Promises and perils of the Paris agreement?

A few people were sharing, on Twitter, a Science article called Promises and Perils of the Paris Agreement. It mostly seemed unobjectionable. It discusses the linear relationship between warming and emissions, and how this allows one to define carbon budgets (i.e., how much can we emit to have some chance of staying below some level of warming). It discusses Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and how this can’t contribute substantially to limiting global warming over the next several decades. It also discusses the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that came out of the Paris agreement.

I was slightly confused about the framing, since it seemed to suggest that the NDCs were an alternative to temperature targets. Although they’re clearly based on individual countries determining what they’re willing to do, they do still seem to be linked to the temperature targets and the associated carbon budgets. However, what confused me the most about the article was how it concluded. It suggests that

if societies do end up living in a world in which global warming far exceeds 2oC by 2100 — which is no longer unlikely, independent of what approach is taken — then it would be far better to do so with a functioning set of democratic global institutions, rather than clinging to fantasies about centralized, detached steering leading to sweeping global transformations, despite decades of experience providing evidence of the implausibility of such an approach.

I couldn’t quite see how this followed from what was presented in the rest of the article. Is it really suggesting that temperature targets are based on centralized, detached steering? Is it something else? I’m not aware of anyone suggesting that we should address global warming by destroying our democratic global institutions and relying on centralized, detached steering, but maybe someone can highlight an example of such a suggestion.

I may be wrong, but my impression is that some see temperature targets as an attempt to define a goal that we should achieve at any cost. Some may indeed suggest this, but I don’t think that this is really the intent. It’s more to do with a combination of climatic tipping points becoming more likely the more we warm, and the impacts increasing non-linearly with increasing temperature. Hence, there is merit in trying to limit warming and – consequently – defining some kind of target. We don’t need to achieve these targets, but the more we miss them by, the more severe the impacts are likely to be.

This reminds me of a quote – from Kevin Anderson – about carbon budgets and the Paris agreement. It seems apt, so I’ll end with it:

It is important to note that the nature of the carbon budgets mean that any failure to deliver deep mitigation rates in the near term (from a high starting value) very rapidly increases future rates to completely unattainable levels. Delay is not an option and our 2oC mitigation analysis needs to be informed by this.

We can of course throw our hands in the air and declare the implications of such emission constraints are too onerous for us high-emitters to contemplate. But then we need to be honest and say to our and others’ children, as well as many millions living in poor and climate-vulnerable communities, that we have chosen to renege on the Paris commitments. This is an authentic position, allowing others to consider the implications and make whatever contingencies they can to deal with the chaos of the 3-5oC of warming we’ve decided to bestow upon them.

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32 Responses to Promises and perils of the Paris agreement?

  1. Kevin Anderson? Brilliant, unrelenting communication of the climate science. I have stepped up a bit and am engaging in flight/cruise shaming on facebook. My flying and cruising friends are quiet and/or unhappy about being called out on high emission lifestyles.

  2. jacksmith4tx says:

    The Paris agreement was the point in time when the human race briefly acknowledged our collective responsibility for degrading the environment. But sadly it was just a line in the sand.
    At some point will we capitulate to a technology fix for the environmental crisis. Either top-down by chemically altering the atmosphere and oceans or bottom-up by genetically modifying the food web. Both options are more likely than changing human behavior for now but by 2100 we should be able to reprogram human behavior by directly modifying memories and emotions.
    (the above scenario assumes we avoid nuclear war)

  3. bostonblorp says:

    This is fighting yesterday’s war. Actually, worse, it’s not even fighting, it’s arguing strategy. The Paris Agreement cannot be fulfilled. Conservatively speaking there’s at least a half degree C already locked in with current emissions and the difficult-to-estimate but median projection on cooling caused by the aerosols of fossil fuel burning is another 0.5C. So the ECS cannot be kept to “well below” 2C much less 1.5C even if emissions ceased today.

    Of course there’s no reasonable expectation that we’ll achieve net zero emissions within the next forty years. And feedbacks are already active and almost certain to increase.

    The decadal frequency with which the global bureaucracy revisits its AGW plans would be bad enough were it not for its seeming total inability or unwillingness to recognize that its plans thus far are already inadequate and destined to failure.

  4. bostonblorp,

    So the ECS cannot be kept to “well below” 2C much less 1.5C even if emissions ceased today.

