Paris climate agreement: good deal or bad?

    By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.

That’s from George Monbiot.

James Hansen called the talks “a fraud”, “bullshit” and “worthless words”. Here’s John Kerry’s reply.

Much of the concern related to the voluntary nature of the commitments and the lack of a compliance mechanism. Yet a massive signal has been sent to business and government everywhere. As Joe Romm reports:

    The agreement “sends a very powerful message to the business and investment community that the age of fossil fuels is ending,” explained the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Alden Meyer. Thus, “continued investments in high-carbon assets conflicts with their fiduciary responsibility.”

Clive Hamilton says the deal is both good and bad:

    It finally acknowledges that warming should be kept below 1.5°C, there will be five-yearly reviews (with exceptions), climate financing has been ramped up, the crippling formal division between rich and poor countries has been broken down and various other provisions have been resolved towards the good end of expectations.

    It’s become clear that what is being achieved in the negotiating rooms is being trumped by what is happening outside. In the last fortnight I have witnessed the quite amazing shift among investors and “non-state actors” that signals a sea-change in climate action that now seems unstoppable. (This comes from someone with a well-founded reputation as a doomsayer).

    But there is another question that can be asked: “Will the Paris Agreement be based firmly on the science and commit the parties to actions that will limit global warming to less than 2°C and preferably 1.5°C?” The answer to that is undoubtedly no.

The BBC summarises the key points:

    • To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century

    • To keep global temperature increase “well below” 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C

    • To review progress every five years

    • $100bn a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

Missing from the agreement was the issue of emissions from international shipping and air travel. In the too hard basket for now.

The BBC also quotes John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research as saying “If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero within a few decades.”

In truth it also means overshooting and negative emissions – taking carbon out of the air. At current rates our budget of remaining carbon for a 1.5°C scenario would be used up by about 2020.

Lenore Taylor tells of how the replacement of the word “should” in the final text with “shall” nearly blew the talks and caused telephone calls ricocheting around the world, with both Cuban president Raul Castro and US secretary of state John Kerry enlisted to call Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega to ask him to get his climate negotiator to stand down.

Lenore Taylor’s piece is long and reflective. Her cynical optimist’s view:

    So I leave thinking the Paris agreement – for the first time setting expectations for all nations and for the world – might just be a strong enough signal to give real momentum towards slowing global warming despite the dysfunctional international process and the imperfect national promises and the arguments over detail that will continue interminably at such conferences.

So much is happening on such a broad front that there will be nowhere to hide. That includes the Australian government.

Julie Bishop said the landmark agreement represented “flexibility for us to do more”. Turnbull, of course, is currently wedged by promises he made when scheming for power. Australia plans to use accounting tricks and sleight of hand to achieve its 2020 targets – using 2005 as a high base year, counting leftover credits from the Kyoto deal, probably buying cheap international credits and fiddling with the Direct Action’s “safeguard mechanisms”.

James Chessell says Paris accord will give Turnbull some cover to make three obvious changes, particularly after a scheduled review of Direct Action takes place in 2017.

The first is to upgrade the targets for 2030, currently set at 26 to 28% of 2005 levels.

Secondly, we wcould move to a more market-based approach by toughening Direct Action’s safeguards mechanism designed to reduce carbon emissions from big companies, and allowing them to buy cheap international credits.

Third, the rhetoric could change. This appears to be happening already.

Strictly, that’s pathetic. John Connor of the Climate Institute spells out a more ambitious pathway. As Giles Parkinson says:

    The overwhelming impression at these talks – amongst observers, environmental groups, and even among the heavily represented business lobby – is that the Australian government still does not understand the enormity of what has been proposed, and agreed to, at these talks.

For the planet I agree with Thom Mitchell at New Matilda that the Paris deal signals not how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go and how quickly we must act. Just four months ago I said that 1.5°C looked politically beyond us. Now it’s up there in lights. Something momentous appears to have happened at Paris – perhaps an apprehension of crisis that produces real change.

I’ve been saying for at least two years that we should target zero net emissions by 2030 and then draw down emissions to achieve 350 CO2e ppm by 2050. And I’ve been warning about the folly of two degrees. I’m starting to feel vindicated.

See also:

Graham Readfearn – Paris agreement a victory for climate science and ultimate defeat for fossil fuels

Carbon BriefScientists discuss the 1.5C limit to global temperature rise

The ConversationParis climate talks

Sara Phillips – Paris climate accord: The real work has just begun

Giles Parkinson – Historic and ambitious climate deal signals end of fossil fuel era

Giles Parkinson – Lomborg legacy: Why Turnbull Coalition still doesn’t get it

Giles Parkinson – Hidden gem in Paris deal condemns coal to early demise

Australian-German Climate and Energy College – Facts4COP21: Paris Agreement includes ambitious long-term goal

3 thoughts on “Paris climate agreement: good deal or bad?”

  1. Good or Bad? Jeez how would any ordinary person know?

    My hope is that at least Paris serves as some kind of line in the sand from where we finally start to make progress. That’s about all I can see with some reasonable confidence.

    Doubtless some “promises” will fail but maybe other things will happen e.g. disruptive technology such as electric cars that are just awaiting the price of batteries to fall. That will be the end of the combustion engine. That will be apparent over the next decade because as batteries make EV’s affordable, the comparative running costs of EV’s /ICE’s is a no brainer choice.

    I’m embarrassed that Australia looks like a poor performer. But the government could start to fix that by vetoing the Carmichael mine. That would also restore some lost confidence of the farming sector. And the door would then be open to go for serious climate action.

  2. It is worth noting that rooftop solar kept growing in Qld despite the best efforts of the Newman government. It is also worth noting that renewables are rapidly becoming more and more competitive to the point where it makes no sense to build new coal fired power. Then there is the steady growth of voters that are not supporting the stance of the climate skeptics.
    In a sense the Paris talks merely recognized what is happening politically, commercially and technologically world wide. It is why I am optimistic to the point that I believe that what will happen will be better than what was agreed in Paris.

  3. John, there’s no question we’ll do better than what was offered in Paris. But then we need to, by a considerable margin.

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