The steady rise of Earth’s temperature as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere and trap more and more heat is sending the planet spiraling closer to the point where warming’s catastrophic consequences may be all but assured.
You can see this metaphoric spiral become real in a new graphic drawn up by Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The animated graphic features a rainbow-colored record of global temperatures spinning outward from the late 19th century to the present as the Earth heats up.
There’s really nothing to add this article from the UK Independent. But it’s a good reminder that the most important of all equity issues is climate stabilization itself. To the extent that we fail, the poor will suffer.
A collection of internationally-oriented US-based groups has released statements on the Paris Agreements. It’s an interesting collection, neither optimist nor pessimistic, and the statement itself is short and focused. We agree on the fundamentals.
Here’s EcoEquity’s blurb:
Tom Athanasiou, executive director of EcoEquity, said “The Paris Agreement is a breakthrough but not yet a success. Not by a long shot. It marks the end of a long international stalemate, but the emergency mobilization we need is still only a hope. What we know for sure is that the Paris regime is nationally driven. As the wealthiest nation on Earth, the US has the responsibility to lead. We certainly have the capacity, and the technology, to do so. The question now is if we can wrest back control of our democracy, and finally act.”
And here’s the statement itself:
NEW YORK — Secretary of State John Kerry plans to join world leaders in the celebratory signing of the Paris climate agreement in New York tomorrow. In lieu of celebration, U.S. civil society leaders are urging the Obama administration to take immediate, aggressive action in order to give the world a fighting chance to meet the agreement’s goals.
The Paris agreement acknowledges the urgent need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic climate change, but the greenhouse gas pollution-cutting pledges of signatory countries fall critically short of meeting this critical target.
The U.S. has played a major role in the agreement’s inadequacy. It has refused to do its fair share and take responsibility for the country’s historical contribution to today’s global climate emergency. Instead, the U.S. has unjustly shifted this burden to the developing countries in the Global South and has failed to provide its fair share of financial support to enable developing countries to take meaningful climate action.
To fight the climate crisis, the U.S. must keep fossil fuels in the ground, undertake a clean energy revolution, and provide the Global South with the financial and technological assistance demanded by science, equity, and justice.
SciDev Net has an interesting, and extremely bracing, view of the new Roadmap for a Renewable Energy Future report from the International Renewable Energy Agency. In a nutshell, it says that developing countries that already have a high share of renewable energy in their power mix have it by virtue of “traditional bioenergy” and are unlikely, all else being equal, to grow this share further, this because of a “skyrocketing demand for cheap electricity” that still favors fossils over “modern renewables.”
To be sure,
“many developing countries made huge strides towards deploying renewable technologies over the past decade — but this rise is now leveling off. Instead, these countries are turning towards fossil fuels to meet the energy demands of their citizens.”
“Nicholas Wagner, an IRENA programme officer who helped prepare the report, says countries such as Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria “have a high share of renewable biomass as part of their energy portfolios.” [This is mostly traditional biomass.] But rather than rapidly building out their infrastructures with modern renewables, these countries have “turned to fossil fuels to power greater demand for heating, cooling and transport, he says.”
“Beate Braams, a spokesperson for Germany’s energy ministry, says the drop in the proportion of energy coming from renewables in developing countries could be because growing energy needs are largely being met by other sources. “If there is a growing energy demand in an economy and if this additional demand is covered by fossil fuels, the relative share of renewables will decrease, even if there is no decrease in absolute terms for renewable energy,” she explains.”
To be extra clear, the bulk of the report is extremely optimistic about renewables. As of course is IRENA.
For years now, the gas-as-a-bridge-fuel optimism squad has worked hard to reassure us. We could muddle through after all, and stop dreaming about, say, a global crash program to reach global “net zero emissions” by 2050. In effect, there’s a business-as-usual path forward to the renewable future. All you have to do is accept gas into your transition story, and you can avoid an “unrealistically” rapid phase out of fossil energy, while still avoiding the nuclear option.
Alas, it does not appear that the angels of history will be so kind.
In 2012, Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math thrust carbon-budget accounting into the mainstream. In the process, he made it clear to all that (as the scientists had already known), there would be no easy path forward. We were facing an emergency situation, and the first wisdom was to admit it. Now, if we’re lucky, his Terrifying New Chemistry will do the same for frack gas, which is to say fugitive methane, which is to say that, unless McKibben is wrong, the “gas as bridge fuel” path is not an option, not if we actually intend to avoid catastrophe. As The Nation’s pull quote has it, “Our leaders thought fracking would save our climate. They were wrong. Very wrong.”
