Just a few short months after the COP21 event in December, and coinciding with Earth Day, world leaders gathered today at United Nations HQ in New York City to sign what is being called the “Paris Climate Agreement.” The details of the signing and ratification process are complicated, so I’ll just say that it is likely that it will be signed and ratified by enough nations to come into effect, though I’m not sure when.
Friday’s signing sets a record for the number of countries signing an agreement on the first available day, the Associated Press reported. The old record goes back to the Law of the Sea in Montego Bay, which was signed by 119 countries in 1982, according toAccuWeather.
Signing the accord is only one step in the process. The leaders must now go back to their home countries’ governments to ratify and approve the agreement, which could take months or years. The deal goes into effect once 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions formally join.
I am not in a celebratory mood on this occasion. Just since December we have seen the global heat record get “smashed,” as noted by Jeff Masters and Bob Henson at the Weather Underground here. The annual mean growth rate of CO2 in the atmosphere also hit a record high in 2015, with 3.05ppm.
The Paris Agreement will be useful IF and ONLY if it triggers massive global action AND we do not use it as cover to grow complacent in our local, regional, and global efforts to combat climate change. I believe, as Bernie Sanders has mentioned and as championed by the Climate Mobilization, that a wartime-scale mobilization to address the climate crisis is our only option. Hillary Clinton still supports burning natural gas as part of a broad energy transition (which I view as a non-starter), and Republican presidential candidates are barely worth mentioning on this front (though Kasich does at least believe it exists).
One of my most trusted climate news aggregator sites, CarbonBrief.org, highlighted these two articles today that I feel are particularly important to consider on this day:
And don’t forget that I keep a curated breadcrumb trail of climate articles I find noteworthy in Mark’s Climate Mag(azine) via Flipboard. Subscribe to this ever-updated collection of articles (662 articles so far!) that I think might be interesting to those who follow my climate work. Great for mobile devices, too. Beautifully formatted on the Flipboard platform.
While not an occasion for a victory dance, today is an important day in climate history. I encourage you to use it as an opportunity to redouble your own carbon reduction efforts at home and in your community. Gather yourself, then step outside of your comfort zone. Nothing less will preserve a livable planet for future generations.
I’ve trimmed it down a bit for the sake of your time, but it is quite comprehensive and covers multiple dimensions around COP21, complete with loads of photos, not to mention videos of the protests and COP21 grounds and booths, and even a brief snippet from noted scientist Kevin Anderson. You can find the slides for the lecture HERE. E-mail me if you’d like a version that contains the notes with the slides: mark [at] yert [dot] com.
(Paris) We’re one week into the two-week COP21 climate negotiations summit and I can report that COP21 seems very similar to previous COPs, only bigger and more stylish. And more heavily guarded.
Furthermore, I suspect that everybody who came here with a preexisting expectation of what they would get out of it is probably getting exactly that out of it. In other words, while we certainly have have a city-wide, globally impacting, “World Cup of Climate”-scale convergence right now in Paris, I’m not seeing much in the way of breakthroughs, sea changes, or particularly unexpected circumstances. If you expected to see nations defend their self interest at the expense of the common good, you are seeing that. If you planned to see nations coming together in unprecedented ways for the common good, you’re seeing that. If you expected the agreement under consideration to be sufficient or insufficient, you’ll probably get that. If you feel that capitalism and/or technology are or are not up to the task of solving the problem, nothing here will change your mind. I’ve never attended anything so simultaneously over and underwhelming all at the same time! Let’s dig into some of the under/overwhelming highlights of the last few days…
Early Procedural Drama
I arrived in Paris with some cautious optimism that this time, THIS time, when it really really mattered, at the very last possible second, nations would set aside a little bit of self-interest for the sake of the common good. There aren’t clear signals to me about whether or not that is happening. (I wish I could get inside the negotiating back rooms!) One of the first points of “drama” at the conference was when Saudi Arabia blocked the inclusion (in the draft agreement) of a reference to a U.N. study on the impacts of choosing a 1.5°C warming limit vs. a 2°C limit (above pre-industrial levels)(more about that here). Despite the existence of a major cohort of nations (including the United States) seeking language referencing 1.5°C in the agreement (not as a goal, I believe, but just as a “reference”–possibly for more serious consideration in future COPs), the consensus nature of the proceedings makes it difficult to put it in if one country–like Saudi Arabia–doesn’t want it in. That said, the latest version (Dec. 5) of the draft COP21 agreement offers the following clause:
To hold the increase in the global average temperature [below 1.5 °C] [or] [well below 2 °C] above preindustrial levels by ensuring deep reductions in global greenhouse gas [net] emissions;
