Activists divided on Paris climate accord

In what UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon hailed as a "truly a historic moment," world leaders gathering in Paris for the COP 21 climate summit on Dec. 12 approved an accord aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 C—an improvement over the current national committments (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs in technocratic jargon) which only mandate a limit of 3 C. Some international campaigners are claiming victory. "The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. "This deal puts the fossil-fuel industry on the wrong side of history… That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states." (AFP, NYT

Several thousand activists marched peacefully near the Arc de Triomphe as the deal was announced—seemingly divided on whether to celebrate or protest. The permitted march was an official exception to a ban on public gatherings across France under the state of emergency instated after last month's terrorist attacks. It appears authorities relented and allowed the march because of a threat of mass defiance and civil disobedience if they remained intransigent. The previous weekend, indigenous groups from across the world staged a kayak-paddle down the Seine, demanding that indigenous rights be recognized in the new treaty. (NYTThe Guardian, The Guardian)

NASA climatologist James E. Hansen was among those taking a more cynical view of the new agreement. "It's a fraud really, a fake," he said. "It's just bullshit for them to say: 'We'll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.' It's just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned." (The Guardian)

Carbon Market Watch offers a more distanced assessment in a media statement. One of the more disturbing (if hardly surpirising) elements is the continuted emphasis on carbon trading. The Paris agreement does call for closing loopholes that have made some carbon trading schemes transparent scams:

The Paris agreement contains several provisions related to carbon pricing and markets. Countries can use and transfer "mitigation outcomes" to other countries, which opens the door to the linking of Emissions Trading Systems. The accounting rules for such transfers will be developed in the coming years and will include guidance on how to avoid the "hot air" trading of bogus pollution permits, including the avoidance of doubled-counted emission reductions. The agreement also obliges countries to promote environmental integrity and to pursue domestic climate measures to achieve their targets, thereby limiting the amount of international carbon credits that can be used.

CMW director Eva Filzmoser added: "We very much welcome that the new market provisions include robust accounting rules and a shift of the new mechanism beyond pure offsetting. However, the new mechanism is very complex so a watchful eye will be required when developing the modalities and procedures in the course of the next few years."

The accord does include language on indigenous and human rights, but CMW finds it somewhat equivocal:

Following calls from numerous countries that wanted to see human rights recognized in the operative part of the agreement, compromise was found with detailed preambular language that specifies that parties, when taking action to address climate change, have to respect, promote and consider respective human rights obligations. This also includes the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.

Alberto Saldamando of the Indigenous Environmental Network was unimpressed with the supposed tightening of carbon trading norms: "The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south. Case-in-point, the United States' climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well." (Indigenous Rising)

Of mainstream environmental groups, the grimmest view of the new accord is taken by Friends of the Earth International, which writes:

The draft Paris deal states that 2 C is the maximum acceptable global temperature increase, and that countries should pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. This is meaningless without requiring rich countries to cut their emissions drastically and provide finance in line with their fair share… To avoid runaway climate we need to urgently and drastically cut emissions, not just put it off.

The Friends of the Earth statement also decries that no actual financial commitments are made to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change: 

Without compensation for irreparable damage, the most vulnerable countries will be left to pick up the pieces and foot the bill for a crisis they didn't create. Without adequate finance, poor countries will now be expected to foot the bill for a crisis they didn’t cause. The finance exists. The political will does not.

Even under the best interpretation, the real test of the Paris agreement will be in its implementation. So even if there is no actual retrogression from Paris if an abject climate-denialist like Ted Cruz takes the White House next year, unrelenting grassroots pressure and activist vigilance will still be mandated. Let's hope the optimistic headlines will not lead to any relaxing of our rigor…

  1. Perspective on Paris climate deal

    New Internationalist runs a video interviewing Lidy Nacpil of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice. She points out that the 1.5 degree increase is "devastating" when you consider that we are already at 0.8 degree increase over pre-industrial levels—which is already apparently causing super-typhoons in her native Philippines. "So should we be grateful that their pledges are now leading to 3 degrees instead of 6?"

