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.