To paraphrase Naomi Klein: this should change everything. But will it?
The COP21 agreement by up to 200 of the world’s nations to limit global warming to below 2°C and possibly even 1.5°C has yet to be implemented in legislation.
On 22 April the UN will host a Paris Agreement signing ceremony at its New York HQ, but its promises will only become fully effective if 55 countries that produce at least 55 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions ratify or approve it.
Ségolène Royal, French environment minister and newly appointed president of UN-led climate negotiations, has indicated that 30 heads of state and government have already said they will be at the signing, and she hopes to see “80 to 100” who “will be explaining what they have done so far”.
After the ceremony the book will lie open for a year, awaiting further signatures.
There are four phases for countries to take along this road: adoption, signature, ratification, and entry into force. So far only Fiji, Palau, Japan and Germany have adopted. The European Commission’s Commissioner for Climate Action Cañete said on 2 March it wants to ratify the Paris Agreement before the European national parliaments have expressed their opinions, and “complete the 2030 climate and energy legislation without delay”.
But the targets in this legislation have been slammed as “woefully inadequate” and “undermining the Paris Agreement” by Brook Riley, a climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. The reason is that the EU wouldn’t do a stock-take of the efficacy of measures until 2023, and then follow-up action would not be taken until after 2030.
And who knows what the USA will do after the presidential election? If the Republicans win, we’ll be back in the dark ages, as when the country refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, since all of their candidates seem to believe climate change is a socialist plot designed to stop Americans driving fast cars on cheap oil.
Which countries are giving the most to the Green Climate Fund?
Amongst the most contentious of the implications of signing will be for the world’s developed countries to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 in aid to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation through the Green Climate Fund. As of February 2016, the Green Climate Fund had raised US$10.2 billion equivalent in pledges from 42 governments, including $1220 million from the UK.
The amounts pledged vary wildly with the USA coming top with $3 billion. But if you compare each country on the amount announced per capita as a proportion of GDP, then you find that the US comes not top but tenth, with Sweden, Luxembourg and Norway in the top three positions.
Top twelve contributors to the Green Climate Fund ranked by amount announced as a proportion of GDP:
|Country||announced $M||signed $M||announced per capita $||GDP per capita ($1000)||Emissions per capita (metric tonnes)||announced as a proportion of GDP||announced
as a proportion of emissions
If you prefer, you can see countries’ contributions in relation to their greenhouse gas emissions. In this case, the US comes 12th with Sweden, Norway and Luxembourg again occupying the top three positions.
Top twelve contributors to the Green Climate Fund ranked by amount announced as a proportion of greenhouse gas emissions:
|Country||announced $M||signed $M||announced per capita $||GDP per capita ($1000)||Emissions per capita (metric tonnes)||announced as a proportion of GDP||announced as a proportion
In both cases the United Kingdom comes in the top five. Australia comes 16th and 18th respectively.
After signing the Paris Agreement, countries producing 55 per cent of greenhouse gases must “deposit” their “instruments”, detailing how they will meet their commitments. How will they do this?
Towards zero emissions
The UK took a step closer on Monday 14 March when energy minister Andrea Leadsom told an astonished Parliament: “The government believes that we will need to take the step of enshrining the Paris goal for net zero emissions in UK law.” New clauses are to be introduced to the Climate Change Act to this effect.
The UK is already legally bound by the Climate Change Act to reduce emissions 80 per cent by 2050, but to reach 100 per cent would require a substantially greater effort based on the laws of diminishing returns. Leadsom did not give a date by which this could be achieved but the UN climate science panel says net zero emissions must happen by 2070 to avoid dangerous global warming.
But most critics of the UK government’s energy policy agree that it has been backpedalling to the 1950s for the last year or more, with an Energy Bill that sees subsidies removed from onshore wind farms and the latest budget from the Chancellor of the Exchequer announcing further support for the UK oil and gas industry.
So, how would zero emissions be achieved? The Climate Change Commission sets carbon budgets for different periods up to 2050. Its fifth carbon budget is for the five years up to 2032 and demands a cut of 57 per cent. Later this year Parliament must decide whether to adopt this target, which had been decided upon way before COP21.
“The question is not whether but how we do it,” Leadsom told Parliament. “There is an important set of questions to be answered before we do. The Committee on Climate Change is looking at the implications of the commitments in Paris and has said it will report in the Autumn. We will want to consider carefully the recommendations of the committee.”
Ex-Labour leader and former Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband has been lobbying for this development since the Paris Agreement because it “will send a signal to other countries this is the right thing to do”.
“We’ve got to make sure the government deliver on it,” he said.
Miliband will continue to campaign for the legislation to be watertight and the road to zero emissions mapped out as far as possible.
Such a statement by a member of the UK government would have been thought inconceivable last year, but here we are. It opens up a potential vulnerability for the government, so they are to be congratulated.
It is beginning to look as if we really are seeing the end of the fossil fuel era. Here are just a few other indicators:
- A new Chinese five-year plan shows evidence that coal use in that superpower may have peaked.
- The US has issued crucial tax breaks for renewables
- We have seen a US-Canadian bilateral agreement to tackle emissions
- A U-turn by President Obama on drilling in the Arctic for oil
- An economy-wide carbon neutral target by 2045 from Sweden
The science of climate change says that emissions need to peak sooner rather than later to have a chance of limiting global warming below 2°C.
To achieve this, support needs to be taken away from the oil and gas industries, not given to it in the name of protecting jobs. Ministers around the world must treat this as a political priority and deliver policies necessary to make full decarbonisation happen.
Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything argues that capitalism cannot save us from climate change so we need a system change. Yet whether in a changed system or capitalism, people still need to eat and pay their bills. Doing this and achieving full decarbonisation is the greatest challenge humanity has yet faced. The good news is, we are beginning to deal with it. But can we move fast enough?
Books by David Thorpe:
- Best Practices and Case Studies for Industrial Energy Efficiency Improvement (with Oung, K and Fawkes, S UNEP, 2016)
- A London Conversation: Business Briefing on Green Bonds (The Fifth Estate, 2015)
- The One Planet Life (Introduction: Jane Davidson. Routledge, 2015)
- Earthscan Expert Guide to Energy Management in Buildings (Earthscan, 2013)
- Earthscan Expert Guide to Energy Management in Industry (Earthscan, 2013)
- Earthscan Expert Guide to Solar Technology (Earthscan, 2011)
- Earthscan Expert Guide to Sustainable Home Refurbishment (Earthscan, 2010)