That means that nations are only considering options of “below 1.5°C” and “well below 2°C,” which I read as very good news (though I have no idea how nations will accomplish it). I’m not sure how Saudi Arabia feels about these options, but it is a bit of a mystery to my why the blockage of a reference was such a drama point if 1.5°C is still explicitly referenced as a potential goal. I’m still learning the nuance of this COP dance…
This is another section that caught my attention in the latest draft agreement. Nations are apparently considering language referencing a long-term goal decarbonization goal in a variety of different ways, including an annual percent reduction per year, zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060-2080, or more generalized language pointing to the same. Which will it be? I have no idea, but I like that they’re even considering a %/year goal. Here’s the language in the official draft agreement:
[Parties [collectively][cooperatively] aim to reach the global temperature goal referred to in Article 2 through: (a) [A peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible[, recognizing that peaking requires deeper cuts of emissions of developed countries and will be longer for developing countries]] (b) [Rapid reductions thereafter [in accordance with best available science] to at least a X [-Y] per cent reduction in global [greenhouse gas emissions][CO2[e]] compared to 20XX levels by 2050]]; (c) [Achieving zero global GHG emissions by 2060-2080] (d) [A long-term low emissions transformation] [toward [climate neutrality][decarbonization] [over the course of this century] [as soon as possible after mid-century]; (e) [Equitable distribution of a global carbon budget based on historical responsibilities and [climate] justice]
One interesting feature that appears to be making its way into this COP21 agreement is a ratchet mechanism that requires nations to only improve their commitments at each review point (likely to be every 5 years). While 5 years is a bit slow for my preference, if a ratchet mechanism can make it into the agreement AND be legally binding, that will be a significant signal to businesses around the world that this is really happening. Indeed, the “ratchet” could be one of the most important features of this agreement. Note the language in the latest draft:
Each Party’s successive ### [shall][should][will] represent a progression beyond the Party’s previous efforts and reflect its highest possible ambition
That said, a ratchet mechanism without sufficient transparency is difficult to enforce. Here’s a snippet that is trying to address that:
…all Parties shall provide the information necessary for the clarity, transparency and understanding…
That same language is also referenced in another section a bit differently:
In tracking progress towards achievement of their ###, Parties shall apply the principles of transparency, accuracy, completeness, comparability, consistency, avoidance of double counting, and environmental integrity, as further elaborated in…
From what I’ve heard around here, people are particularly concerned about transparency with respect to China’s reporting. Accuracy with China’s reporting is quite possibly more important than any other nation on earth, and China hasn’t exactly had the best track record in this regard.
The draft agreement also references quite an array of human rights and progressive-sounding ideas that I’m surprised to see make it this far into a consensus-based agreement involving so many nations. Take a look:
Parties acknowledge that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration [human rights,][the rights of people under occupation,] vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional, indigenous peoples knowledge and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.
You’d think that people who knew to use this kind of language in any document would also understand the how closely they’re flirting with disaster embodied by the other terms of the agreement–particularly the non-binding 2°C limit on warming. We shall see…
Those are my reflections for now, on this relatively quiet Monday in Paris. There underwhelmingly remains an overwhelming number (basically infinite) of opportunities for linguistic loopholes to get into the final agreement. I suspect that many will stay, a few will go, and we’ll get some kind of well-ground climate agreement sausage at the end of it all.
(By the way, this past weekend I discovered a bakery around the corner from my apartment that is apparently very highly regarded even by French standards, so I celebrated by having an eclair. It was so good that I had another one today. Tomorrow I’ll brave the croissant. I know. I’m having such a tough time out here. I expect tomorrow to also be relatively quiet, and then things should heat up again between Wednesday and Friday when world leaders supposedly return to finalize the COP21 agreement and release it to the world. Stay tuned, and send questions as you have them!)
Still getting information about this, but it appears that Canada has just endorsed a 1.5°C goal for COP21. That’s pretty big news, and fits into the rare category of a “surprise” at COP21. The U.S. has simply endorsed the inclusion of a verbal reference to 1.5°C, while Canada actually wants it to be the goal. We’ll see if other nations follow suit… Here’s the link.
I just met the Climate Interactive team yesterday at the #COP21 climate summit in Paris and they’ve got an important message about the big 2.7°C “sum of commitments” on the table for the event. Know the facts. The picture might not be quite as rosy as the U.N. says it is. More information at ClimateInteractive.org.