    New Internationalist runs its own critique of the accord, stating:

    The Paris Agreement aims to keep the global average temperature rise to 'well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.' But the emission cuts contained in the agreement are based on voluntary pledges called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that governments drew up individually before the talks, based on what they were prepared to deliver, not what science or equity demanded. These cuts have now become an official part of the deal, but go nowhere near far enough to achieve a 1.5°, or even a 2° goal, and the agreement does not require these targets to be re-examined until 2020. 

    Nacpil states again the obvious but verboten truism that "transforming the system profoundly…is the only way that you can fully address climate change."

  2. Warmest month in warmest year on record…

    The recent measurements become even more significant in light of the recent Paris accord, in which 196 countries boldly agreed to limit the planet’s warming to "well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius." The extraordinary warmth of October and November helped push this year well-past the 1-degree benchmark.From the Washington Post, Dec. 15:

    Last month was the warmest November on record by an incredible margin, according to NASA measurements. The global average temperature for the month was 1.05 degrees Celsius, or about 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than the 1951 to 1980 average. It’s also the second month in a row that Earth’s temperature exceeded 1 degree Celsius above average.

    It was just in October that our planet first exceeded the 1-degree benchmark in NASA’s records, dating to 1880. Prior to that, the largest anomaly was 0.97 degrees Celsius in January 2007.

    We have known that 2015 is all but certain to be the warmest year on record, though we did not know by how much it would be. Given the November report, 2015 will eclipse last year as the warmest year on record by a huge margin.

    El Niño played a large role in November’s — and the year’s — exceptional warmth. El Niño is an event marked by abnormally warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. The extent of the warm water is huge this year, stretching from the west coast of South America to past the international dateline, which divides the Pacific Ocean. As of November, temperatures in parts of this vast region were running as much as 4 degrees Celsius, or about 7 degrees Fahrenheit, above normal.

    But the Pacific Ocean wasn’t the warmest region of the globe in November — much of the warmth measured by NASA emanated from the Arctic, where temperatures were running anywhere from 4 to 10 degrees Celsius (7 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit) above average.

    And what those who point to El Niño don't grasp is that such "natural cycles" becoming more pronounced is precisely how climate destabilization is likely to manifest—or, better, is in fact manifesting. The fact that you can "blame" El Niño doesn't mean we aren't on a trajectory towards an uninhabitable planet

  3. El Niño threatens global hunger crisis

    From CommonDreams, Dec. 14:

    As many as 50 million people across the world face potential hunger, disease, and water shortages by early 2016 if countries do not act immediately, declared Oxfam International on Monday, addressing those nations predicted to be ravaged by this year's Super El Niño as well as wealthy governments indebted to those most vulnerable to climate change.

    "The warning bells are deafening," said Meg Quartermaine, humanitarian manager with Oxfam Australia, which issued the warning on the same day that the powerful Typhoon Melor made landfall in the Philippines, forcing the evacuation of 725,000 people.

    The Philippines is among the countries that the global anti-poverty group has previously identified as having a food supply already threatened by the impacts of climate change. The typhoons and other extreme weather events that are being predicted under, what could be "the most powerful El Niño on record" are expected to drive millions of people in the Pacific rim region, and across the globe, into even more dire straits.

    Monday's report (pdf) said that Papua New Guinea will likely bear the brunt of this season's "super charged weather phenomenon," with the country’s National Disaster Committee estimating that as many as 3 million people are at risk of starvation, "as crop failures force many people to cut back to eating just one meal a day."

    While that nation—along with Vanuatu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Tonga—are "experiencing worsening drought, central Pacific countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu will likely see intense rain causing flooding and higher sea levels," the report states.

    What's more, the warning comes on top of a recent scientific study which found that heightened greenhouse gas emissions will likely exacerbate the naturally-occurring El Niño phenomenon and drive global temperatures to record highs.

