Getting a Fair Deal: The Climate Equity Reference Project in Nature Climate Change

The May 21st issue of Nature Climate Change contains a good overview of the equity debate in the climate negotiations, one distinguished — in our perhaps opinionated view — by a number of substantive quotes from EcoEquity’s own Tom Athanasiou. The piece, by Sonja van Renssen, is called Getting a fair deal (you can download the pdf here), and in addition to Athanasiou it quotes a number of other key figures in the current debate. Athanasiou’s voice is key, however, as you can see by comparing Getting a fair deal to another more cautious bit of reportage from Nature magazine itself, Jeff Tollefson’s Big compromises needed to meet carbon-emissions goal.

Tollefson begins well enough, quoting Harvard’s Joe Aldy to the effect that “Once you say we are not doing enough, it begs the question, ‘Who should do more?’,” but he immediately muddles this simple clarity by quoting Niklas Höhne, of the NewClimate Institute in Germany, to the effect that “But equity and fairness is something which is very much up to interpretation — what’s fair for one is not fair for another.”

Nothing against Nik, but the view that “equity is just a matter of opinion” has bedeviled the climate debate for years. Indeed, the clarity that we’re finally winning — the big news here is that the equity debate is making progress — has not come easily, and this kind of rather blithe subjectivism is a big part of the reason why.

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The Plot Against Trains

A few days ago, after a horrible train derailment, the New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik published these finely-chiseled words:

“What is less apparent, perhaps, is that the will to abandon the public way is not some failure of understanding, or some nearsighted omission by shortsighted politicians. It is part of a coherent ideological project. As I wrote a few years ago, in a piece on the literature of American declinism, “The reason we don’t have beautiful new airports and efficient bullet trains is not that we have inadvertently stumbled upon stumbling blocks; it’s that there are considerable numbers of Americans for whom these things are simply symbols of a feared central government, and who would, when they travel, rather sweat in squalor than surrender the money to build a better terminal.” The ideological rigor of this idea, as absolute in its way as the ancient Soviet conviction that any entering wedge of free enterprise would lead to the destruction of the Soviet state, is as instructive as it is astonishing. And it is part of the folly of American “centrism” not to recognize that the failure to run trains where we need them is made from conviction, not from ignorance.”

The Plot Against Trains is not long.  Nor is it to be missed.  Neither is the Tony Judt essay that Gopnik cites.  It’s called  “Bring Back the Rails!.”

The 2C warming limit — a "defense line," not a "guard rail"

Just in case you were wondering, a key “Structured Expert Dialogue” between IPCC scientists and UNFCCC negotiators has just released its technical summary.  And, happily, it has been digested by the Climate Analytics team into this short, clear overview.

This SED is news because it essentially confirms the arguments that the Small Island Developing States and the Least Developed Countries have been making for years, that 2°C warming limit is too high.  And that it must not be crossed.  To wit:

“We are therefore of the view that Parties would profit from restating the long-term global goal as a ‘defence line’ or ‘buffer zone’, instead of a ‘guardrail’ up to which all would be safe. This new understanding would then probably favor emission pathways that will limit warming to a range of temperatures below 2 °C. In the very near term, such aspirations would keep open as long as possible the option of a warming limit of 1.5°C, and would avoid embarking on a pathway that unnecessarily excludes a warming limit below 2°C.”

This clear statement is hugely relevant to the ongoing negotiations, which are stretching towards a possible breakthrough in Paris later this year.  The problem is that, while Paris is likely to be an official success, it’s not at all clear that it’s going to set us up for the extremely challenging transition that will be necessary if we’re going to successfully “defend” the 2°C line. The good news is that the assembled experts also concluded that the stricter 1.5°C temperature goal is still within reach, just.  It’s going to take everything to reach it.