In Paris, diplomats are ostensibly attempting to hammer out an international agreement regarding climate change. An air of optimism from the environmental organizations has emerged. Last week, representatives from small island nations demanded that total warming be kept below 1.5 degrees C.
This is a big deal. Previous efforts for an agreement have pegged 2.0C as the goal. Mechanisms to reach that goal have themselves been unavailing, since agreements have not been reached to include that. The specter of the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen summit hung over the start of this meeting.
Holding below 1.5 Degrees of Warming is Generally Considered Impossible
The goal is to limit planet warming (yes, warming is now entering back into this) to 1.5 degrees C is based on pre-industrial temperatures. It’s been in the news lately that the Earth is already at 1 degree of warming. The state of modeling, along with the understanding of the climate sensitivity of CO2, indicates that in order to reach this goal, by some estimates humans have a 2020 date by which all fossil fuels must ceased to be burned.
Nature Climate Change published a study suggesting that the firm date is 2060 for ceasing all carbon emissions worldwide. There is not a serious person out there who suggests even the remote possibility that this will happen. It would be the equivalent of the US putting a person on Mars by that time. Nothing suggests this is impossible in a physical sense, but as a matter of practicality, it won’t happen.
Over 100 countries, including the US and EU, have joined in with this request. But not all countries have.
Negotiations Manage Risk of Worst Case Scenarios
When going into a negotiation any party must put aside thoughts of winning or losing. Negotiations are not about that. Rather, a negotiation is predicated on mutual consideration.
Before going into this negotiation, the party doing the negotiating must make a determination: What is my worst case scenario if I do not agree? In any instances people talk about criminal defendants making plea deals for a lighter sentence. This makes sense. A defendant facing a capital murder charge might be offered a deal of, say, life with possibility of parole. The prosecutor likes this, as well, since trials are expensive, time consuming, and the possibility exists that a not guilty verdict would be obtained.
There exists a situation in a negotiation for a life with possibility of parole is beneficial to both sides. It mitigates the worst case for each.
China and India’s Worst Case Scenario is Status Quo. So, too, for the US and EU
China and India are being viewed as standing in the way of an agreement being made. Of course they are! These two countries represent a population of 2.5 billion people. The world population is about 7.3 billion people. Greater than 1/3 of the people on this planet are in China and India.
China and India are also the most aggressive over the last thirty years with industrial growth. They have done so with hydropower and lots of coal. As developing countries, they are putting out a very large portion of industrial greenhouse gases.
These two nations are in the middle of their industrialization. To suggest that they stop doing what they are doing is something that they are unwilling to do. They are seemingly pretty happy and secure with their level of development.
China and India stand to lose by agreeing. It is as if China has met with a prosecutor to work out a deal for a drunk driving violation (with a max of 1 year in jail) and is offered a ten year stretch. It makes no sense to China to do this.
The US and EU? They face the same situation. 1.5 degrees doesn’t help them, either. But, if the intent is for something different, it becomes quite sensible for them to support such an impossible task.
Why Demand Something that is Impossible?
It’s a serious question. What is there to gain from making an impossible demand? The answer is because they don’t want a bold and binding deal to be made.
The US and EU know that China, India, Saudi Arabia, etc., would never agree to this. These places don’t have activists making demands of it on the homefront. Does the Chinese negotiator have to step off a plane next week in Beijng and face a few thousand people protesting him for not getting a deal done? Now ask about the US. Germany. Spain.
The activists will applaud for sticking it to those pesky polluters. Meanwhile, life goes on. Unchanged. It’s similar to some quack naturopath who never gets results but, my goodness, he sure does try hard and cares about his patients. And they will defend him again and again despite the last twenty years reaching negligible, if any, results.
The Climate Conference is to Set Up a Funding Mechanism
COP21 is about money. Back in 2009, at the failed Copenhagen summit, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested the mobilization of $100 billion per year worldwide for climate change.
Therein lies the quandary. Where will this money come from? Where will it go? How much should each individual nation provide or receive? This issue is the biggest one to be worked out. And it’s got a long way to go.
China, India and most of the rest of the world believes that the US, as the chief emitter of CO2 over the last century, should pay the lion’s share. Other developed countries in the EU have also benefited handsomely from their carbon energy use.
China and India think that the developed nations should pay the lion’s share. China and India still deal with massive poverty in their own countries. The developing world and Third World think they should be receiving money instead.
Solution? Put out a 1.5 degree requirement. Those polluters and deniers won’t agree to that. Meeting over. Why even discuss the funding when we can’t even agree to 1.5 degrees.
Tough Questions of Funding Can be Shelved and Blame Affixed to the Malcontents
China. India. Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries become easy targets. The US doesn’t want to hand over $50 billion per year to fight climate change worldwide? But the US still wants to maintain a public image of being all for fighting climate change?
The easy solution is to go extreme. Take up an impossible position. Become an activist. Put out support for a deal that you are certain will not be accepted but will satisfy the activists. The fingers may be firmly pointed elsewhere.
And privately, a sigh of relief that the status quo will be maintained while big words are spoken.
This deal is dead. The 1.5C smokescreen covers up the issue of whether trillions of dollars in the next decades will be transferred.
I, for one, am mad as hell that activism, once again, ruined the chance of some positive steps being taken. Activism is the surest way of destroying any agreement. One would think that of hundred of different diplomats that a few would understand that.
And will know that idealism is a grand way to torpedo a deal and come out looking stellar.