…
It’s worth noting that Harris is not giving anyone the chance to change his proposed letter. The usual suspects are expected to sign up without quibbling about wording. And they’re signing up to a thoroughly modern catechism of climate crank disinformation. Here are the key claims in the letter:
UK Met Office data shows “there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years”.
Global warming that has not occurred cannot have caused the extreme weather of the past few years. Whether, when and how warming will resume is unknown. The science is unclear. Some scientists point out that near-term natural cooling, linked to variations in solar output, is also a distinct possibility.
“Some scientists”? I suspect only the signatories to Harris’s letter expect a “near-term natural cooling” caused by the sun1.
The “even larger climate shocks” you have mentioned would be worse if the world cooled than if it warmed.
A remarkable (and unsupportable) assertion. I will allow that an ice age might be an inconvenience, but as our emissions have effectively postponed the next one for the foreseeable future, that’s the least of our worries.
The incidence and severity of extreme weather has not increased. There is little evidence that dangerous weather-related events will occur more often in future.
The letter goes on to quote from last year’s IPCC special report on climate extremes (SREX), but ignores the key findings of that report: that increased extremes of hot weather and rainfall are being recorded, and are “virtually certain” to continue as the climate warms.
We also ask that you acknowledge that policy actions by the UN, or by the signatory nations to the UNFCCC, that aim to reduce CO2 emissions are unlikely to exercise any significant influence on future climate.
Harris and his tame signatories can ask, but to expect the UN secretary general to reject the advice of his own organisation and the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists on the basis of an error-ridden screed put together as a stunt by PR flacks for fossil fuel interests is a bit of stretch, I’d have thought. Harris’s letter will be just as effective as all the other letters he’s sent to UN secretary generals at climate conferences, and that is not at all.
The phrasing recalls similar pronouncements by NZ’s very own Bryan Leyland, a veteran of several climate science coalitions. I wonder if by any chance he had a hand in the letter?
Every time I walk into a press conference it seems there’s more ‘cheery’ news. Yesterday it was UNEP releasing a science report on melting permafrost. Scary stuff. So scary that The Age in Melbourne gave it most of the front page and even some on the back page. (Meanwhile the NZ media was all about Hobbits).
According to the report, if the permafrost keeps melting like it has been, the gases it releases will make up 39% of emissions in 2100 (a combination of release of trapped methane and C02 from decomposing matter).
Then today it was the World Meteorological Organisation’s State of the Climate provisional report. 2012 was no exception to the trend of rising temperatures. “Global warming isn’t a future threat: it’s happening now,” intoned the official, pointing to this year’s Arctic melt as evidence.
These organisations save this stuff up for the climate talks, but sometimes one has to wonder why. I heard a UN official telling a newbie to the process that none of this would have any effect on the delegates at the talks. “They’re in a bubble – they’re totally immune to this stuff,” he said. And he’s right.
Some of these officials have been coming to the climate talks for more than 20 years and they don’t see anything beyond their negotiating tables. What might have an impact would be if they get home and their kids, having seen the permafrost or WMO stories, start giving them hell about it. I hope they do.
Back to the US of A
An alternative reality was being presented by the US. On Monday I sat through head of the US delegation, Jonathan Pershing’s first press briefing, where he tried to persuade the attendant media that the US had been making “enormous” efforts to tackle climate change. A lot of people here were hoping to see some sort of announcement or some indication that the Obama administration was changing, but Pershing gave us no such thing.
Instead, we were subjected to a list of actions the US was taking, breathlessly described by Pershing as if they were some kind of unprecedented, heroic act. “We’ve acted with enormous urgency and singular purpose,” he told us. Then he went on to list the impacts of climate change that the US had suffered in the last year: the droughts, Hurricane Sandy, etc. And he told us that the US was on its way to meeting its Copenhagen pledge and that it was down to everybody else to step up. The US’s Copenhagen pathetic pledge is 4% cuts by 2020 on 1990 levels.
And the fossils
Meanwhile, our beloved country has been receiving award after award. But not any old award, it’s the “fossil of the day”, awarded by the Climate Action Network, to governments who say or do the most outrageous and anti-climate things at the talks. We seem to be racking ‘em up as our delegates continue to make ridiculous statements in the meetings. On Monday we got two – quite a feat. The first (equal with the US, Russia, Japan and Canada) for “running away from a legally binding, multilateral rules based regime.”
We also gained a second place:
“Unlike its neighbour to the west, New Zealand decided not to put its target into the second commitment period, citing spurious grounds when the reality is that it is just a massive display of irresponsibility. Its island partners in the Pacific should think again before ever trusting NZ again.”
There was no third place.
And after a brief respite, we got another one today.
“…again, because not only did Wellington deliberately decide not to put its target into the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, but today proposed that access to the CDM should be open to all and should not depend on whether a country is signing up to a second commitment period. To make it clear, New Zealand pointed out that otherwise the Adaptation Fund will not have enough money to keep functioning. Come on Kiwis, forget about the hobbits and think about your neighbors! You have to be serious… if you want to feast on carbon markets you have to work up your targets first!”
Even the European Commission wasn’t amused with us. At the EU press conference today, when asked whether he agreed with the developing country view that those who don’t sign up to Kyoto’s second commitment period should be denied access to the CDM and its “flexible mechanisms” spokesperson Artur Runge-Metger answered:
“What we are asking ourselves is: if you don’t want a budget or a target why the heck should you have credits from somewhere else and how would you account for them?”
