Is the Climate Deal Worth the Paper?

COP21 Agreement

After two weeks of discussion, drafts, objections and tweaking, we finally ended up with what many were calling ‘an historic’ climate deal in Paris. With nearly 200 hundred countries involved and everyone from presidents and ageing action heroes putting their four pennies worth on the table, the fact that any agreement at all was reached is a miracle in itself.

Even Al Gore was nearly moved to tears.

But do these 40 odd pages of promises and wishes add up to much more than a hill of beans? While there has been a commitment to keeping global temperatures to well below 2° C and funding for poorer developing countries to help meet their obligations, much of what is in the agreement is voluntary and whether countries can keep to it has got some people worried.

There are some legally binding parts to the agreement such as each country submitting their emissions reductions targets and these being regularly reviewed, but how it is all going to operate in reality still remains to be seen.

Some, of course, have said that it is not an ideal solution but it’s a good start, something that can be worked on in years to come. The problem is that governments have had twenty years of talks and arguments to get this right and we are fast reaching the tipping point, when whatever we try to do will have no effect anyway. Many observers think we are past that stage already.

Others have been very vocal in their condemnation of the agreement. Nick Dearden from Global Justice said:

“It’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations.”

The draft agreement in Paris was originally twice as long, containing as it did potential amends to the work. This included such time honoured words and phrases such as ‘well below’ and ‘pursue efforts’ in neat and seemingly unending brackets before and after various measures. Most of this wording gives everyone potential wiggle room, particularly if home circumstances change. For instance: One promise is stopping the rise of heat trapping greenhouse gas emissions which should be done ‘as soon as possible’.

Having said that, this agreement is something that all the countries present have felt they could sign, which was the main sticking point in the past. It’s better to have a working document everyone is happy with rather than one that half are not prepared to sign, even if there are reservations.

Key Points of the Paris Agreement

  • To ensure global warm stays well below 2°C and to work to limiting this to 1.5°C. The agreement says also that at some point after 2050 levels of manmade emissions should have reduced to a level that is easily absorbed by oceans and seas.
  • Countries have all agreed to set 5-yearly targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases though developing populations may well find this more difficult than developed ones. Most countries have already put forward their estimates for 2020 so we’ll soon see whether it works as a way of reducing global emissions.
  • Governments have committed to reviewing their targets though there isn’t much pressure on them to do so if they are lagging behind. It is ‘hoped’ that they will review and then make the necessary changes to improve performance.
  • If a country doesn’t meet its emission cutting target, there will be no penalty imposed but all governments have agreed to transparency. Again, there is more flexibility for developing countries (one of the sticking points that China wanted agreement to).
  • Developing countries will need finance to help them to meet their targets and richer governments have pledged some $100 billion annually to cover this but the exact amount for each country is not stated.
  • The main area that smaller countries and islands were concerned about was compensation for loss and damage due to climate change. It was a sticking point for the US who were worried about claims that could get out of control. The issue was addressed in the climate change document but removed the concept of liability or compensation on any particular country.

Whether all this makes a difference remains to be seen. We may all look back at the Paris Climate Change Agreement in a few years’ time and hail it as a truly remarkable document that helped change the world. It could lead to real changes in our emissions, how we approach developments such as renewables, and finally begin to drag back the effects of climate change.

Or we could be looking back and highlighting the last two weeks in Paris as another moment when world governments failed to fulfil their duty, failed human kind, and, more importantly, failed the planet. In all though, the preliminary response from most of the world is that this has been a pretty solid success for the 200 countries that took part. According to Al Gore it’s a monumental moment:

“Today, the nations of the world concluded a bold and historic agreement, clearly demonstrating that the global community is speaking with one voice to solve the climate crisis. Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.”

By Steve M

Climate Change, the Television Media and Mad Scientists

Climate Change

Some of you may know that this week has seen the big Climate Change Conference in Paris. For those who want to see a world that is not being destroyed by man’s follies there has been plenty of anticipation that the many disparate parties, who last time dismally failed to reach any valued agreement, will come up with a joint plan to save us all.

There were marches around the world on Sunday at the start of the conference as the leaders made their pleas for a climate change deal but many of these demonstrations seemed muted and less worthy of media airtime than usual. In Paris, because they were banned from holding a march for obvious reasons, demonstrators laid their shoes and boots on the ground in the Place de la Republique.

Many activists could be forgiven that the media, particularly the likes of Sky and the BBC, had no interest in the subject of climate change. It wasn’t entirely their fault. First of all, there was the debate on air strikes in Syria which, though it only involved a small change in military tactics, actually entailed a good deal of ministerial hand wringing, conscience pricking and the odd accusation of terrorist sympathising.

The media coverage took a slightly bizarre turn on the BBC on Thursday night as talks in Paris no doubt went on into the night. Caroline Lucas, famed Green advocate and the only in her party who seems to have a coherent thought, was on the panel and you would have naturally thought that the issue of climate change would be discussed.

