BirdLife: The Magazine June 2017 - Page 8

CLIMATE CHANGE THE DEBATE T H E P E S S I M I S T T H E O P T I M I S T KILLING SOMETHING ALREADY DEAD: TRUMP AND THE PARIS AGREEMENT THE PARIS AGREEMENT IS ALIVE AND KICKING... Although some, right and left, think that UN Cli- mate Conferences Of Parties (COP) are colour- ful jamborees of people in suits/tailleurs piling up air miles, and naïve tree-huggers putting up stunts for the sole satisfaction of their own social media stream, the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris actually had a clear goal: bind all nations in an Agreement to keep global warming below 2° C (possibly 1.5). And the negotiators… well, they actually did it. Paris gave us an Agreement where all nations committed to the target (broadly and technically speaking, to achieve “carbon neu- trality”). I was in that plenary when it happened, with my colleague Ed Perry. The never-ending applause that embraced the announcement is one of those moments you just do not forget. Unfortunately with the US, the world’s sec- ond largest polluter, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement there is very little chance to achieve the 2° C goal. But the truth is that even before Trump went for the final killing, Paris seemed moribund to many. When the Agreement was signed in 2015 the world emitted some 52 bil- lion tonnes of CO 2 equivalent (GtCO 2 Eq, one of the ways used to measure the emissions of greenhouse gases, GHG). Scientists estimated that the path to “limit the damage” was to reach a yearly figure of 44 GtCO 2 Eq by 2030. But latest data (pre-Trump) suggest we’re on the path to the high 50s instead. That is probably because the only way of achieving the Agree- ment was to allow a vast array of exceptions and caveats. The negotiators’ priority was nec- essarily inclusion over content, a fact that was noted and criticised especially by development NGOs, who were left with the desolating reality of no cash for developing countries to grow in a “clean” way. In order to get everyone’s signa- ture the Agreement had to adopt often a rather vague wording, without legally binding hard targets (unlike the Kyoto Protocol). The terrible blow to the Paris Agreement was (accidentally?) choreographed exactly on the 25 th anniversary of the historic 1992 Rio Summit, when the UN Conference on the Environment and Development created the unpronounceable UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the landmark agreement that launched the war on climate change). Suggesting, some- how, that both are doomed. Unfortunately, data supports this thesis: since 1992 (when world leaders solemnly agreed to REDUCE greenhouse gases) the yearly amount of emissions have gone up from 38 to 52 Gt (+37%). As a result, the con- centration of GHG has risen from 352 ppm (parts per million) to 410 ppm (+15%). A complete failure. There are plenty of rea- sons to be optimis- tic. We couldn’t have hoped for a better response to Trump’s an nouncement. The world has rallied and made clear that the Paris Agreement will not change as a result of US withdrawal, and the climate movement in the US is strong – only intensifying in response to US withdrawal. Prominent businesses, gover- nors and mayors in the US have all committed to support the Paris Agreement independently of the federal government. Climate change is like no other man-induced phenomenon: it will affect (meaning, starve and kill) the poorest and most defence- less on Earth. Most of whom have done little or nothing to deserve it, and in numbers never seen before in global conflicts. It’s an “oblique” tragedy: we, in the richer economies, pollute today, yesterday and tomorrow, and someone in one of the poor- est regions on the planet suffers. An ethical paradox that makes global warming possi- bly the most unacceptable of all “market failures”. This externality, that’s how economists call “costs not reflected in prices”, is particularly hard to tackle because it affects a common good (our atmosphere) and it offers unlimited chance to free-ride any tax/incentives system. We see it on a daily basis with environmental regulations: countries chose to weaken them to give a competitive advantage to their industry. Today the literature that says we will fail on The environmental movement however mitigating (reducing) climate change is vast. decided, in the end, to declare victory. Game theorists have contributed to the Blame it on the “communicators” debate and concluded: climate change who chose, strategically, to pro- mitigation is destined to be sub-op- mote a positive narrative, to gather timal (not enough). The dramatic Luca Bonaccorsi interest and support. The message truth is that we must accept this fact Chief Editor we went for was: “We’re winning, and run for cover. Adaptation might BirdLife International momentum is with us”. One year soon be the only viable solution. 8 ...and don’t let a pessimist convince you oth- erwise! When Trump announced in June that the US was “getting out”, it hurt. It was a kick in the teeth to vulnerable communities world- wide who already suffer the impacts of climate change, to those who invested years of their lives to negotiate the Paris Agreement, and to 62% of the US public who wanted the US to remain in the Agreement. It hurt, but it did not cripple, let alone “kill” the Paris Agreement. Much to his chagrin, the Agreement does not need Trump. later US citizens elected a climate-sceptic Presi- dent, the cruellest of reality checks. While Trump may repeal environmental regula- tions to bolster the fossil fuel industry, it will ulti- mately be market forces, not government policy, that drives investment. Renewable energy con- tinues to drop in cost and is becoming increas- ingly attractive vis-à-vis dirtier fuels – even with- out accounting for the negative externalities. Countries will not withdraw from Paris, nor will they renegotiate. Too much political, human and financial capital has been spent to walk away now. And too much is at stake. Developed and developing countries are stepping forward to reaffirm their commitment to Paris. Paradox- ically, Trump’s decision appears to be cata- lysing nations to accelerate their efforts. PARIS AND RIO ARE FAILING TO DELIVER. ADAPTATION IS THE ONLY VIABLE SOLUTION BIRDLIFE • JUNE 2017 THE GLOBAL MOMENTUM OF CLIMATE ACTION CANNOT BE STOPPED JUNE 2017 • BIRDLIFE low-carbon future. China is committed to cut its own emissions because of the deadly levels of air pollution in its cities. Free-riding on other coun- tries’ emission reductions will not address this. The Paris Agreement was not already “dead” nor “moribund” before Trump. The Agreement – signed by 195 parties – was a huge diplomatic success. It establishes a framework with clear goals to help all countries move together in the right direction. It sends a powerful signal to investors and businesses to move towards more sustainable patterns of production and con- sumption. Countries are making progress, albeit slow, to translate the Agreement into action nationally. Regular reporting and stock-taking under the Agreement provides an opportunity to review progress and ramp-up ambition. We should not downplay the progress we have made since the Rio Summit. Once the purview of a handful of scientists and diplomats, cli- mate change is now a mainstream issue that has mobilised civil society, scientists, governments and businesses. New pacts and coalitions have emerged, and hundreds of thousands of citi- zens across the globe have taken to the street to march for climate action. We have deepened our understanding of climate change, its impacts, and our response options. Low-carbon invest- ment has increased significantly, and national policies have been strengthened to promote low-carbon, climate-resilient growth. There’s no doubt that we have to do more, and do it faster, but we are making progress. We’re bending the emissions curve, and we’re enhancing the resilience of human and ecolog- ical systems. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has been instrumental: it has provided visibility to climate change, established a shared agenda, formalised financial and technical support for devel- oping countries, and provided a space to share knowledge, exchange views and report on progress. Trump may have abdicated US leadership on climate change, but China is all too happy to fill the void, and strengthen its political and economic position. Edward Perry As the world’s largest investor in Global Climate Change renewable energy, China stands to Policy Coordinator profit from the global transition to a The global momentum of climate action cannot be stopped. The Agreement stands strong, and our resolve unyielding. 9