    This isn’t actually correct. If we ceased all emissions, then there would indeed be sudden warming due to the precipitation of the aerosols. However, as the short-lived greenhouse gases decayed, global temperatures would drop and – on the scale of a few decades – our committed warming would probably be quite small. The figure below is from the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C (SR15).

  5. bostonblorp says:

    @ATTP – I’ll not argue with the IPCC and will not make that specific claim in the future. I’ll head off into the weeds on my own time as to whether those projections include current locked in guarantees such as the total melt of Arctic summer sea ice and other emerging feedbacks.

    The broader point remains – does a credible pathway exist to achieve the Paris Agreement? Consider that renewables, in the global total energy mix, grew just 0.9% from 2010 to 2016 (IEA). That’s abysmal. Or that agriculture is the source of a quarter of emissions and there’s no viable route to bring that to zero in the next several decades. Those are just obvious talking points, there are more complete arguments as to the “difficulty” of the PA in multiple papers (including some in Nature).

  6. bostonblorp,
    You’re correct to wonder if the above include slow feedbacks (it doesn’t, AFAIA). I agree also with your broader point (and meant to mention that in the previous comment). It is probably the case that if we were able top halt all emissions now, our warming committment would be low. However, this is essentially impossible. Hence, we do have a warming committment which is mostly based on how difficult it is going to be to ultimately get net emissions to zero. I don’t know how big this is, but it does seem ss though getting emissions to zero fast enough to keep warming below 2C is going to be very difficult.

  7. John Hartz says:

    Don’t look now but most of world’s developed countries have turned into oligarchies. Multi-national corporations and the super-rich are calling the shots at both the national and international levels.

    Here are two recent gut-wrenching example of what I’m talking about:

    Madrid could become first European city to scrap low-emissions zone by Arthur Neslen, Europe, Guardian, May 31, 2019

    New reef envoy Warren Entsch takes aim at ‘coaching’ of kids over climate change by Rosemary Bolger & Nick Baker, Australia, SBS News, May 29, 2019

    These two examples are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

  8. Mal Adapted says:

    Also in the current issue of Science, the page one editorial is titled A call to climate action. It’s as blunt an editorial declaration of what must be done as I’ve seen in the flagship journal of the American scientific establishment. If anyone later asks “why didn’t scientists warn us?”, refer them to this piece.

  9. Everett F Sargent says:

    The current NDC’s are already an epic failure. Too little and too late. I’ll come back with the money shot after my own reinterpretation of said article. But I’m thinking of a forced requirement solution as opposed to the current ‘so called’ Free Willy (voluntary free will) solution.

  10. BBD says:

    This isn’t actually correct. If we ceased all emissions, then there would indeed be sudden warming due to the precipitation of the aerosols. However, as the short-lived greenhouse gases decayed, global temperatures would drop and – on the scale of a few decades – our committed warming would probably be quite small. The figure below is from the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C (SR15).

    Thanks for that. The SR15 figure is interesting, and like bostonblorp, I find my preconceptions challenged 🙂

  11. John Hartz says:

    Here’s the icing on the cake re my prior comment:

    Investor state dispute settlement cases risk having a “chilling effect” on implementing the stringent climate regulations required to fulfill a pact to curb global warming

    Reform needed to stop companies fighting climate rules – Nobel laureate Stiglitz, Interview by Sebastien Malo, Thomson Reuters Foundation, May 29, 2019

  12. John Hartz says:

    Everett F Sargent : Who’s going to do the enforcing? As currently constituted, the UN is a toothless tiger.

  13. Everett F Sargent says:

    JH,

    I misunderstood and made a bad guess. As to democracies see the Democracy Index …
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index

    Asia, Africa and South America?

    In short, democracy and.or voluntary democratic actions won’t save humanity from a 3-5C temperature rise, but at least that 3-5C temperature rise will be seen as a ‘so called’ democratic solution.

    yippee yi yo kayah

  14. John Hartz says:

    Everett F Sargent: Who will be around to see it after a 3-5C rise?

  15. John Hartz says:

    Everett F Sargent:: Looks to me like the Democracy Index is a missing a key factor, i.e., degree of control of government by corporations and the financial sector.

