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Critical Perspectives- Paris Climate Agreement

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Paris Climate Goals Mean Emissions Need to Drop Below Zero

By karl ritter, associated press STOCKHOLM — Dec 24, 2015, 12:36 PM ET

If governments are serious about the global warming targets they adopted in Paris, scientists say they have two options: eliminating fossil fuels immediately or finding ways to undo their damage to the climate system in the future. The first is politically impossible — the world is still hooked on using oil, coal and natural gas — which leaves the option of a major cleanup of the atmosphere later this century. Yet the landmark Paris Agreement, adopted by 195 countries on Dec. 12, makes no reference to that, which has left some observers wondering whether politicians understand the implications of the goals they signed up for. “I would say it’s the single biggest issue that has to be resolved,” said Glen Peters of the Cicero climate research institute in Oslo, Norway.

Scientists refer to this envisioned cleanup job as negative emissions — removing more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than humans put in it. Right now we’re putting in a lot — about 50 billion tons a year, mostly carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

There are methods to achieve negative emissions today but they would need to be scaled up to a level that experts say could put climate efforts in conflict with other priorities, such as eradicating hunger. Still, if the Paris climate goals are to be achieved, there’s no way to avoid the issue, said Jan Minx of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate change in Berlin. “My view is, let’s have this discussion,” he said. “Let’s involve ourselves in developing these technologies. We need to keep learning.”

The Paris Agreement was historic. For the first time all countries agreed to jointly fight climate change, primarily by reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Governments vowed to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial times. But even 2 degrees of warming could threaten the existence of low-lying island nations faced with rising seas. So governments agreed to try to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), which is just half-a-degree above the global average temperature this year. That goal is so ambitious — some would say far-fetched — that there’s been very little research devoted to it. In Paris, politicians asked scientists to start studying how it can be done….

The task would be enormous. One recent study said hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide would have to be removed in the second half of this century. That has led some scientists to consider controversial geoengineering solutions like fertilizing the oceans with iron to make them absorb more carbon. But the more viable methods being discussed today include planting more forests, which absorb carbon dioxide naturally as they grow, and combining bioenergy with carbon capture technologies.

Bioenergy comes from burning biological sources such as trees or crops. That results in zero net emissions, if the carbon dioxide released when one tree is burned is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed when a new tree grows up. However, if you also capture the emissions from the bioenergy plant and bury them underground, you are actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Although the technology exists, it has received very little attention from policy makers, advocates say. There’s only one large-scale biomass facility worldwide using the method: a bioethanol plant in Decatur, Illinois.

“It’s been treated as an esoteric, maybe unnecessary field of research,” said Henrik Karlsson, who heads Biorecro, a Swedish company that specializes in the process. The obstacles are many. Carbon capture technology is very expensive. And then there’s the issue of finding places to store the carbon dioxide once you’ve captured it. Typically it is injected into rock formations deep underground, but “people don’t like carbon stored under them,” said Peters. “It’s not just a few tons. It’s billions of tons a year.”

Another problem is that to reach a point where the method actually generates enough negative emissions to enable the 1.5-degree target, bioenergy would need to be much a bigger part of the global energy mix. It’s just 10 percent today.

Critics say that could mean converting millions of acres of farmland used for food production to grow biocrops, which could clash with Article 2 of the Paris Agreement, which says the battle against climate change must be carried out “in a manner that does not threaten food production.” Right now the idea of achieving negative emissions may seem like a pipe dream. Governments are still trying to stop record emissions from growing even higher, while allowing developing countries including India and China to expand their economies.

Oliver Geden of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said the temperature goals governments adopted in Paris don’t match the actions nations are taking to limit emissions. “It’s so easy to have this kind of target,” he said. “I don’t understand that given the history of the (U.N. climate talks), everyone is taking this seriously.” Peters said achieving the 1.5-degree C target is “pretty unlikely” and that even the higher temperature target would be difficult and most likely require negative emissions.

“It’s really hard to see that 2 degrees will remain on the table unless you have some fundamental technological breakthrough,” he said. “There are just too many competing interests.”

 

 

Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben Knock Paris Climate Deal

Too little, too late. Redouble the fight, say two leading activists. Deal simply accelerates shift to global clean energy already happening.

