Every year for past 24 years the Council of Parties (COP) has met to address the risk of global warming. Before, during, and after each meeting, the same questions are asked. Is or was it a good COP or a bad COP? Did hope triumph over expectations, or did the cold light of reality show the wreckage on the floor after the gig – where Status Quo kept playing the same tune over and over again: “Roll Over, Lay Down.”
Every year we hear the same laments. The UN is trying to establish a global government. The country-by-country emissions reductions pledges are nowhere near enough to avoid 2 degree Celsius warming (now 1.5 °C warming). Renewables are too expensive. Nuclear power is being ignored. Hard emission reductions will wreck the economy. The reason there is no policy consensus is because scientists are bad communicators. This is a global emergency, and governments should act as they do in wartime to achieve low carbon.
Let’s play good COP, bad COP and see where it gets us.
Will COP24 achieve its goals?
No. In fact, I am willing to bet that no COP will ever achieve its goals. This is both a good and a bad thing. One reason for this is that the pressures on different nations and nation groups preclude a common agreement that is too radical. However, not doing anything is also in the too radical basket, even for Donald J. Trump.
Time is Now
We have only x years to act to avoid dangerous climate change.
Putting a number on this is futile. The scientific and policy uncertainties mean that any number is as good/bad as any other number. When science first outlined the potential range of warming to 2100 back in 1990, then it was time to act. When is it too late? Only when things have become so bad, there is no capacity left. We have lots of capacity left to act.
Climate change is already dangerous. Holding a poisonous snake is dangerous, even if it hasn’t bitten you yet. Mass critical bleaching of corals reefs, the potential loss of ice-sheets, the imminent loss of food security in many regions are all snake venom. The critical issue now is to avoid catastrophic change. This will occur if large, coupled natural and human systems collapse, creating devastating knock-on effects that absorb all our capacity in responding.
The so-called consensus around catastrophic anthropogenic global warming has been manufactured by scientists who are (a) advocating UN-led global dictatorship or (b) in it for the money.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
This involves combining consensus on global warming theory, with consensus on the degree of risk. This misdirection combines two different types of measure: yes/no and plausible/implausible.
As to politics and money, most scientists would prefer to return to biology, ecology, paleontology, astronomy or whatever else they loved as a kid, instead of trying to counter organized resistance to climate change science.
Adaptation is a copout and an admission of failure.
This one should have disappeared years ago, but still gets raised. Adaptation will be most successful when there is a strong mitigation policy. It is impossible to have a single adaptation policy for the whole range of global warming low to high.
We can only adapt to the lower emission scenarios and sometimes not even then. The highest emission scenarios are equivalent to terraforming, where people will be forced to eat algae, jellyfish, and soylent green (I am not kidding).
This proposal is not in our national interest.
Acting on your national interest is not in your national interest. Acting based on global interest is in your national interest.
Damaging the Economy
Mitigation will cost jobs and damage the economy.
In high-wage countries, the mining and energy supply sectors have the fewest jobs per dollar of income and close to the highest emissions per job. Because alternative energy, energy efficiency, and adaptation are much more hands-on, they produce more jobs for lower emissions. In developing countries, ready access to alternative energy and appropriate technology will boost production and build resilience.
Global warming is an environmental issue and we need to balance that with maintaining a healthy economy.
Global warming is a moral issue. Economics should be a social science where value-setting is informed by moral issues, instead of what it is now – a recipe-book for the self-interest of the powerful. The top tier of the global economy is a massive casino that has almost no production value, fuelled by private debt, corruption, and tax concessions. Repurposing some of these funds to assist the most vulnerable would be a net boost to the production arm of the economy.
Action should only be taken after a cost-benefit analysis.
Most cost-benefit analysis is based on a fictional baseline where there is no climate change and there is perfect knowledge of future climate in order to set a carbon price. Early action is penalized because damage costs accrue over time, but this is based on a fictional no-climate-change baseline.
A risk-based approach accepts the full climate damages from business as usual. The costs of reducing emissions are then subtracted from the benefits of reduced loss and damage. Early action is rewarded because the worst futures are avoided. If the low carbon economy is the new normal, reducing carbon will no longer be a cost – the Stone Age did not end because they ran out of stones.
It doesn’t matter what I do, I’m only one person.
The imperfect nature of international policy setting is not the end of the world, nor are the powerful forces of denial, encompassing politics, media, and industry-based unthink tanks. These stand as massive blocks to progress, too large for any one person overcome.
However, around these blocks flow the actions of cities and states, individuals and communities. The massive reductions in alternative energy costs and the willingness of people from both low- and high-income countries to do their part can ultimately swamp these barriers.
It takes a village to raise a child and a world to save itself.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.