Couldn’t agree more.
Tomorrow: we hear what the NZ youth delegation here have been doing.
Flying into Doha yesterday for the next round of international climate negotiations, landing in what seems to be a pile of white sand in the middle of nowhere, with high rise buildings sticking out of it. Is this where we’re going to stop climate change?
In a word, no. Not by a long shot. These talks, the 18th conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed in 1992, will not stop climate change.
For me, the last few weeks have seen a number of “things we could only have dreamed of” moments. Back in 1991 when we were negotiating the UNFCCC, the meetings were peppered with almost daily International Chamber of Commerce press conferences where the likes of climate cranks Fred Singer, Patrick Michaels and Richard Lindzen questioned the science. Big business and global institutions either ignored the issue – or were working to stop any agreement.
Fast forward to the last few weeks. First came a report from Price Waterhouse Coopers, warning of warming beyond anything we can control, and expressing concern over inaction on dangerous climate change, calling for governments and business leaders to stop holding back low carbon development and to start thinking about how to adapt to the climate impacts that we’re already committed to.
Next up was a World Bank report on what a 4degC warming world will look like. Because this is where we’re heading. Gareth has about it. But I had to pinch myself. This was the World Bank. Yes, the bank stills invests in fossil fuel projects, but it’s going to look increasingly stupid if it’s commissioning this sort of work.
Then the International Energy Agency’s , with these words : “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal.”
That’s the IEA doing what Bill McKibben calls the “carbon math”.
“Almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time.”
This is a massive turnaround for the IEA who, ten years ago, would no more write a report like this than fly to the moon. We used to dread the IEA reports: they were the fossil fuel industry’s biggest cheerleader and completely ignored the climate reality.
The IEA of 2012 questions how realistic the 2degC warming limit is, given these figures. It also pointed to the 30% rise in fossil fuel subsidies from 2101 – 2011 (a massive US $520 billion) with only $88 billion going to renewable energy.
Lastly came the update which answers the questions on 2degC, saying it IS still possible to do so, but the longer we leave taking hard action, the more costly it will be.
The UNEP report looks at what more we have to do to bring emissions down to a 2degC warming trajectory, identifying and quantifying the gigatonnes of C02 (equivalent) that we still need to reduce. And that gap, says UNEP, is getting bigger, not smaller. By a factor of around 30% since last year. Things aren’t looking too good. Like the fossil fuel subsidies, we’re going in the wrong direction.
All of this, you’d think, would make Governments wake up.
You’d think. This is where the “things we could never have dreamed of” begin to turn into “worst nightmares” as we realise the Governments don’t seem to take any notice of these quite daunting warnings. Perhaps it’s fitting that there’s so much sand here – there’s a lot of heads about to go into it for the next two weeks.
What are we likely to actually get in Doha?
In all likelihood, not very much, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the meeting’s President, Qatari deputy prime minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, has extensive links with the fossil fuel industry: he’s a former OPEC president and was seen earlier this month.
Many appear to be basing hope on one soundbite in Obama’s election victory speech and his response to a climate question in his first press conference. Maybe I’m being too cynical about it – and I hope to be proven wrong.
US Climate Envoy Todd Stern has said that the 2degC conversation is making it difficult for the negotiations. Read: the US doesn’t like to have its paltry pledge of 4% cuts at 1990 levels by 2020 put under the spotlight.
Will Stern stop talking down 2degC in light of his President’s apparent gearing up on the issue? Or will there be a signal that things are changing?
Kyoto’s second commitment period will also be a key focus here: this is the meeting that agrees who’s in, who’s out and how the rules need to be changed and updated from the first commitment period and, indeed, how long that commitment period is.
New Zealand’s exit from Kyoto will not be welcomed by, among others, our Pacific Island neighbours, who stand to fare the worst in the 4degC warming world we’re heading to. NZ’s backdown is a blow to those who have been waiting 20 years for the industrialised world to take action.
One problem is that there are few New Zealand media who understand the dynamics of these talks, allowing Tim Groser to spin pretty much anything he wants. Take , where Groser says that he wants to push for a global deal. Sounds great: he’s up for a Big Game.
Thing is, negotiations for that deal are happening anyway: it’s what was agreed last year in Durban. If Groser really wanted a global deal, he’d be urging NZ to stay in Kyoto. Because the stronger signal that industrialised countries give to the developing world that they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, the more it will force the likes of China and India to agree to a global deal. Pulling out will only prolong a stalemate, and Groser knows that. Shame he’s not being held to account.
New Zealand doesn’t want to be forced to increase our emissions cuts. Yet we want to let our industry continue with business as usual, and deal with our ridiculously weak ETS by trading the emissions they got for free from the Government in the first place. Heaven help us if we actually had to CUT emissions. So we’re going to see the Government continuing to try to bend Kyoto rules to suit our needs, so that we can have our cake – and eat it too.
The other key issue is the Green Climate Fund – but right now there appears to be not enough money to pay for the staff to oversee the rules and framework that governments have been working so hard on. Problem is that it’s much easier to talk about the rules than it is to commit the much-needed funds for the poorest countries to adapt to the already inevitable climate change and switch to clean energy.
So let’s see what happens in the next two weeks. Will it be a result we could only have dreamed of? Or will those heads be firmly stuck in the sand?