The leadership at COP21 has backed itself into a tricky corner pitting a declaration that “COP21 was a success” against the latest, best science. Leaders have a huge stake in declaring a successful outcome at this conference, but any declaration of success will likely need to suppress or disregard critical pieces of the climate puzzle. So in mid-December if/when the United Nations declares “SUCCESS! We have laid the foundations for keeping the planet below 2°C above pre-industrial levels!” don’t forget to dig into what their version of “success” means by asking these questions:
Success? With what probability? 66%?
Over what time horizon? What happens after 2100?
Assuming what climate feedback mechanisms? Only a subset of known mechanisms?
How much CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere? Probably lots, but how?
At what financial cost and paid by whom? How much have they contributed to-date?
Is 2°C a worthwhile goal? Do coastal cities and African + island nations lose out?
What penalties are applied to unhelpful nations? Is it legally or financially binding?
Once you receive answers to these questions and check them against your own internal senses of right vs. wrong, spin vs. science, and possibility vs. reality, you will have the tools to make your own decision about whether COP21 was a success.
And now for a little bit more detail:
Much of the research that the COP21 negotiators are working from (generally data from the IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) orbits around staying below 2°C with a 66% likelihood of success. That’s often what they mean when they say “likely stay below 2°C.” But I have to ask, would you fly on an airplane or drive in a car that has a 66% chance of delivering you safely to your destination? If we seek a 90% probability of staying below 2°C, then we must stop burning all fossil fuels immediately (per David Spratt, “RECO2UNT”).
Negotiators will often limit predictions about the climate to 2100 as the time horizon. The climate system, however, doesn’t just stop warming when the clock ticks over. It seeks an equilibrium of energy that may not settle out for hundreds of years or more. So if you hear a climate prediction that sounds palatable, dig into whether the estimates work with an equilibrium state or not. Very often estimates just stop at 2100 with no mention that temperatures will likely rise after that year.
In the pursuit of non-controversial data to support its findings, the IPCC does not take into account all known positive feedback mechanisms in the climate system (for review, a well-known feedback positive mechanism works like this: the arctic icecap melts and changes a highly reflective white ice surface into a highly absorptive dark water surface, accelerating the heating). That’s a problem in my book, and generally causes the IPCC to predict lesser climate impacts than what actually happens. (Consider this detailed assessment of feedback mechanisms by David Wasdell at the the Apollo-Gaia Project.)
All the IPCC scenarios used by the negotiators at COP21 that show us keeping warming below 2°C require some form of massive CO2 removal from the atmosphere. Any way you slice it, we’re no longer looking at a simple emissions reduction as sufficient to keep the planet below that goal. We must also actively pull CO2 from the atmosphere with technologies that have yet to be proven cost effective and/or at scale.
Decarbonizing the global economy will require a whole lot of money. The World Bank recently announced an assessment putting the number in the range of $89 trillion over the next 15 years (to stay below 2°C, and I’m not sure about the probability they use). That money will need to come from somewhere, and whoever it is has yet to put that kind of money on the table. I’m watching this front closely, possibly closest of all. The best intentions will sit on the drawing board without the financing to bring them to life.
The 2°C goal is somewhat arbitrary and is often characterized as a target that will help us “avoid the worst impacts of climate change.” Renowned climate scientists James Hansen calls the 2°C target “catastrophic” and argues for a 1°C limit (we’re already experiencing this in 2015), while many others–even those within the COP21 negotiations process, particularly African and low-lying island nations– are actively trying to get the U.N. to adopt a 1.5°C target at COP21. Why those nations? Because we already have at least 1-3m of sea level rise baked into the system, and many low-lying nations disappear under those conditions. For them, this is a mortal fight. Furthermore, 2°C is a global average, but that value will vary globally depending on many factors including the proximity to oceans vs. large land masses and local weather patterns. African nations are set to bear the brunt of temperature increases for those reasons and more, and since they generally have done little to contribute to the problem, they see it as only fair that developed nations (like the United States) should bear the brunt of the atmospheric CO2 reduction burden. (I discuss the 2°C goal in great detail in the following article on Climate Change Numbers for COP21 in Paris.)
I hate to say it, but sometimes people are moved to act or not act based on the penalties applied to them. In the case of the COP21 climate negotiations, I see little evidence of anybody signing up for a legally binding agreement with any real teeth. If the word is used in a final pronouncement, check to see exactly what is legally binding. It might just be that the only legally binding thing to emerge is a provision for nations to review and revise their 2015 commitments every few years to address updates in the scientific literature.
