Delegates to the UN climate conference in Poland have reached agreement on how to implement the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, which comes into force in 2020. What are the key points to come out of the meeting?
1. The rules are key to the game
However dull it may be, the operational rules for the 2015 Paris climate agreement will govern the way the world tackles climate change for decades to come.
The key thing was not to unravel the carefully negotiated Paris agreement by having one set of rules for the rich countries and another one for the poor.
By that measure the conference was a success with China showing leadership by not pushing for a return to the old ways of countries who did, and countries who didn’t.
Also helping that effort was the US.
Ensuring that the China and the US face similar regulations has long been a key of American policy.
Keeping everyone on the same page also delighted the EU.
Climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete explained how the new rules would work.
“We have a system of transparency, we have a system of reporting, we have rules to measure our emissions, we have a system to measure the impacts of our policies compared to what science recommends.”
To keep everyone in check, the rules will also contain a compliance mechanism, which means that countries that don’t submit their reports on time will face an inquiry.
The new regulations are “flexible” for developing countries, meaning they can sign up to the rules at a later date.
2. Science is worth fighting for
One of the biggest rows at this meeting was over a key scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
A group of countries including Saudi Arabia, US, Kuwait and Russia refused to “welcome” the IPCC study.
They merely wanted to “note” the contents.
Efforts to find a compromise ended in failure.
However that was not the end of the matter.
The vast majority of countries felt that acknowledging the science was critical at this conference.
Their efforts did finally ensure that the IPCC was recognised – but many felt it was a token effort.
“That science is unsettling and it doesn’t connect it to the need to do more,” said Camilla Born from the environmental think tank E3G.
“The deal looks at it in isolation, it’s an elegant compromise but it’s not really enough.”
3. International spirit is still alive
Many countries had worried that with the rise of nationalism in many countries and the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s president, the international co-operation needed to tackle climate change might be in danger.
For many getting agreement here in Katowice was less about technical rules and more about showing that the international spirit is still alive and has teeth.
“I think the beauty of multilateralism is that it is the effort of everybody,” said Spanish Ecology Minister Teresa Ribera.
“And what we have seen is that everybody has supported the package, no single country has decided to step down.
“It is very difficult. It is like organising a party for 200 friends, and there’s a single menu that everybody has to eat. It is not so easy but we have got it. That’s fantastic!”
4. A win for the process but not for the planet?
While negotiators have been congratulating themselves on a job well done in landing the rulebook, there are many voices here who feel that the agreement does not go far enough.
They point to the strength of the science, and the public recognition of the impacts of climate change seen this year in heatwaves and wildfires.
Many environmental campaigners believe that Katowice was a missed opportunity for radical action.
“We have ended up here with more of a coal trade fair than a climate convention,” said Mohamed Adow from Christian Aid, referring to the efforts to promote coal by Poland and the US at this conference.
“We haven’t acted in good faith, particularly for the young, that we takes seriously what science is telling us and we are responding to it. That message didn’t come through.
“If people think the rulebook is the way to get the world on that path, it is not robust or ambitious enough.”
5. New voices are emerging
One of the most striking things about this conference of the parties was the presence of energised young people in far greater numbers than I have ever seen them at a COP before.
Climate change chimes with young people in a way that is sometimes missing with older people, who make up the bulk of negotiators here.
The sense that perhaps this UN process doesn’t quite connect with the modern world was summed up best by Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives and now their lead climate negotiator.
“Almost 10 years since I was last at these climate negotiations, I must say, nothing much seems to have changed.
“We are still using the same old, dinosaur language. Still saying the same old words.
“Still making the same tedious points.”
It would be hard to argue with this view given the shenanigans that played out at the end, when one country, Brazil, held up progress at the talks on one issue for a couple of days.
Perhaps the most memorable image of this meeting was that of 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg.
This teenager who has organised school strikes in Sweden held daily press conferences here to drive home her message that platitudes and warm words just aren’t enough anymore.
Her message was sharp and succinct.
“We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”
International climate negotiations have failed to curb runaway greenhouse gas emissions since the first UN treaty on emission reductions was adopted in 1992.
