Quick thoughts on the new climate deal?
Climate activist and first-year student at Middlebury College
All I can really say at this point, having just run to the screen with President Obama’s press conference with all the other fools who believed that this might be worth our time, is that the time for “meaningful first steps” is long, long gone. You can’t commit to 2 degrees without putting up the necessary targets, and you can’t call basic levels of MRV a success without the finance and technology to back up all the necessary adaptation actions and low-carbon growth in the Global South. People are dying, and only the numbers count now. The time for first steps is long, long gone. Again, it’s a first reaction. But to young people, I don’t think our perception of this as a total and complete failure will change with a more careful reading. The fundamental agreement that we made with our governments when we elected them has been broken, and while we will not give up this fight for a fair, ambitious, and legally binding treaty, we need to be clear: we will not forgive those who have compromised our future, and sold much of the developing world down the river.
All I’ll say is, told you so. (See here and here.) For those who hate this outcome, my answer is that this is the only good outcome that could feasibly emerge from this meeting. When we go into the plenary, we’ll see how many other countries join, but Obama was pretty confident. It also represents a significant advance beyond the rigid Annex-I, non-Annex-I division of the Kyoto Protocol, which the mathematics and physics of the problem cannot abide. Now we all have to put pressure on them to finish the job in Mexico City. It’s a heavy lift, but yesterday morning I would have gone on the record that the Danish interim agreement idea was unjustifiably DOA.
Most think the intervention of President Obama working into tonight with China, India, and South Africa has salvaged the Copenhagen talks. The President has correctly said that this will not get the job done in terms of combating climate change as science dictates, but that it is a first step toward a continued effort in this regard. There will be lots to discuss when we see the final text but Obama would simply not accept a complete collapse of the talks. When the world can finally get a comprehensive deal done and the Senate can pass climate and energy legislation, I imagine we will look at his scrapping of his schedule and diligent efforts throughout the day as a moment that may have very well saved us from years of total inaction.
We all know what we have do to solve global warming, but even the architects of this deal acknowledge that it does not take those necessary steps. Merely acknowledging the weaknesses of the deal, as President Obama has done, does not excuse its failings. If this is the best we can do, it is not nearly good enough. We stand at the precipice of climatic tipping points beyond which a climate crash will be out of our control. We cannot make truly meaningful and historic steps with the United States pledging to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by only 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The science demands far more. The people of the United States voted for President Obama based on his promise of change and hope. But the only change today’s agreement brings is a greater risk of dangerous climate change. And the only hope that flows from Copenhagen stems not from the president’s hollow pronouncements but from the birth of a diverse global movement demanding real solutions and climate justice — demands made with a collective voice growing loud enough that in short order politicians will no longer be able to ignore it.
Not having seen the draft agreement, and being the “realist” skunk at this particular Grist picnic, I have to say that what I’ve read so far is very positive.
First, they didn’t do anything outstandingly stupid, like yoke the developed countries to emission-reduction targets without assurance that developing countries would do the same. Second, they made the absolutely shameless money grab of developed countries contingent on them actually doing something measurable; I’m sure this is inducing convulsions in the crowd that thinks UNESCO is a great organization. And third, they’ve laid a groundwork for the next round of negotiations that will start out with profoundly changed core principles. There is no way that future negotiations will go anywhere unless developing countries accept hard caps, peaking points, and some mechanism for ensuring that they actually do what they say they will.
China, which has probably been the biggest con artist of all time with regard to carbon offsets, will probably never agree to this. It is nice that Obama knew that China is the No. 1 emitter, since Hilary is still operating on two-year-old data, having said that China is No. 2. With any luck, Copenhagen represents the death of U.N.-driven climate change nonsense. Hopefully, a new process will evolve that bears some vague connection to reality: a reality in which countries don’t surrender their sovereignty to a corrupt United Nations; don’t commit economic suicide; don’t fund developing-world kleptocrats and lunatics; and don’t listen to tiny islands like Tuvalu (where sea level is *DROPPING*) about having everyone return to living in mud huts. It’s time to actually inject some sanity into the climate discussion:
1) Increase societal resilience to change, man-made or otherwise, by eliminating risk subsidies and static infrastructure;
2) Institute a global (hopefully revenue-neutral) “temperature tax,” based on changes in temperature in the tropical troposphere; and
3) Research geo-engineering just in case predictions of high-end warming (or global cooling!) accidentally turn out to be right.