By David Beers, 14 Dec 2015, TheTyee.ca

Two of the world’s foremost advocates for action against climate change have let it be known they are largely unimpressed with the COP21 agreement in Paris. Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, characterize the deal as too little too late. Still, both famous journalist-activists mark COP21 as a potential catalyst for heightened activism to pressure the world’s governments to do more to forestall a greenhouse-gas fueled catastrophe. In an interview today with Huffington Post UK, Klein sounded out of step with the enthusiasm voiced by many other climate change fighters when the accord was hammered out. “It’s a very strange thing to cheer for setting a target that you are knowingly failing to meet,” Klein told her interviewer. “It’s like going: ‘I acknowledge that I will die of a heart attack if I don’t radically lower my blood pressure. I acknowledge that in order to do that I need to cut out alcohol, fatty foods and exercise every day. I therefore will exercise once a week, eat four hamburgers instead of five and only binge drink twice a week and you have to call me a hero because I’ve never done this before and you have no idea how lazy I used to be.'”

‘Motivate a movement’

Later in the interview Klein emphasized that climate change and economic justice must be linked in efforts for progressive social change. “If it is just about going on a march and if it just about parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere that’s not going to motivate a movement that is as motivated as Exxon and Shell to protect the status quo. “When people are fighting for a future that is better than their present, not just better than a catastrophe far off in the future, better than right now which is intolerable, better than unemployment, better than crumbling services, better than relentless austerity – that’s the movement. “That’s why I find it endlessly frustrating that Europe’s anti-austerity parties almost never talk about climate change.”

‘A floor and not a ceiling’

Writing yesterday in the op-ed pages of the New York Times under the headline “Falling Short on Climate in Paris,” McKibben assailed the fossil-fuel industry’s decades of self-serving propaganda for putting the world’s nations, likely, too far in the hole to fend off climate disaster. And he portrayed COP21 as too much a compromise. ….

 

 

Falling Short on Climate in Paris

By BILL McKIBBEN DEC. 13, 2015

Paris — THE climate news last week came out of Paris, where the world’s nations signed off on an agreement to finally begin addressing global warming. Or, alternately, the climate news came out of Chennai, India, where hundreds died as flooding turned a city of five million into an island. And out of Britain, where the heaviest rains ever measured over 24 hours in the Lake District turned picturesque villages into lakes. And out of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, where record rainfalls flooded atolls. In the hot, sodden mess that is our planet as 2015 drags to a close, the pact reached in Paris feels, in a lot of ways, like an ambitious agreement designed for about 1995, when the first conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Berlin. Under its provisions, nations have made voluntary pledges to begin reducing their carbon emissions. These are modest — the United States, for instance, plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 by 12 to 19 percent from their levels in 1990. As the scrupulous scorekeepers at Climate Action Tracker, a nongovernment organization, put it, that’s a “medium” goal “at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution.”

And that’s about par for the course here. Other countries, like gas station owners on opposite corners looking at each other’s prices, have calibrated their targets about the same: enough to keep both environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry from complaining too much. They have managed to provide enough financing to keep poor countries from walking out of the talks, but not enough to really push the renewables revolution into high gear. (Secretary of State John Kerry, in a fine speech, doubled America’s contribution — to $800 million, which is more than Congress is likely to appropriate, but risible compared to the need.) So the world emerges, finally, with something like a climate accord, albeit unenforceable. If all parties kept their promises, the planet would warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. And that is way, way too much. We are set to pass the 1 degree Celsius mark this year, and that’s already enough to melt ice caps and push the sea level threateningly higher. The irony is, an agreement like this adopted at the first climate conference in 1995 might have worked. Even then it wouldn’t have completely stopped global warming, but it would have given us a chance of meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius target that the world notionally agreed on. Instead, as we now know from recent revelations about Exxon Mobil, those were exactly the years the fossil fuel industry set to work to make sure doubt replaced resolve. Its delaying tactics were cruelly effective. To meet that 1.5 degree target now would require breakneck action of a kind most nations aren’t really contemplating. At this point we’d need to leave almost all remaining coal and much of the oil and gas in the ground and put the world’s industries to work on an emergency basis building solar panels and windmills. That we have any agreement at all, of course, is testament to the mighty movement that activists around the world have built over the last five years. At Copenhagen, world leaders could go home with nothing and pay no price.

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