Consumer-focused solutions to climate change such as eating less meat or reducing food mileage, though important, simply won’t be enough to address the systemic nature of the crisis.
So what needs to be done to halt global warming?
Truthout spoke to Simon Pirani about his newest book,Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, and the prospects for transitioning to a post-fossil fuel world.
Anton Woronczuk:Burning Upsituates the last few decades of accelerating fossil fuel consumption alongside the social and economic history of energy production and policy.
How does this context help us understand what is driving, and what has driven, the growth of greenhouse gas emissions through today?
Simon Pirani:When people think about the threat of dangerous climate change, and decide they want to do something about it, it is not easy to work out what to do. It is clear we have to move away from fossil fuels, but not clear how. Governments claim they have solutions, which people instinctively (and rightly) disbelieve, and newspapers report simple, bullet-point proposals – such as “stop eating meat” – the effect of which is unclear.
Moving away from fossil fuels is difficult because they are so deeply embedded in economic activity, in the way that we live.
InBurning UpI hoped to make clearer how that has happened through recent history.
Take the example of cars and urban infrastructure based on them.
There are technological drivers.
Using an internal combustion engine for motor transport was a truly remarkable innovation. But it took place in an economic and social context: the rise of American capitalism. The USA had oil resources. It had aggressive entrepreneurs who not only pioneered the use of production lines to build cars – and to help discipline and control the workers who made them – but also dreamt up sales techniques to turn the car into a marketable commodity and an object of consumerism.
By the late 20th century, the motor manufacturers had become a fearsome political lobby.
They had undermined alternative forms of transport, remade American cities to serve cars, and frustrated fuel efficiency regulation.
The American example was followed by cities across the rich world during the post war boom, and beyond it from the 1980s onwards.
It was not inevitable that motor technology would come to be used so inefficiently, or that urban transport systems would become subservient to it.
That was conditioned by the way capitalism expanded.
We need to account for technological, social, economic and political elements, to understand how fossil fuel consumption has become unsustainable.
We also need to specify what we mean by “unsustainable.” The human price paid for fossil fuels has always been high – coal miners killed down pits, urban residents’ lives cut short by air pollution.
Global warming, the nature of which only became clear to scientists about thirty years ago, has made it unsustainable in a whole new way.
You repeatedly emphasize throughout your book that energy technologies must be understood as inseparable from the social and economic systems in which they function.
What is the significance of this idea, especially when many institutions promote technological fixes, like geo-engineering or carbon capture, to the climate crisis?
The story of fossil fuel consumption growth is a story of technologies used, misused and moulded by the corporations that control them; of capitalist expansion, particularly after the second world war; and of government complicity.
Even today, most fossil fuels are used by technologies of the late 19th-century “second industrial revolution,” and their more-or-less direct successors: cars with internal combustion engines, power stations and electricity networks, urban built infrastructure, energy-intensive manufacturing, fertilizer-heavy industrial agriculture.
The technologies of the so-called “third industrial revolution” – computers and communication networks that appeared from the 1980s – have not only not helped make the economy less fuel-intensive, they have made things worse.
The internet now uses more electricity than India uses for everything – not because it could not function more efficiently, but because it has developed as a commercial rather than a collective network, loaded with commercial content.
By contrast, networked technology’s tremendous potential to make urban energy systems more efficient – to make them integrated, using multiple decentralized renewable energy sources such as wind and solar – has hardly been tapped.
Ideologies of “economic growth” and productivism have played a huge part in frustrating efforts to deal with global warming in the most effective way – by cutting fossil fuel consumption.
Enthusiasm for geoengineering is the ultimate and most extreme manifestation of such ideologies.
Carbon capture and storage will probably never work at a large scale.
Other geoengineering techniques are outside my area of expertise, but I know that climate scientists view politicians’ enthusiasm for these techniques with huge concern.
I recently went to a seminar with researchers who worked on the IPCC report on ways of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
With reference to schemes to reflect sunlight back into space, one participant reported political pressure on scientists not to use the phrase “solar radiation management,” but rather to talk about “solar radiation modification.”
Someone wants to make it sound less like the giant, Promethean intervention in natural processes that it actually is!