An unprecedentedly broad and diverse coalition of global civil society organizations and social movements (see the list here) has just released a joint assessment of the national pledges of action (called “INDCs” in UN lingo) that are being submitted in the global climate negotiations.
This assessment was done with eyes towards both adequacy and equity. Fundamentally, it asks what the INDCs add up to in relation to a 1.5°C / 2°C degree goal, and if each country is pledging to do its fair share of the necessary mitigation action, based on its historical emissions and its capacity to act. When it comes to public mitigation finance, adaptation, and loss & damage, the assessment restricts itself to estimating total global needs.
Technically, the Civil Society Review draws upon the analysis and modeling of the Climate Equity Reference Project, which is, of course, strongly associated with this site. However, it is done with respect to specific range of equity settings, one which defined the agreement within the coalition and, notably, one which is narrower than the range of settings supported by the Climate Equity Reference Calculator. On the adequacy side, it is referenced to a challenging global mitigation pathway that represent a widely used distillation of the most stringent category of pathways in the IPCC scenario database.
There are many details, most of which are explained in the report. The key point however, and please keep this in mind, is that the review does not argue that countries should only do their fair shares. Rather, it seeks to identify which countries are offering to do their fair share, which need to do more to meet their fair share, and which must be supported to do even more — sometimes much more — than their fair share if the world is to reach a below 2°C or even 1.5°C pathway.
The full report, the summary report, and the list of supporting organizations can all be found at http://civilsocietyreview.
Oxfam argued, back in January of 2015, that sometime in 2016 the top 1% of the world’s population would have more than everyone else. Here’s the study, if you want to follow the math. According to the folks over at therules.org (see their awesome video on global inequality) the global 1% only has 43% of everything. (The difference here is in the methodological noise and, in any case, good data is hard to get. As inequality scholar Branko Milanovic politely noted in The Haves and the Have-Nots, his excellent 2011 book on global inequality, the super rich don’t actually like to be studied.)
Oxfam is sticking to its own numbers. In a new (2016) study, An Economy For the 1%: How privilege and power in the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can be stopped, it argues that the 50% line has now been crossed. I’m going to trust them on this, because their data is from Credit Suisse, and who (what?) better than a Swiss bank to study “ultra high net worth individuals.” An Economy For the 1% is an interesting read. It goes on from the numbers to talk about the nuts and bolts of global stratification, tax havens in particular, and to connect the dots. And to continue its projections:
“If this deeply alarming inequality clock continues to tick as fast, by 2020 a mere 11 people could have the same wealth as half the world. That’s not even a dozen.”
Will Paris be a success or a failure? It will be both. The real question is whether it opens the way to a new future of justice and ambition.
This essay was first published in the Earth Island Journal.
As I write this, the United Nations climate conference is only weeks away. And now, of course, it will take place in an atmosphere of mourning, and crisis, and war. Beyond this change of tone, what difference will the November 13 attacks make on the outcome of the negotiations? It is impossible to say, though it’s not too much to hope for heightened clarity, and seriousness, and resolve. This is a time to attend to the future – on this, at least, we should be able to agree.
The essay below was finished before the attacks. I’ve changed only these opening words, which already said that the stakes were high. This has not changed. Nor has my overall claim, that while the negotiations are not going well, they’re not going badly either, and that in any case they must be judged in realist terms. View Full Text »
Remember Thomas Piketty, recently famous for a book named Capital in the Twenty-First Century? Well the very same Thomas Piketty (Paris School of Economics), together with Lucas Chancel (IDDRI, Paris School of Economics) has just published a paper called Trends in the global inequality of carbon emissions (1998-2013) & prospects for an equitable adaptation fund. And a fascinating paper it is!
Trends in the global inequality of carbon emissions is a call for a global progressive carbon consumption tax (with a 0% marginal rate for those below a key threshold) that is designed to provide $150 billion a year for the global adaptation fund (a key climate fund that, while formally established, is woefully underfunded).
The crucial thing here is that Chancel / Piketty explicitly seek a globally progressive tax on individuals rather than countries. They do this for a number of reasons, but first among them is the judgement that inequality between people has (since 2013) become a greater source of emissions inequity than inequality between countries:
“Our estimates also show that within-country inequality in CO2e emissions matters more and more to explain the global dispersion of CO2e emissions. In 1998, one third of global CO2e emissions inequality was accounted for by inequality within countries. Today, within-country inequality makes up 50% of the global dispersion of CO2e emissions. It is then crucial to focus on high individual emitters rather than high emitting countries.”