  16. Greg Robie says:

    I object. Embedded in the Paris Agreement is the [ported] failed financial mechanism of the binding Kyoto Agreement and its first commitment period. This is, if I recall correctly, the only thing that was actually agreed to at COP21. That mechanism explicitly is not related to any carbon budget, in part because of NDCs and each nation’s degree of belief in CDR technologies unicorns … and also because our democraticNOR! institutions of too-big-to-fail banks trust in GREED-as-go[]d ‘voted’ for this stupidity. Furthermore, the world – and its anthropogenic warming – does not end on the first day of 2100, so isn’t the Anderson quote used out of context? And while the subject is inferred motivated reasoning, let us not forget our [ignored] toothless Inuit hunters who have observed data about a significant rise in the seasonal tropopause and, therefore, a similarly significant omission in the solar insolation assumed in the models … & by definition (which – surpriseNOT! – significantly underestimate the [observed] ice loss in the Arctic).

    There may be physics, but there is also motivated reasoning. And we all may not not – every now and then – be wrong! 😉

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCeDkezgoyyZAlN7nW1tlfeA

    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart

    >

  17. Snape says:

    A 3-5C rise would be nuts – see my belated comments to Sheldon at the bottom of the “+4.0C “ post. My guess is there will be a panicked attempt at cooling before it ever gets to that. Increasing albedo in the stratosphere or probably easier, at the ocean surface.
    Of course those “solutions” will open a whole new can of worms.

    We tend to be reactionary creatures rather than proactive. The obesity epidemic is the perfect example. Diets, surgery, medication – all are an attempt to fix problems resulting from what should have, could have been prevented.

  18. mrkenfabian says:

    “… fantasies about centralized, detached steering leading to sweeping global transformations ”

    I suspect this references the nonspecific but widely disseminated notion within the climate responsibility denial “movement” that climate activism is a front for globalist/socialist/environmentalist/nanny-statist/scientist-ist conspiracy – or at least references the opposition to international agreements arising from such views. Not only is climate action seen as incompatible with free-enterprise, it is seen as inimical to it and organising international agreements under UN auspices as evidence for an intent to undermine national sovereignty.

    Myself, I can’t see any viable means to aim for global climate stability without international agreements, but those will be between sovereign nations entered into knowingly, for mutual – ie ultimately their own – benefit.

  19. bostonblorp says:

    Since Kevin Anderson was mentioned I dug through my notes and found a lecture of his where he more thoroughly investigates the “difficulty” of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. The whole video is well worth a watch but I’ve linked to the time where he describes how current national pledges made under the PA add up to +3-4C warming.

  20. There is no more pure example of a centrally controlled oligopoly than China – industry and the government are literally the same thing. Look at any chart of emissions growth by country and tell me that world leaders have spent the last 30 years doing a good job of limiting oligopoly in the name of climate action or that central control in any way results in emissions reductions.
    The thrust of the article, IMO, is the fact that developed nations have largely reached the point where they must choose alternatives to baseload power- the stuff that will replace remaining coal and nuclear power plants. Doing it with renewables would be so expensive that it would require the “fantasy” of which they write. Therefore it either isn’t going to happen or alternatives to renewables will have to be discussed.

  21. Everett F Sargent says:

    JH sez …
    “Who’s going to do the enforcing?”

    In USAniacistan it will be The Humanity Bureau (which Trumpkin will institute via an EO just before he leaves office at noon EST on January 20, 2025) …
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Humanity_Bureau

    “In the near future, global warming turns parts of the American Midwest into a desert. In its attempt to take hold of the economic recession, a government agency called the Humanity Bureau exiles members of society deemed unproductive, and banishes them to a colony known as New Eden.”

    Spoiler alert (not really as the plot line is rather obvious)

    New Eden? It’s a cookbook!

    Actually it’s a set of coal fired crematoriums. I just now made up the ‘coal fired’ part of the script.

    See also …
    List of science fiction films of the 2010s
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_science_fiction_films_of_the_2010s

    A decent fraction of those listed are dystopian cli-fi (watched Mortal Engines and Ready Player One last night). Go figure.

  22. izen says:

    @-mrkenfabian
    “the nonspecific but widely disseminated notion within the climate responsibility denial “movement” that climate activism is a front for globalist/socialist/environmentalist/nanny-statist/scientist-ist conspiracy ”

    In this the ‘climate responsibility denial movement’ are rather more clear-sighted, or honest, than those who want to take effective action on CO2 emissions.
    Individual national governments, whether ‘democratic’ or otherwise have demonstrated an inability to make any cooperative arrangement, or act separately, from the ‘invisible hand’, in a manner that would limit warming to 2C or less.