Moving away from fossil fuels will mean completely changing these technological systems, and the social and economic systems in which they are embedded.
Some people point to technological fixes to avoid talking about such deep-going change.
Common solutions promoted by some environmentalists are often framed in terms of changing individual consumption or those of populations, especially of the rich world.
Some of these include eating less (or no) meat, buying more local produce, using more public transportation, etc.
What do these solutions obscure in terms of how fossil fuels are consumed in and through societies (unequally) across the world?
For a start, focusing on rich-world hamburger eaters ignores the whole supply chain that produces such fuel-intensive, unhealthy products.
Appealing to rich-world drivers to get the bus only makes sense as part of a challenge to the whole urban transport system they depend on, that favors cars.
I try to minimize my own hamburger consumption and car use, but I don’t treat consumption as a moral issue. And it is not primarily an individual phenomenon: fuels are consumed by and through technological and economic systems.
Second, working people in the rich world spend their lives fending off the effects of elites’ encroachments on their living standards.
Under the present economic and political conditions, reducing consumption would often make their lives harder.
It needn’t do, but that’s how things stand now.
The French government wrapped up its latest attempt at austerity as a climate policy, and came unstuck.
Too bad for them.
In reality, averting global warming, working out ways to live better lives, and countering social injustice are all part of the same approach to life.
We need to work out how to express that politically.
Look at the reaction in France to the proposed fuel tax increase.
It ignited a general revolt against neoliberal encroachments on working people’s living standards.
The government has retreated, and not only abandoned the planned tax increase, but also promised to increase the minimum wage.
Right-wing commentators have falsely claimed that the protest movement was against climate policies.
I saw no evidence of that.
While the movement is politically heterogeneous, an overarching theme is that working people are sick of being asked to pay for everything.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established in 1992, was heralded by many as a major accomplishment in international efforts to address global warming; but you argue that Rio, and subsequent UN conferences, ensured that ecological imperatives were subordinate to economic interests.
Can you explain what this entailed and how it persisted through the Paris agreement?
Climate science has a history too.
The world’s ruling elites have long known that coal mines kill mineworkers, and cared little. But they did not know that fossil fuels were feeding into the global warming threat until the 1980s.
Only then did scientists clarify how warming happens, and the role played by greenhouse gases and fossil fuels. But once the ruling elites had the science in front of them, they fought desperately to limit the actions taken to those that reinforced, or at least did not threaten, their economic dominance.
The political expression of this was the refusal by the US and other governments to countenance the idea of binding emissions reduction targets.
This was consistent in the international climate negotiations from 1992 onwards. Another theme was that market mechanisms should be used to reduce fossil fuel consumption. This was the basis of the Kyoto protocol of 1997 and the disastrously unsuccessful emissions trading schemes it provided for.
A huge amount of political energy is expended to convince us that the international climate talks are dealing with the global warming problem.
They simply are not.
Since 1992 the annual level of greenhouse gases emissions from fossil fuel use has risen by more than half.
That is a failure.
If we don’t characterize the talks in that way, we cannot deal with the political consequences.
The 2015 Paris agreement marked the final collapse of attempts to adopt binding emissions targets.
I do not want to say the voluntary targets adopted are worthless, or that the policies adopted in some countries to achieve them are not helpful, or that serious efforts – most obviously, the substantial investment in renewable energy for electricity generation – are not being made to move away from some uses of fossil fuels. But we need to assess progress soberly and not confuse hopes with reality.
A widely celebrated proposal for a “Green New Deal” has been touted by many center-left politicians, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis, as a solution to the multiple crises we face today.
What is your evaluation of it?
The “green new deal” appears to have several meanings.
It has been used by mainstream neoliberal politicians to describe an investment program, operated completely through markets, that would shift the economy away from fossil fuels.
The left-wing politicians you mention see the “green new deal” as a program of state infrastructure investment, a mobilization of resources on the scale of a war effort.
Whether such a war-type mobilization would ever be implemented in any significant capitalist country remains to be seen.
The political scientists Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright suggest in their bookClimate Leviathanthat there could be an international agreement between the US, China and others that would undertake such spending, but very much in the strongest countries’ neo-imperial interests, and with a big dose of geoengineering.