Of course, proceedings were again hijacked by the question of the Syria vote and whether it was going to end with us all being blown to bits. Yes, it’s an important question but it was surprising the BBC QT producers decided to fill all but the last ten minutes with the issue. Even then, when the subject was changed it was a question about the NHS that sneaked in front of climate change, leaving Lucas, when time was finally called, to utter a strangled plea that perhaps next time the programme could start with the big green issues.

It was disappointing but the bizarre part was still to come. This Week follows Question Time on Thursday night and did indeed have Climate Change on their running order. No less than Mr Corbyn was on show to talk about the weather, the warming of the planet and the end of the world as we know it. This was not THE Mr Corbyn but his brother Piers who happens to be a meteorologist. Rather than debating what is happening at the talks, Mr Corbyn’s slightly dottier brother began a tirade against the 97% of scientists who believe that climate change actually exist.

No it doesn’t, said Mr Corbyn. And he should know – he’s looked at the evidence. There is absolutely no proof that the planet is warming up. In fact it’s cooling. His excuse for everyone else being wrong was that it was all down to money, people jumping on the climate change bandwagon, telling the world what it wants to hear and earning a boat load of cash in the process. Most of the CO2 increases we experience, said Corbyn, come from the sea and man is not responsible for that. In fact, man has very little to do with the rising CO2 emissions at all and trying to reduce them in our industrial processes is both pointless and wrong.

Brother Corbyn does come across as something of a cross between your demented granddad and someone who has spent too much time looking at data. Therein lies his problem.

While the UK government says it is committed to the climate change agenda 100%, it has been cutting subsidy and support for all sorts of green initiatives. Only last year, the Daily Mail wrote an article on Mr Corbyn’s views on the state of the climate change science, including his famed graph that showed temperatures cooling rather than meeting predicted targets set by the climate change supporters.

“The graph…blows apart the ‘scientific basis’ for Britain reshaping its entire economy and spending billions in taxes and subsidies in order to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. These moves have already added £100 a year to household energy bills.”

It’s curious that the BBC chose to raise this issue now when it was first reported back in 2014 by the Daily Mail and other broadsheets and disturbing when there were other issues to discuss that are more current on climate change issues. Like Corbyn’s planet, there has been some cooling in recent times and the rhetoric has become more cautious by the media and politicians.

The UK wasn’t the only place where media coverage was usurped by something more important. By Wednesday, when we in the UK were deeply enraptured by the Syria debate, American networks were following minute by minute accounts of a mass fatal shooting in California. The coverage continued right through Thursday and deep into Friday with hardly any other news covered as journalists fought to understand and analyse every small piece of information that came their way. Again, it’s not entirely their fault – people are more likely to tune into a gun and terrorist story than one about the weather.

It is supposedly one of the most important issues of our generation and solutions have to be agreed and kept to. If news of the conference has dropped off some of the front pages or been consigned to the newsroom archives because of other events it, unfortunately, gives the opportunity for reluctant politicians to brush the problem under the carpet. The Conservative slip that ‘we need to get rid of all this green crap’ could be more of a concrete policy than we think.

The drive for greener technologies, though, is much more important than a climate change conference that may or may not reach a useful accord. It is an opportunity for people and nations to be energy secure and independent, it’s a chance to reduce our impact on the environment and cut down on finite resources, it’s a chance for us to switch from fossil fuels to safer energy sources, and it’s a chance to make sure that we make the most of all our resources by recycling all that we can.

That’s not a climate change con, as Corbyn says and some Tories think, it’s just plain common sense.

Thankfully, though not for those involved, climate change found its way back into the TV media headlines in the second week of talks in Paris. We have the curiously named Storm Desmond to thank for that and the havoc it wreaked across parts of the UK including Cumbria. If climate change is such an important issue, then it shouldn’t take such a catastrophic event to bring it into the media’s eye line.

By Steve M

Submerged Hydro Systems: The Only Large Scale Renewable Energy Solution Left in the UK?

Submerged Hydro

With limited sun year round, coursing rivers, and land space, the United Kingdom is still an ideal country to explore and implement known renewable energy projects, such as solar power, power hydro systems, and wind turbines. However, its wide and long coastlines known for its powerful seas could provide a perfect testbed for submerged underwater hydro systems.

In early June, the government accepted a proposal for a £1 bn project to build the world’s first tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay that will house an underwater power station, generating enough energy to power 175,000 homes. This energy resource has the potential to last for up to 120 years, but its very existence is threatened by the current government’s waning energy policy.

The project will claim a 9.6 mile long seawall that will house huge hydro turbines underwater.

The UK has been trying for a long time to implement sustainable and green living, similar to what the United States is trying to undertake now. Currently, wind power in the UK provides the largest amount of renewable energy to UK homes and businesses, and has helped reduce carbon emissions considerably during the time the technology has been implemented.

Wales Office Minister Lord Bourne said in a speech that there is a great need to reduce the reliance on foreign fossil fuels. Apart from low carbon emissions, it brings other great benefits to the UK.

“Low carbon energy projects like the tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay could bring investment, support local jobs and help contribute to the Welsh economy and Swansea area,”

Bourne at the DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change).

