As our leader flew into town to give a 2.5 minute speech at the Paris climate talks, and Le Monde still branded Australia a climate “dunce”, the French lit up the Eiffel Tower with 3D pictures of forests, and protesters clashed violently with police, Sara Phillips said “the vibe is the thing”.
Sentiment has changed markedly in recent years, she says.
- leading up to Paris, it has got to a point where if a nation continued to belch greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contributed nothing to a fund to help the poorest nations cope with climate change, it would become a global pariah.
Economic prosperity at the expense of the climate is becoming as unacceptable as human rights abuses and manufacture of chemical weapons.
Steffen Böhm has a different view. He believes the process will have to be regarded as failure:
- The basic reason is that the unequal distribution of carbon emissions is not even on its agenda. The historical responsibility of the West is not on the table, nor is a method of national carbon accounting that looks at how the emissions a country consumes rather than produces. Instead, what is on the table are expanded and new mechanisms that will allow the rich, Western countries to outsource their emission cuts so they can paint themselves green.
- what we are dealing with is the fundamental failure of neoliberal capitalism, the world’s dominant economic system, to confront its hunger for exponential growth that is only made possible by the unique energy density of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.
Outsourcing manufacture and buying carbon credits are mechanisms designed to cement the status quo, he says. According to him the system is geared towards exponential economic growth on the back of fossil fuel and “nobody who sits at the negotiation table in Paris has the mandate nor inclination to ask fundamental, systemic questions of the logic of the dominant economic system and the way we consume the resources of this planet.”
Contra that the CSIRO in its first Australian National Outlook report found that
- we can have dynamic economic growth simultaneously with sustainable resource use and reduced environmental stress, but only if we make the right choices collectively.
Böhm would say, yes, but we are not making those choices.
James Dyke approaches the problem from the point of view of the ‘tragedy of the commons’, where the innate selfishness of humans determines the outcome. Yet, he appears to be saying, many of us below the state level are doing the right thing. If enough of us do, that will produce norms, and eventually rules.
David Holmes points out that 6914 pledges have been made, mostly at intra-national levels. The agenda has secured commitment from 2255 cities, 150 regions, 2025 companies and 424 investors.
Rules is where the whole thing becomes problematic for some countries, especially the USA. Carbon Brief looks at the issue of what an outcome document might look like legally. It seems clear that whatever comes out will not be a ‘treaty’ in the US sense of the word, which would have zero chance of passing the Senate. But rules there will be:
- The US prefers language that would require countries to have climate plans, to report on progress and to update pledges on a regular basis under a “ratchet” mechanism. It also wants binding rules on the structure and content of the contributions. These rules are currently non-binding.
Carbon Brief also attempts to chart the bewildering array of demands made by negotiating alliances.
There are two groups, including the Least Developed Countries, that are holding out for a temperature increase limit of 1.5°C. That’s despite the fact that we are already at 1°C with a further 0.6°C in the pipeline.
Curtis Abraham in the New Scientist (can’t find a link) says that African countries are not happy. The impacts are likely to be more severe in Africa than elsewhere and they might block an agreement that doesn’t keep warming to 2°C or less. They also want $10-20 billion a year to adapt to climate change.
Michael Le Page at the NS says a real conspiracy of sorts is going on. He thinks most scientists, greenies and journalists are not willing to tell it like it is and are holding out false hope that present efforts will lead us to a favourable outcome with a bit of ramping up later on.
- Many climate scientists are censoring their own work to please their political paymasters, according to Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK. In particular, he says, they are not being honest about our prospects of limiting warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures.
- Cognitive psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, UK, summed it up in July: “If you scare people without offering a solution then they manage their fear by denying the problem. So, the most important thing is to reinforce that there are solutions and that little steps do add up to something in the end.”
Tell it like it is, says Le Page:
- This is not about idealism, but practicality. Wishful thinking does not solve problems. Pigs in straw houses might prefer to believe there are no wolves, but that does not make it so.