Whatever the result at COP21 this year, it has already turned out to be a massive international focal point for collective climate action. Do the specifics matter? I think they do, but I suspect we’ll have to take whatever we can get and then cheerlead our way to even greater action the very next day. And the next. And the next. Holding ourselves accountable to the latest science, the possibilities within our collective genius, and our best moral selves.
For additional details and more of my (Mark Dixon’s) personal reflections on COP21, feel free to check out my hour-long lecture here:
I have a big update for you today! The last couple of weeks have been very fruitful: I was able to give climate presentations at the Thomas Merton Center, the Church of the Redeemer, Maren’s Sustainability Salon, and Sustainable Monroeville. The response was extremely positive both via feedback forms and additional donations sufficient to fund an additional two presentations. Thank you for helping to make this presentation/funding mechanism work so well!
I am also pleased to reveal a brand new video of my complete COP21 climate presentation on YouTube for you to watch and share. If you were unable to attend one of my earlier presentations, or you’re out of town or just want to share the information, now you can: https://youtu.be/E_PoMZKZsaY
And one last reminder: I am still looking for venues where I can give more presentations. If you know of a class, a group, a church community, or anybody else who might be interested in hosting a presentation, please let me know!
Yours in service,
P.S. I have scheduled my primary post-COP21 presentation for Tuesday, 1/19/16, at 7:00 P.M. at First United Methodist Church, 5401 Centre Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. We’ll have a detailed discussion of everything that went down in Paris and what’s next. Hope to see you there!
There are long messages and short messages in this world. I offer both:
This December nations around the world will send delegates to the COP21 (United Nations Climate Change Conference – Conference of Parties) in Paris, France
I plan to bring my eyes, ears, and voice (and audio/video/photography gear) to this gathering… to ultimately raise awareness about this important issue and urge responsible action by lawmakers.
I have been given the opportunity to formally represent [Mayor Bill Peduto] and the City of Pittsburgh at an official COP21 precursor event: the World Summit Climate & Territories [in Lyon, France on July 1 & 2]
[I also plan] to act as an informal but dedicated liaison for numerous entities in Pittsburgh to the global community.
my hope is that you all as climatologically-concerned members of the Pittsburgh community will help me offset some of the costs with a generous donation of your own hard-earned money. [you can donate to my GoFundMe campaign here]
for every $250 donated, I commit to give at *least* one presentation to the regional Pittsburgh community
This is your chance to personally play a role and have a meaningful impact on the most important climate negotiations of our time. And possibly of all time.
And now for the long version…
I have been following the progress of international climate negotiations for several years now, and we’re at a critical juncture: This December nations around the world will send delegates to the COP21 (United Nations Climate Change Conference – Conference of Parties) in Paris, France to negotiate a strong international climate agreement designed to keep the impacts of human-caused climate change below 2 degrees C. If the past is any indication, however, pressure from various beneficiaries of the status quo will emerge to undermine the talks and weaken the agreement, thereby undermining humanity’s access to a livable climate. Furthermore, current commitments by nations who have given them are not sufficient to achieve the 2C goal, and many people argue that even 2C is not sufficient– that we should strive for 1.5C or less. I plan to bring my eyes, ears, and voice (and audio/video/photography gear) to this gathering either as an official attendee (if I can gain access inside the conference) or as a citizen documentarian outside of the official conference venue (if conference access in not available to me– in which case I will cover a multitude of events, discussions, and protests in Paris scheduled to coincide with the negotiations). Everything that I have learned in my YERT adventure and subsequent research and activism drives me to attend and participate in a meaningful way– to ultimately raise awareness about this important issue and urge responsible action by lawmakers.
In addition, through a recent and serendipitous conversation with Pittsburgh’s Mayor, Bill Peduto, I have been given the opportunity to formally represent him and the City of Pittsburgh at an official COP21 precursor event: the World Summit Climate & Territories in Lyon, France. This is *the* primary convergence for “subnational governments and non-state actors” to formulate “widely shared commitments and proposals on climate action.” This event will give me a more accessible platform to share Pittsburgh’s progress on tackling climate change while learning from other global governments and organizations about their progress, hopefully enabling me to act as an informal but dedicated liaison for numerous entities in Pittsburgh to the global community. It may also increase my chances of acquiring official attendance at the December COP21 event. An additional benefit to attending the Summit is that it takes place next week on July 1 and 2, giving time for the results of this gathering to have an actual impact on the negotiations in December. I will also plan to give local presentations about the Summit proceedings to the Pittsburgh community prior to December, enabling more people to learn about and take action in support of a strong agreement. My showing up to watch negotiators put icing on a cake that was baked over the course of years is good, but having a say in the baking process is even better, and that’s what this Summit enables for all of us.