    A NWO of a globalist/socialist nature that subsumes national sovereignty and oligarchical capitalist governance will be a requirement of any collective action that would significantly limit further temperature rise.
    The Irony is that it is unlikely to be instituted until the impacts of a much larger temperature rise than 2C have destroyed the present system of nation-based competing oligarchies.
    At which point it becomes inevitable.

  23. @jeffnsails850 You say that replacing coal with renewables is so expensive that it would be a “fantasy” to say it will be replaced. This is incorrect. In the US, wind and solar are on average less than half the cost of new coal, and close to the marginal cost of existing coal. ( https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2018/

    This analysis is duplicated globally by Irena (https://www.irena.org/newsroom/pressreleases/2019/May/Falling-Renewable-Power-Costs-Open-Door-to-Greater-Climate-Ambition )

    And in Australia, wind and solar are A$40/MWh (down from $60 and $70 just 3 years ago) below the fuel only cost of coal (A$56/MWh) and 1/3rd the cost of new coal ($110-$120/MWh). (https://volewica.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-right-continues-to-lie-about.html )

  24. mrkenfabian says:

    Izen, I disagree – no matter that our international agreements between sovereign governments have been inadequate so far, that they have been achieved at all, with almost every nation, including those with climate responsibility denying governments participating says it it not so impossible as all that. Whereas any attempts to create a global government in order to deal with global warming will be so fiercely resisted as to be impossible – and climate action is already being widely opposed because of fears of it. I think organised opponents of climate responsibility have invested a lot in cultivating fears like that – and I think it is not because dealing with our climate emergency requires global governance, but because it does not.

    I think it is because it is entirely possible – and I think actually most achievable – to deal with it without nations giving up sovereignty, without turning socialist, without undermining free enterprise or democracy or the rule of law or without engineering an economic disaster that such themes are so strongly promoted and clung to fiercely. Like almost every aspect of the conflicted politics around climate and energy it is not because the climate “movement” is wrong and actions would fail that it is opposed so strongly but because it is right and reasoned actions will work. The support of those who lean Right is what is at stake and we will only see it when those fears are shown to be false.

  25. David B. Benson says:

    But delay is what we have…

  26. gallopingcamel says:

    John Hartz, June 2, 2019 at 8:36 pm
    You said:
    “Don’t look now but most of world’s developed countries have turned into oligarchies. Multi-national corporations and the super-rich are calling the shots at both the national and international levels.”

    Yes, the elites (oligarchs) have so much control that they can defy the will of the people as in the USA by refusing to secure our borders. As In the UK by refusing to implement BREXIT. Almost everywhere you look globalists are in charge and they don’t care what you think or how you vote.

    This will not end well given that the sheeple are starting to wake up.

  27. Joshua says:

    BTW –

    Lots of experiments related to the “deficit model” described.

  28. [Peddling. -W]

    ?
    You want to leave it that Lazard endorses replacing base load with wind and solar? They don’t.

  29. izen says:

    @-mrkenfabian
    ” I disagree – no matter that our international agreements between sovereign governments have been inadequate so far, that they have been achieved at all, with almost every nation, … says it it not so impossible as all that.”

    There are a few limited areas where international agreements between sovereign governments work. CFCs are the obvious example, but there are other ongoing treaties that control national action on the use of the radio spectrum, chemical safety, and the commercial exploitation of the oceans and polar regions.

    However the attempts to get international agreement on significant action on CO2 emissions, perhaps because it concerns the key form of energy generation that is the foundation of our commercial and communal system, look like green-washing. Attempts by most to LOOK as though they are participating without any actual action that would have a effective impact.
    (Not all, some nations do show good progress, but ineffective at the global scale.)

    @-“I think it is because it is entirely possible … to deal with it without nations giving up sovereignty, without turning socialist, without undermining free enterprise or democracy or the rule of law.

    I think it unlikely that the global and foundational problem connected with energy and food production instigating significant climate change from cumulative CO2 emissions can be dealt with by any mechanism other than a global system of management and control. I would agree that this is fiercely opposed by those that are invested in national sovereignty and the current economic system.
    I foresee that the collapse of current agricultural systems under ecological pressures, the resulting famine, migration pestilence war and death will destroy those very institutions that are at present most opposed to, and the biggest obstacle, to a globally mediated solution. That the NWO will emerge as a necessity out of the climate change initiated collapse of the old/present system of competing nation states and economic interests.

    In common with most of the big changes in the organisation of society in human history, it will be a contingent reaction, not a pro-active forward response before the impacts trigger them.

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