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City Pollution

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s) form the basis of the COP21 Paris agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise “well below” 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels.  Nations outline their INDC plans on cutting their post-2020 emissions.

There is a legal requirement for these INDC plans to be revised ever five years.  There is no requirement to state how the reductions will be achieved and there is no legal requirement to achieve the INDC targets.  This is surely a major weakness.

The INDC’s of the largest greenhouse gas emitters have set their targets: China has targeted a 60-65% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP by 2030; the United States, has targeted a 26-28% reduction by 2025; and the European Union has targeted a 40% reduction by 2030.

By maintaining the status quo in terms of carbon emission it is anticipated that the global temperature rise will reach 3.6⁰C by 2100.  A recently published assessment (http://climateactiontracker.org/) suggested that the emission reductions currently outlined in the currently submitted INDC’s would result in a global temperature rise by 2.7C.

This figure was generated by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT).  CAT is an independent scientific analysis, produced by four research organisations, tracking climate action and global efforts towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming below 2°C.

CAT categorise each of the submitted INDC’s as follows:

Inadequate If all governments put forward inadequate positions warming likely to exceed 3–4°C.
Medium Not consistent with limiting warming below 2°C as it would require many other countries to make a comparably greater effort and much deeper reductions.
Sufficient Fully consistent with below 2°C limit.
Role Model More than consistent with below 2°C limit.

 

Of the 31 INDC’s that have been reviewed:

  • Five are Sufficient: Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Morocco and The Gambia
  • Ten are Medium: including the China, EU and the USA
  • Sixteen are Inadequate: including Russia, South Africa and Australia

It is important to remember that these INDC’s are pledges and not legally binding.  None of these countries have a clear plan on how to achieve their INDC targets.  So without a coherent plan it is fair to assume that it is more likely that the IDNC targets will be missed rather than exceeded.

earth
US President Barack Obama has hailed the COP21 agreement as “the best chance to save the one planet we have”.

Who am I to contradict the President of the USA, but I am delighted to tell you that you don’t have to worry about the planet – the Earth will survive global warming.

Why do I know this?  Well there is scientific evidence that shows that during the last few hundred million years the Earth has been both much warmer and much colder than it is today.  In both extreme cases Earth has survived.

Consequently, I do not think our 1.5⁰C or above increase in global temperature will damage Earth.

It will be 7.5 billion years before the Earth will be consumed by the sun which will have become a red giant.  This is so far in the future it is not a concern.  So what is the problem?

Loss of Life.

Five major mass extinctions have been identified over the last 500 million years or so.  In the most extreme cases almost 95% of life became extinct.

The most famous mass extinction killed off the dinosaurs.  This was extremely fortunate for humans as it created the opportunity for mammals to occupy the space vacated by the dinosaurs.  This obviously led to us – Homo sapiens – becoming the dominate species.

Homo sapiens have been around for a hundred thousand years.  In that time species such as the mammoth and the sabre-toothed tiger have been lost.  Whether that has been due to humans or not is questionable.  However, the same cannot be said for the Dodo and many recent species that have become extinct.

However, our interaction with the Earth is causing an increasing number of species to disappear.  Scientists believe that we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction.   Human activity such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, dams, over fishing, etc. demonstrate that we are the principal cause of this current mass extinction.  Scientists have estimated that by 2100 50% of current species will be extinct.

What about us?

Humans are highly resilient.  What happens to us depends upon what action we take to stop global warming.  We face droughts, floods, lost top soil, food and water shortages, wars over resources and mass migration, etc.  By 2100 will we have smart cities or no cities?  Will we be going forward to a much better global society or devolving back to the ‘Dark Ages’ e.g. post Roman Empire?

It is our choice.

One thing is for sure – The Earth will be OK.

Read more of Don’s views on the outcomes of COP21.

COP21: A Triumph or an Illusion?

Posted: December 21, 2015 by , Category:Climate Change

COP21
The photos of the delegates with big smiles, applauding and raised arms clearly illustrate that COP21 was a major success.  Delegates went home and could report a major achievement.  It was a massive step forward, achieving a global commitment to significantly reducing carbon emissions thereby substantially reducing the impact of global warming.

Should we all rejoice?

What are the key agreed targets from COP21?

  • To keep global temperatures “well below” 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • To review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
  • For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing “climate finance” to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

The agreement is the first where all countries have committed to cut carbon emissions. Some aspects of the agreement will be legally binding, such as submitting an emissions reduction target and the regular review of that goal.

Every five years countries will have to declare their ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ or INDC.  The idea is that every five years countries will set new, more rigorous targets.

What won’t be legally binding will be the emission targets. These will be determined by nations themselves and the INDC need not be a meaningful target.  For example a study on 31 of the INDC’s submitted so far show over 50% are inadequate and likely to lead to global temperature rises of 3-4⁰C.

In addition, whilst it is legally binding that the INDC targets are set, it is not legally binding that you need to achieve them.  This is a major weakness.

To date, 147 countries have submitted their INDC’s.  If these targets were to be achieved they will only reduce global warming to 2.7⁰C. This is well above the 2.0⁰C goal of the Paris Agreement.

Whilst ambitious goals have been set at COP21 it is left to others to work on how to implement the goals.

These INDC’s will require serious political commitment to deliver the targets, particularly if it requires reducing economic growth or is too expensive to implement.

Additional Concerns

US President Barack Obama has hailed the COP21 agreement as “ambitious”.  I am uneasy with the word ‘ambitious’ in this context.  He also admitted that the deal was not “perfect”, he said it was “the best chance to save the one planet we have”.  Again I don’t like the non-committal tone of the message.

In addition, China’s chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua agreed with the President and he also stated that the deal was not perfect.

It appears that COP21 achieved much good will and clearly a verbal intent to take action, but what will happen if one or more countries renege?  Will the agreement collapse like a pack of cards?

The big question is will there be the political strength in each country to implement the measures to tackle this problem?

Buildings, cities, manufacturing and industrial processes will play a major part of a countries carbon reduction strategy.  The problem each country faces is that there is little or no commercial lobby for energy efficiency.  The lobbying is done by the renewables and clean tech sectors.  Whilst these are important there is little point in renewables or clean tech if buildings are wasting 30%-50% of their energy in the first place.

Is it surprising that if buildings are not made energy efficient then more renewables and clean tech will be required?

Unfortunately, I fear the success of COP21 could be more of an illusion than a triumph. Put the Champagne back into the vault, it will be a long time before we will know if COP21 was a success or not.

 

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