Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Paris climate agreement

Joe Romm actually has a positive view of the Paris accord, which surprises me a bit. If you haven't had a chance to get familiar with it, the 186 participating nations each have pledged what's called an "intended nationally determined contribution" toward a goal of limiting the global mean temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. However, the existing intended contributions aren't enough to get there -- they will need to be reviewed and ratcheted up going forward.

That sounds great but there is no enforcement mechanism. It is meaningful that essentially all of the world's nations agree that yes, there is a problem, and yes, we need to do something about it. The symbolism is powerful and it may help politicians in some countries establish more effective policies. To my mind, however, that is speculative. The agreement is purely rhetorical. It doesn't actually do anything. The economic forces driving fossil fuel consumption are unchanged.

The only really effective measure, which happens to accord with brown shoe economic theory, is a tax on CO2 emissions equal to their social cost -- which means enough to drive them to zero within a few years. In other words, we need to make investments in essential technology and infrastructure pay off. That includes energy storage, and  a "smart" electric power grid, which are necessary to make renewable energy viable. A carbon tax can also provide subsidies to low-income people so that they are not economically harmed in the short run, and subsidize energy conservation and adoption of renewable energy sources.

And yes, it will have to be global.

If the nations of the world can't come together to do that, or something very much like it, the agreement is just so much hot air. And given that one of the two major parties in the nation with the world's largest economy denies reality, we're a long way from doing anything meaningful.

Here's Bill McKibben's less enthusiastic take on the accord.


robin andrea said...

I just read Bill McKibben's OpEd before heading over here to read your post. Yes, as you say, "the agreement is just so much hot air." I think the thing that surprised me the most is that I actually had hope that something substantial could be accomplished. Hah! Fooled me again.

kathy a. said...

I think it is huge that so many nations agreed to work together, and agreed on goals, and agreed to keep checking in and adjusting. Are there other issues where so many have agreed? Things have to start someplace, and this is the start -- which absolutely has to happen. There cannot be significant progress without a start. And the fact all these countries agreed means that all the other countries will be watching what is working and what isn't, where changes need to be made as they move along.

I know, not enforceable; not even what is needed yet. But I really believe we can't reject steps in the right direction because they aren't perfect.

This is pretty significant in our domestic political circumstances, too. One entire party rejects the science and the need to do anything. That position has been soundly disavowed by the entire planet. Interesting, no?

kathy a. said...

The link to Romm didn't work. Here it is:

Cervantes, even in your own work regarding HIV, you don't expect perfection; you look for ways to make progress. That's how I feel about this.

Cervantes said...

Link fixed, thanks. I do agree that the symbolism is important and gives the world something to build on. However, getting the Republican party out of power in congress is essential for anything substantive to be done.

Anonymous said...

One of the major contributors to CO2 is WAR. (bold it large.) Anyone can grasp that intutively, how much energy goes to arms manufacture, bombs, vehicles, planes, destruction, deflagrations, support lines, and on and on.

See this graph. It is by a French energy expert, a very qualified and serious (and even rather cautious) blogger using official stats only. In English. Note it is per capita, not in absolute.

He points out that the COP21 (Paris meet) excludes from its considerations and stats:

** aviation, maritime transport, and military use. ** Heh.