There are obvious concerns about spending so much carbon dioxide to fly to events aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. My response is that I will be flying primarily in service of the Pittsburgh community as a part of the global community working to reduce climate change. (This is anything but a vacation to France, though I must admit I love French food). I will document my travels and work to bring the most up-to-date and relevant news to the Pittsburgh community through a series of public presentations around the region. I will also purchase carbon offsets as a gesture towards mitigating the carbon dioxide generated by my travels (planning to purchase approximately 2x anticipated CO2 generated). It is ultimately very difficult to reach a strong international agreement on anything without at least some face-to-face meetings, and I plan to make them count.
These journeys also present a financial challenge: The opportunity to represent the city next week does not come with a free ride. I have to pay my way to the event in Lyon, France next week, and again in Paris in December. I plan to cover the journey to Paris in December through frequent flier miles (via my credit card points, not from frequent flying these days! ;-), and have located a free place to stay with friends. I would only encounter food and public transportation costs for that trip. The suddenness of the trip to Lyon next week, however, presents a much more expensive opportunity, probably costing about $3,000 for airplane, local travel, food, and lodging. I am pursuing CouchSurfing options with an account profile I have carefully nurtured over the years, but have yet to lock in free lodging. Three free meals are provided with the conference, but I will need to eat a bit more than that to stay at full strength during the journey. I estimate that both trips combined will cost between $3k and $5k.
I believe that the opportunity to meaningfully represent Pittsburgh in Lyon (and later in Paris) is ultimately worth risking my own personal financial resources, so I am proceeding with the journey next week and again in December, but my hope is that you all as climatologically-concerned members of the Pittsburgh community will help me offset some of the costs with a generous donation of your own hard-earned money. We’re all giving what we can, and I offer my time and some of my money to help this global community make key changes at a pivotal time. Furthermore, for every $250 donated, I commit to give at *least* one presentation to the regional Pittsburgh community (students, communities, organizations, etc.) about climate change and this negotiation process. I hope you will consider my request. This is your chance to personally play a role and have a meaningful impact on the most important climate negotiations of our time. And possibly of all time.
You can support my efforts by…
Making a non-deductible financial donation via my GoFundMe campaign here.
Inviting me to speak to your community, organization, or institution in exchange for a supportive honorarium ($300-$500 requested, but I will be giving some free presentations, so if you’re interested please ask!).
Interviewing me for your media program/video/podcast.
Introducing me to foundations, organizations, or individuals who you believe may offer financial support.
Purchasing a public screening license for either of my films:
Hiring me as a videographer and/or headshot/event photographer.
A few disclaimers/details so that we’re all on the same page:
Donations are not tax deductible.
I will also be seeking funding from other sources, possibly including (but not exclusive to) foundations.
There is a good chance that I’ll be collaborating with at least one and possibly more media organizations to help get my stories to wider audiences. I do not yet know whether they will offer financial compensation for my efforts.
I commit to give presentations in the Pittsburgh area regardless of how much money is raised, but I will keep close count of donations received and make a point to give a *minimum* of one presentation per $250 received. I will give some presentations before and some after December 2015. I will endeavor to give presentations in a diversity of neighborhoods.
I will give at least one presentation per $250 donated (pure donations– not including honoraria for speaking engagements, film licenses, or hired work) regardless of whether expenses are ultimately covered. If I receive donations exceeding my expenses, I will put that money towards finding, setting up, delivering, and promoting climate-related presentations in the Pittsburgh region.
I may have an opportunity to combine trips and do a bit of filming for my upcoming Solar Roadways film or other film projects while in Europe. I figure it is only prudent to make the most of carbon dioxide spent on the journey. That said, donations will not be spent on any Solar Roadways or other filming detours not specifically related to the COP21 negotiations.
I have assembled this plan fairly quickly and it is subject to change, particularly as I will very likely receive constructive criticism that I would like to accommodate. I promise to seek guidance from donors about any material changes to this plan, and will do my best to keep the public interest at heart throughout the process. If at any point you feel that I have not kept my portion of the agreement, I will be happy to refund your donation to you.
– I reserve the right to refuse your donation for any reason.
If for some reason I am unable to attend one or more of these events, I will either refund the donations (for the missed event(s)) or give them to a climate change-related charity organization.
Thank you for your support. I look forward to working together with you to make sure that we create the future we know is possible.