Just What is Going On?

by Dr. Ricky Rood

The Conference of the Parties – 21, COP21, is starting to wind down, and our University of Michigan Delegation first-week flight of students is back and the second-week flight is in Paris. I hope that some of you have followed the students on Facebook and Twitter. ( @ClimateBlue on Twitter, http://www.facebook.com/ClimateBlue ). We are hoping to keep the student presence more active than after previous COPs, so encourage them.

I wish I had posted these links sooner. There are webcasts of the negotiations at unfccc.int/webcast. There is an archive so that you can watch on demand, and go back and study the process. I think that you want to look specifically for meetings of the Paris Committee. The latest versions of the text of updated documents areposted here. It is really quite interesting, well to those who are interested, to look at the text evolve. The large, public role that France’s President Hollande is taking in the negotiations is notable. Such a prominent role by a head of state is different than 2009.

Compared to the 2009 COP, the mood of the delegation is very high. There is excitement about progress. I recount that in 2009, during my time at the COP, some of the U.S., elected loyal climate-change rejecters came to meet with the Saudi delegation (that was one of my best blogs). If that happened this time, it has been buried under other news. The loyal rejecters are active on the home front sowing doubt about the U.S. as a reliable partner; however, Mr. Trump is largely defining their public outreach efforts.

OK, I’ve written about the official 2 degree Celsius, dangerous climate change limit for years. The 2 degree Celsius limit is the ambition to limit the rise of the global average temperature of the Earth’s surface to 2 degrees. To me, the 2-degree goal is what seemed possible about 20 years ago – and, when defined, also seemed far enough away that we might figure out how to do it. The linking of “dangerous” or, really, avoiding dangerous climate change, to 2 degrees seemed like defining dangerous to be greater than 2 degrees. I have also maintained in the past few years that 1) the path we were on would make a 4-degree goal challenging to reach, and 2) that the warming that we have already realized is pretty clearly dangerous to some people and nations.

Going into Paris, there is still the ambition to meet the 2-degree goal. There is also the new diplomatic strategy of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). The INDC’s are non-binding goals that the nations have committed to prior to arrival in Paris.

Last night, I saw a great talk by the head of the U.M. Energy Institute, Mark Barteau. In that talk, he put together a slide from ClimateInteractive. I will use a couple of the figures from Professor Barteau’s presentation. In the first, there are emissions using the INDC’s going into the Paris COP. A couple of blogs ago I wrote of those INDCs, “If there is a real reduction by 2030, and we have avoided that political descent to the Dark Ages, this will be an amazing achievement.” (I feel it wise to keep the Dark Age reference alive. A Dark Age mostly likely would reduce emissions.)

In Figure 1, it shows that the current INDC’s would be a target temperature of 3.5 degrees C. I assume that must be at some particular time in the future (perhaps, 2100), because those INDCs show a continuing high emission rate, and I don’t know why the temperature change would actually stabilize at 3.5 degrees C. In order to stabilize the temperature, we really have to reduced our carbon dioxide emissions close to zero. This reduction to zero is emphasized by Figure 2, which shows the emissions curves for a 2 degree C temperature increase.

Figure 1: The emission paths of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) . FromClimateInteractive, courtesy of Mark Barteau.

Figure 2: The emission paths to limit average global surface temperature changes to 2 degrees Celsius. FromClimateInteractive, courtesy of Mark Barteau.

It is noteworthy, therefore, that in Paris the discussion is for a temperature rise of less than 2 degrees C. Here is text from Draft Text on (see this link)

COP 21 agenda item 4 (b)
Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (decision 1/CP.17)
Adoption of a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties
Version 1 of 9 December 2015 at 15:00

What is being discussed is:

To hold the increase in the global average temperature to

Option 1: below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels,

Option 2: well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels [and to [rapidly] scale up global efforts to limit temperature increase to below 1.5 °C] [,while recognizing that in some regions and vulnerable ecosystems high risks are projected even for warming above 1.5 °C],

Option 3: below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,

This is a “wow” in many ways. It redefines dangerous. It pretty much says not only do we have to reduce emissions to zero, but we are committing to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – a conclusion that we reach in class every year.

Though a welcome and ambitious goal, the political and technological realities worry me. My principal worry is that if we agree to such a goal, here and now, that many will perceive that the agreement to a goal is tantamount to having achieved that goal. In a similar vein of concern, if that goal is discredited as impossible in the public arena, then it will be viewed as unserious, and it will be abandoned. Such a goal is a commitment to rapid transformation of the energy sector (won’t that actually require energy policy and legislation?) and development of new carbon management technologies and policy. There are enormous implications for economies, technology, and finance.

I love the courage and the statement of these ambitious goals, but I am notoriously anchored with discretion being the better part of valor. Interested to see what my wise commenters have to say.


This article was originally published on Weather Underground.  Read the original here.


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