A Bonn affair: climate chump change at COP23

A recent report from the UN Environment Program definitely got everyone’s attention.

If countries’ present mitigation programs are implemented without any additional action to reduce carbon emissions, global temperatures will rise to about 3.2°C by 2100.  Even if the actions conditional on supplementary financing are factored in, global temperatures will still be about 3.0°C.

So according to the UNEP report, the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to “well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels” looks pretty much shot.

And let’s bear in mind that a 3°C increase in global temperatures would means the end of what, up until now, has been a fairly user-friendly planet Earth.  At 3°C of global warming, for the majority of people on this planet, life is going to be a constant struggle to fend off debilitating heatwaves, ferocious wildfires, monstrous hurricanes and cyclones, life-sapping droughts, and disastrous floods.  And that’s only the half of it.

Mind the gap

The report, called The Emissions Gap Report 2017, is prepared each year by UNEP. You can find the report  here.  It’s a technical report.  Tricky to understand in places.  But the executive summary of nine pages is where the numbers are—although it takes a while to find them and sort them out.

What the UNEP calls the ‘gap’ is the difference between where we are headed now—if countries fully implement their individuual programs (called their Nationally Determined Contributions), and what is needed if the world is going to meet the targets set in Paris in 2015.

In terms of emissions of carbon, the gap is somewhere between 16 and 19 GtCO2e (that’s shorthand for a billion tons of equivalent CO2—a unit that factors in the other greenhouse gases). So that’s how much present levels of greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by 2030 if we are to get back on track to meet the Paris targets.

In 2016, total emissions were about 52 GtCO2e. So by 2030, we have to reduce this level of emissions by about a third.

Sounds like a big ask.

Can it be done?

Well, what’s interesting about the UNEP report is that tucked away towards the end of the executive summary, is a table that tells us exactly how we might be able to do it.

Let’s look at just four sectors: energy, industry, forestry and transport.  The emission reduction potentials estimated in the Emissions Gap Report (in GtCO2e) are :

Renewable energy (solar, wind, and hydropower) 7.5 – 12.0

Industry (energy efficiency)  4.1

Forestry (restoration and reducing deforestation) 4.1 – 6.3

Transport  (efficiency improvements and electric vehicles) 4.1 – 5.3

Just working on these four sectors gives potential savings of between 19.8 and 27.7 GtCO2e.  More than enough to fix the ‘gap’.  And this doesn’t even include agriculture and the building sector where further reductions are possible. All the necessary technologies, best practices, and techniques are well known.  None of this is new stuff. All of this can be done – right now.

So is any of this on the agenda at COP 23?   You might think that the people at the UNFCCC would be a tad interested in a proposal mapped out by the UN Environment Programme that gets everyone back on track to meet the Paris agreement targets by 2030.?

It doesn’t look like it.

The COP23 agenda is focused on getting organised.  The pre-COP report isued by the UNFCCC : Climate Action Nowsummary for policymakers 2017, lays out the key messages for policymakers.

– Coordination and coherence;

– opportunities for integration, and

– improved data and information.

Getting these three elements sorted leads to.. (wait for it) : reducing vulnerability and enhanced resilience.  Check it out here.

Nothing in this ‘Climate Action Now’ report actually tells you how to get to this promised land.  There are a couple of references to forestry programs—which are definitely essential; but restoring forests, reforestation, and curtailing deforestation isn’t going to be enough.

Does it strike you as odd that the Climate Action Now report doesn’t say anything at all about reducing fossil fuel emissions?  That the words : ‘solar’, ‘photovoltaic’, or ‘wind’ are not even mentioned?

Last week a report was published by the Frontier Group titled: Blocking the Sun : Utilities and fossil fuel interests that are undermining American solar power.

The report lays out all the ways that the US power companies, the oil conglomerates, and the petrochemical industries are obstructing the transition to renewable energy in the USA.

Are these guys in Bonn for COP23?  Of course they are.  Trump is sending a team that includes reps from Peabody Energy (coal), NuScale Power (nuclear), and Tellurian (natural gas).

Their remit is to promote the role of the new ‘clean’ fossil fuels in reducing emissions of CO2. This is the Trump pipe dream: that fossil fuels can clean up their act and with a dash of nuclear are a better choice than solar and wind.

It’s never going to happen. But the fossil fuel salesmen have deep pockets, dark money, and a playbook that goes back 40 years.

And how much influence have they already had in arranging the agenda in Bonn?


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