    THANK YOU. What did we just say about "natural cycles" like El Niño becoming more pronounced as a result climate destabilization? Let's see how much of this grim forecast comes to pass…

  4. Solomon Islands: rising sea levels blamed as reefs disappear

    At least five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have been lost completely to sea level rise and coastal erosion, and a further six islands have been severely eroded. The islands lost to the sea range in size from one to five hectares and supported dense tropical vegetation that was at least 300 years old. Other islands in the archipelago are also affected. Nuatambu Island—home to 25 families—has lost more than half of its habitable area, with 11 houses washed into the sea since 2011. (Radio Australia, May 7)

  5. June was Earth’s 14th straight record warm month

    From EcoWatch, July 20:

    June has continued the unprecedented heat streak for the 14th month, with globally averaged temperatures being a full 1.62 F (0.9 C) warmer than the average across the 20th century, according to the latest data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and confirmedby the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

    The effects of last year's El Niño, which contributed to spike in temperatures, is fading [sic] but the record heat streak over the Earth has remained. According to NOAA, the first half of 2016 was 0.36 F (0.2 C) warmer than last year and this year is on track to becoming the third consecutive year to set a new global heat record.

    Another indication of warming is Greenland's melting ice. A satellite study has also shown that Greenland has lost a shocking 1 trillion tons of ice in just four years between 2011 and 2014. Ice loss from Greenland, which has been 9 trillion tons in the past century, may have contributed to a full inch of sea-level rise in the last 100 years.

  6. Global warming happening faster than predicted

    From VOA, July 21:

    GENEVA— The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported the first six months of this year have seen all previous global warming records broken.The WMO said 2016 is on track to be the world’s hottest year on record with more heat on the way.

    According to the World Meteorological Organization, the dramatic, sweeping changes in the state of the world climate is alarming… 

    David Carlson, director of the WMO’s World Climate Research Program, told VOA global warming is happening faster than predicted.

    "This year suggests that the planet can warm up faster than we expected on a much shorter time. We would have thought that it would take several years to see a jump like this," he said.

    Meanwhile, temperatures in Kuwait this week reached 54 C (129.3 F), the highest temperatures ever recorded on Earth. (The Independent, July 24)

  7. Beginning of the end for life on Earth

    When you see this in the New York Post, you know we're really in trouble…

    It's officially the beginning of the end for life on Earth, researchers say.

    Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have passed 400 parts per million — long regarded as the point of no return in the battle against climate change.

    Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said the CO2 levels for September will definitely be above 400 ppm — a time when they typically record the lowest CO2 levels of the year. The findings come from Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory, which has measured CO2 levels since 1958.

    Scripps CO2 program director Ralph Keeling wrote that it’s "almost impossible" levels will drop in October — or ever.

    With 350 ppm considered the "safe" level, scientists have long warned that surpassing 400 could result in irreversible damage. Keeling predicts we could break 410 ppm by November.

    We've been watching the readings from Mauna Loa in their steady ascent for several years. Still think we are being alarmist when we say uninhabitable planet?

  8. Wildlife populations plunge almost 60% since 1970

    From Rueters, Oct. 26:

    Worldwide populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have plunged by almost 60 percent since 1970 as human activities overwhelm the environment, the WWF conservation group said on Thursday.

    An index compiled with data from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to measure the abundance of biodiversity was down 58 percent from 1970 to 2012 and would fall 67 percent by 2020 on current trends, the WWF said in a report.

    The decline is yet another sign that people have become the driving force for change on Earth, ushering in the epoch of the Anthropocene, a term derived from "anthropos", the Greek for "human" and "-cene" denoting a geological period.

    Conservation efforts appear to be having scant impact as the index is showing a steeper plunge in wildlife populations than two years ago, when the WWF estimated a 52 percent decline by 2010.

    "Wildlife is disappearing within our lifetimes at an unprecedented rate," Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, said in a statement of the group's Living Planet Report, published every two years.

    "Biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans," he said in a statement. "We are entering a new era in Earth's history: the Anthropocene," he said.