but is it really good enough?
History has been made in Paris – but perhaps not the kind of history we hoped. The climate summit in Paris may come to be remembered as the moment when the world’s leaders let the last hope of limiting warming to 2 °C slip away from us.
The Paris agreement, which covers the period 2020 to 2030, is a better deal than many expected, and if countries stick both to the spirit and the letter of the agreement, it could give us a good chance of limiting global warming to under 4 °C and perhaps even under 3 °C.
But this is far from certain. The Kyoto Protocol was hailed as a dramatic turning point when it was agreed in 1997 but most now regard it as a failure.
Many scientists have welcomed the stated aim in the Paris agreement not just of trying to keep warming under 2 °C but endeavouring to limit it to 1.5 °C – a more ambitious goal than expected before the summit. However, they point out that what is in the agreement does not go nearly far enough to achieve these aims. The strongest criticism has come from renowned climate scientist James Hansen.
“It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises,” Hansen said today. “As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
It has long been clear that what countries were offering to do as part of a deal was not nearly enough to keep us under 2 °C. In the lead-up to Paris, this was not only been acknowledged but stressed by many involved in the process, including UN chief negotiator Christiana Figueres.
This has not changed. “The emissions cuts promised by countries are still wholly insufficient,” says Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia, who studies global emissions.
However, the agreement does contain a “ratchet mechanism”. Countries will have to say every five years what they are doing tackle climate change review – what will now be called their nationally determined contribution. Each successive NDC “will represent a progression beyond” the country’s previous one. This wording did not appear in earlier versions of the agreement, in which the language was weaker.
The idea is that this will ensure countries rapidly “ratchet up” their ambitions. But the gulf between what is being done and what is required is huge, and nothing in the deal compels countries to make much greater efforts required. While the deal is being described as legally binding, countries can withdraw from it without consequences, as Canada did from the Kyoto Protocol.
Now or never
And time has nearly run out for limiting warming to 2 °C. “If we wait until 2020, it will be too late,” climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre in the UK told New Scientist on Friday. “It’s a very small window.”
As for 1.5 °C, it would take nothing less than “a true world revolution”, according to Piers Forster of the University of Leeds. “We need renewable energy, nuclear power, fracking, zero-carbon transport, energy efficiency, housing changes,” he said. “Even international aviation and shipping that were excluded from this report will need to be tackled within the next few years.”
Few regard this as a realistic prospect, not least because no politician would be prepared to take the drastic and costly measures required. “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5 °C is simply incompatible with democracy,” Michael Grubb of University College London told The Daily Telegraphyesterday.
But unless such drastic action is taken in the next few years we are headed for a very different world, one in which seas will rise by more than 5 metres over the coming centuries, and one in which droughts, floods and extreme heatwaves will ravage many parts of the world.
There has been much praise for the way the French have organised the summit and handled the negotiations.
The deal in Paris may well have been the best deal possible. But the protesters outside the summit are right when they say it will not save the planet.
“The bureaucrats have a better grasp of what is politically possible, and the protesters of what is physically necessary,” says Anderson. “What do you want to bet on, science or politics?”
After Trump Demands List of Civil Servants
Who Worked on Climate Policy Under Obama
By Sarah Lazare from AlterNet
Donald Trump’s transition team is instructing the Department of Energy to hand over the names of all of the agency’s contractors and employers who have worked on key climate policies under President Barack Obama, raising concerns that a witch hunt is being orchestrated by the incoming administration.
The request was included in a 74-question internal document that was distributed last Wednesday. Bloomberg journalists Catherine Traywick and Jennifer Dlouhy first reported the memo, which was publicly posted by E&E News.
In the 40th question, the Trump administration requests a complete list of staffers who have participated in international climate negotiations. "Can you provide a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the IA Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) in the last five years?” the document states.
During his campaign, Trump vowed to “cancel” the Paris climate accord, which was negotiated by representatives of nearly 200 countries.
The 27th question in the document states, “Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings? Can you provide a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, EPSA emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings?”
The Environmental Protection Agency and other federal bodies use the Social Cost of Carbon as an “estimate of the economic damages associated with a small increase in carbon dioxide,” according to a statement from the EPA. The Obama administration has employed the metric to calculate the potential outcomes of policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The tool has garnered fierce opposition from conservatives and climate deniers, including David Kreutzer, who is part of Trump’s transition team for the EPA. A senior research fellow for the conservative Heritage Foundation, Kreutzer previously referred to the Social Cost of Carbon as “fundamentally flawed.”
Question 29 states, “Which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama's Climate Action Plan?”
Furthermore, the document instructs the DOE to provide lists and information about lab researchers, including, “Can you provide a list of the top twenty salaried employees of the lab, with total remuneration and the portion funded by the DOE?” Teryn Norris, a former appointee to the DOE, noted on Twitter that, “The questions on lab researchers—outside positions, prof society memberships, publications, websites—are extremely concerning.”
That an incoming administration is requesting the personal information of all civil servants who worked on these key initiatives and research is raising alarm. Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, declared in a press statement that “Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately.”
“It looks like Trump and his administration are planning a political witch hunt which has no place in American government: purging or marginalizing anyone who has worked on the issue of climate change,” John Coequyt, climate policy director for Sierra Club, said in a press statement.
“This action should not be viewed in isolation,” Kimmel continued. “The Trump transition team is teeming with individuals with a proven history of attacking climate scientists and undermining climate science. Several transition team members now overseeing federal agencies have harassed scientists based on their research and have long signaled a desire to dismantle federal climate science research.”
News of the questionnaire broke shortly before media outlets reported that the oil barron Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., is Trump’s appointee as Secretary of State. Thomas Pyle, who leads Trump’s energy transition team, is the president of the Institute for Energy Research, which was established by Charles Koch. He formerly worked as a lobbyist for Koch Industries.
In addition to pledging to tear up the Paris climate agreement, Trump vowed during his campaign to reverse environmental protections and approve more pipelines and oil and gas drilling. In 2012, Trump falsely stated on Twitter that, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
Environmental campaigners and scientists have long warned that Obama's climate policies do not go far enough to address the crisis.
Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.