Yes, The Paris Climate Agreement Sucks

by Robert Hunziker

The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 was a big deal as 195 nations agreed to take steps to mitigate global temperatures to +2°C, but preferably +1.5°C, post-industrial or over the past 250 years. When temperatures exceed those levels, all hell breaks loose with our precious life-support ecosystems.

Today, we’re already more than halfway to that first temperature guardrail but accelerating fast. Problematically, the latency effect of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions impacting global temperature is several years; similarly, a household oven turned to 450°F doesn’t immediately go to 450°F. Earth’s atmosphere, similar to that oven, takes time (years and years) to respond to GHGs that essentially turn up its thermostat.

Implementation of Paris ‘15, however, is another matter. With four years of hindsight, the original Paris Agreement appears to be nothing more than “hope springs eternal.”

The 2015 compilation of 195 signatories (subsequently 197) to the UNFCCC Paris Agreement was a great PR event. And, it was a very good wake up call regarding the seriousness, and dangers, of climate change. However, looking back at its origins, it was DOA.

For starters, ever since the ink dried, CO2 emissions have gone up and are now accelerating, as fossil fuel usage had its largest increase in seven years in 2018, prompting the prestigious Met Office Hadley Center/UK to issue a strong warning: “During 2019, Met Office climate scientists expect to see one of the largest rises in atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration in 62 years.”

Thus, on the heels the of Paris ’15 Agreement, CO2 emissions took a short breather but then took off and never looked back. In fact, the largest increase since 1957. Counter-intuitively, the Paris ’15 Agreement, unbeknownst to participants at the time, somehow (mysteriously) served to launch accelerating CO2 emissions.

Not only have GHGs started going gangbusters once again, additionally, there’s a very challenging “land use” issue with the Agreement, which is one more category of failure. Human land use is responsible for about one-quarter or 25% of global anthropogenic emissions. Also, land abuse severely constrains/limits/reduces terrestrial carbon sinks, thereby defeating nature’s moderation and balance of CO2, not too hot, not too cold for the past 10,000 years of the Holocene Era.

The land use imbroglio is the subject of an important new study: “Achievement of Paris Climate Goals Unlikely Due To Time Lags In The Land System” by Calum Brown, et al, Nature Climate Change, February 18, 2019.

According to the study, meeting the Paris Agreement requirement of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C or 2°C “requires substantial interventions in the land system, in the absence of dramatic reductions in fossil fuel emissions,” Ibid.

Well then, in that case, as previously alluded to, “dramatic reduction in fossil fuel emissions” has become a bad joke. Therefore, “land use” takes on new significance to limit temperatures to 1.5°C or 2°C. But, in reality, land use is, has been, and remains a disaster in the making.

Commitments to implement provisions of the Paris Agreement are called NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions). Of the 195 countries that committed NDCs (representing 96.4% of global GHG emissions) no major industrialized country has yet matched its own ambitions for emission reductions.

Clearly, nobody is serious about curbing climate change and its consequence of global warming. The global motto seems to be: Let the chips fall where they may!

However, avoidance is a dangerous game as very big problems loom right now today as the planet’s three major sensitive areas to global warming are literally crumbling apart: (1) the Arctic (2) Antarctica and (3) Northern Hemisphere permafrost.

But, nobody lives in those areas to physically see it happen. Then again, scientists that take field trips to where nobody lives are horrified, aghast, dumbfounded by the rapidity of change. Time and again, year-over-year, they express disbelief at how much faster ecosystems are changing, especially in the context of paleoclimate history, ten times faster in many instances. That’s a formula for sure-fire disaster.

Meanwhile, one hundred countries have explicitly identified mitigation strategies involving “land use” with a common strategy of increasing forest “carbon sinks” by reducing deforestation and/or increasing reforestation. However, deforestation increased by 29% between 2015-16 in Brazil and by 44% in Columbia, and the net result of overall deforestation and land-use shows no real progress for years.

Furthermore, the voluntary aspect of nations fulfilling NDCs means that NDCs are not required to be demonstrably achievable. That appears to be a weak link in the Agreement.

Worse yet, most countries have no defined plans for implementation. Not only, countries like Australia have already abandoned emissions targets for their energy sector. And, some countries have issued contradictory objectives, for example, Scotland, which issued world-leading climate policies also simultaneously provided financial support for fossil fuel extraction.

Other examples of contradictory policies include Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium policy designed to reverse state-sponsored palm oil plantations that decimate rainforests. Their plan is confusing, and it’s counter-productive, as it temporarily slows down deforestation in some areas while increasing deforestation in other areas. Which is it supposed to be?

In fact both Indonesia (rainforest) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (rainforest) deforestation rates exceed that of brazen Brazil  (rainforest) by 1.5-to-2 times in spite of Paris ’15 commitments.

Equally concerning, voluntary commitments within countries are not enforceable, another shocker. Both China and India “encourage” reforestation via “voluntary tree planting by all citizens.” This approach is fraught with numerous issues. For example, effective leadership in localities is but one issue.

Meanwhile, on a global basis (1) China and India, since 2017, have increased emissions by 4.7% and 6.3% respectively, (2) China’s Development Bank is financing hundreds of new coal-fired plants in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, (3) Brazil is opening up its rainforests to massive development like there’s no tomorrow (4) France, Germany, and Japan have increased coal use (5) France scrapped some major plans to meet GHG reductions because of public pushback (6) Four U.S. states (Washington, Alaska, Colorado, and Arizona) rejected anti-fossil fuel initiatives in the most recent 2018 elections… and the list goes on, but the point is made.

In the future, it is likely that climate change mitigation will not be implemented until climate disaster strikes first. Then, expect public outcry: “Do something!”

Australia’s 2018 heat wave may be an early preview of one of many potential climate disasters in the near future that will serve as a catalyst for public outcry, pleading for help, do something!

Australia sizzled like a blazing-hot oven in late 2018 as temperatures exceeding 42°C (107°F). According to National Geographic: Sarah Gibbens, Bats Are Boiling Alive in Australia’s Heat Wave, d/d January 9th, 2019, asphalt melted on highways and animals and fish died by the thousands. Australian National University in Canberra predicts summer temperatures of up to 122°F in years ahead.

As for one more example of what may motivate the public, once Wall Street/Lower Manhattan as well as Miami Beach are repeatedly hit by flooding from high tide surges, there will be public outcry: “Do something!”

But, by then, the response will be: Do what? It’s already too late!

Postscript:  The various dependencies (and acknowledged insufficiencies) of the actions planned in support of the Paris Agreement mean that achievement of the 1.5°C (or even a 2°C) goal is highly unlikely. (Calum Brown, et al, Achievement of Paris Climate Goals Unlikely Due To Time Lags In The Land System, Nature Climate Change, February 18, 2019)

Robert Hunziker View more

Robert Hunziker
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com

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