Despite the recent increase in adoption, it is still a long way from being universally accepted. According to Kyle Magee from Aberyswyth University, the UK is still ‘sluggish’ at implementing sustainable habits as well as adopting renewable energy.

The UK continues to exploit non-renewable oil and gas, making it almost impossible for these renewable energy projects to prosper. It is expected that energy bills will continue to be high until 2030, as extracted oil and gas lessens in the Middle East – based on demand and supply.

In addition, organisations such as the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) continue to create strong ties with various providers of industrial oil and gas. These companies have been active in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, wherein they provide workforce solutions locally, repair and maintenance, as well as engineering and construction solutions.

Magee suggests that the best way to implement renewable energy projects is for the government to inform the people of its advantages in the future, as well as having an immediate incentive to support it.

“Although mathematically local actions can add up to make a global impact, qualitative psychologists have identified that to be successful, campaigns not only have to inform people of the global and future benefits, they must also address the complexity of behavioural change; a factor largely controlled by people’s cognitive biases, immediate incentives, and social norms,”

Aberyswyth University student wrote in his LinkedIn post.

At the end of it all, even with promising sustainable energy at hand, it will all depend on the actions of the current & next government to keep their renewable energy goals in check. Their decisions and implementation will be crucial in deciding whether they can meet their target of at least 15% renewable source dependency by 2020.

Deal or No Deal: The Perils of Climate Talks

Cop21

There was a poignant reminder of our ingenuity at the beginning of the climate talks in Paris. Just a few short weeks after the atrocities at Bataclan and other venues around the city, protesters who had arranged to gather and demonstrate against government inertia over climate change were told they couldn’t for security reasons.

Instead, they laid thousands of shoes in the Place de la Republique.

As we step into the second week of climate change talks at COP2015, sceptics would be forgiven for thinking that we have all been here before. Last time in Copenhagen, talks fell apart and little or no agreement was reached, leaving delegates frustrated and the public at large pretty angry.

Of course, it’s difficult to bring 195 disparate parties together to sign an agreement that suits everyone and actually saves the planet.

Much was made of the major leaders stepping up to the podium on the first Sunday of the talks, each getting their five or ten minutes to say how important this moment was. They all sang from the same hymn sheet, raising the hopes of those watching from a distance that we had reached the tipping point and something, at last, was going to be done.

Of course, it’s one thing agreeing a protocol, it’s another thing altogether implementing it, even for some of the countries higher up the food chain. America is one of the leading polluters in the world and President Obama’s commitment to his environmental agenda was backed by the appearance of several democratic disciples who said they were determined to push things through and ‘watch the President’s back’.

According to Senator Ed Mackey:

“What you see here are people who are going to protect what the president is putting on the table here in Paris as a promise from the American people to the world. We are going to back up the president every step of the way.”

This kind of belligerence on the climate talks cat walk is welcome but back at home Obama faces tough opposition from mostly Republican representatives who have found ways to block and confound his climate change agenda, recently voting, for instance, to repeal his clean power plant rules. In other words, whatever the COP comes up with in this next week, whether it is a fully fledged attack on climate change or a watered down compromise, most governments are going to have trouble implementing their strategies.

These two weeks in Paris is the culmination of talks throughout the last year as various parties with hugely different priorities try to reach a coherent agreement. To us on the outside it seems like bureaucracy gone mad!

The much lauded draft document that has been produced at COP2015 is some 48 pages, but is made longer because of the inclusion of bracketed sentences, caveats that one country or another has wanted to include to signify their reticence about a particular stance or proposed protocol. What will undoubtedly be left then, once all the twilight wrangling is over, is a watered down version of a climate change agreement that isn’t fit for purpose.

There are plenty of splits that could consign any potential deal to the waste bin. There is a split on the goal of reducing global warming by 2 or 1.5°C and there’s concern that poor countries are having to take on too much of the load to simply help rich countries get richer. While the economic powerhouse of China, one of the major contributors to global warming along with the US, has come to the table and is doing its bit for the cause, others are concerned that poor countries are being asked to choose between starvation and saving the planet. And then there are issues over the contributions each country should make and how savings on things like carbon emissions should be made, measured and monitored.

While crowds gather and march in the streets, waving their banners and chanting at the inaction of our governments, behind closed doors earnest politicians and climate change representatives try to reach an accord. As delegates battle fatigue by working into the early hours there is a widespread sense that this agreement will be reached.

It will be different from Copenhagen.

The problem is, as always, whether this climate agreement will be too weak to make a significant difference. And, of course, it may all fall apart like before in the last few moments. After all, in Copenhagen they said an agreement would be reached and that hopes were high, until, of course, they suddenly decided there was no agreement at all.

Unfortunately for our children and their future generations, this is the last chance to ensure their prosperity on this planet and possibly their very existence. For those who seek to derail these talks and mortgage our futures over semantics and greed, may they be consigned to the history books for committing the most heinous crimes against humanity possible.

 By Steven M.