Obviously the left politicians’ perspectives are quite different.
InBurning UpI argued that not just a social-democratic spending program, but a much deeper-going shift to post-capitalist social relations, could provide the context for the fundamental changes in social, economic and technological systems that will be necessary to break the economy’s many-sided dependence on fossil fuels.
That’s how I see the future.
By saying that, I don’t deny the need for immediate responses. But the most noticeable immediate responses will come from governments.
If anyone tells me they are up to the job of dealing with climate change, I would point to the fact that annual global fossil fuel consumption has risen by more than 60 percent since the Rio convention was signed.
That’s the result of governments’ response.
Australian school pupils understand that simple arithmetic better than they understand politicians’ promises, which is whythey went on strikein protest at inaction on climate change.
They will not be the last ones of their generation to do so.
Polish students part of an international climate strike hold up signs at COP24, the United Nations conference for climate change negotiations in Katowice, Poland.Monika Skolimowska/Getty Images
By Umair Ifran
Umair covers climate change, energy, and the environment.
Before joining Vox, Umair was a reporter for ClimateWire at E&E News in Washington, DC, where he covered health and climate change, climate policy, business, and energy trends.
In 2016, he received a Sasakawa Peace Foundation fellowship to report on Japan’s energy sector, economy, and culture. In 2014, he was awarded the Arthur F. Burns fellowship to cover Germany’s energy transition.
Negotiators at COP24 in Katowice have finally reached an agreement, but key points on carbon markets are still being debated.
UPDATE, December 15:International climate change negotiators announced late Saturday that they have reached anagreementat COP24 in Poland.
The text charts a path forward for countries to set tougher targets for cutting greenhouse gases under the Paris climate agreement, as well as stronger transparency rules for countries in disclosing their emissions.
However, nations still couldn’t reach an accord on how to use markets to limit carbon dioxide.
Those discussions will continue next year.
Read on for the context around these negotiations and why environmental groups, governments, and private companies were so concerned about the outcome of this conference.
An agreement between 200 nations at a major international climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, is taking longer than expected.
Stop Adani protest at Australian Labor Party Conference Today
The goal of the 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to hammer out critical the details of theParis climate agreement.
Under the 2015 accord, countries set out to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100 at most, with a preferred target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
However, the original pledged cuts ingreenhouse gas emissionswould not put the world anywhere near meeting these targets.
So the agreement included provisions for countries to meet regularly and ramp up their ambitions, all of which are voluntary. COP24 is the first time since Paris that countries are actually talking with each other about going beyond their initial commitments. That’s why this meeting is so important. That’s also why scientists and activists are pushing for even more ambitious commitments to reduce emissions in the final days of the negotiations.
“If the Paris agreement is actually going to live up to that model of voluntary bottom-up commitments, … ongoing ratcheting down of those commitments, then it has to happen at this first moment,” said Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate and energy at the World Wildlife Fund, by phone from Katowice. “And if it doesn’t happen at this first moment, then it will call into question whether this ratcheting will actually work.”
Time to stop opening new coal mines
The outcome of the negotiations became increasingly uncertain afterPresident Trumpin 2017 announced he would withdraw the United States from the accord.
For an agreement that hinges so much on cooperation and good faith, the worry was that without the US, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, the deal would fall apart, that other countries would weaken their ambitions or sign an agreement so full of loopholes as to be useless.
For delegates, the goal is to nail down critical details, like how to verify that countries are actually progressing in cutting greenhouse gases, creating market mechanisms to control emissions, and coming up with ways to help developing countries finance a transition to cleaner energy sources.
It turns out countries are making some progress in tracking their emissions, but are still struggling with many of the financial issues associated with mitigating climate change. It’s yet another example of the tension between the threat of rising average temperatures and the fears of economic strain that hinder ambition in cutting greenhouse gases.
Fighting climate change is only getting harder
The literal and metaphorical backdrops of the COP24 negotiations highlight the enormousness of the challenge. Katowice is in the heart of Poland’scoal countryand the conference is sponsored in part by Polish coal companies. The conference venue is literally festooned with coal.
As the COP24 climate summit comes to an end, it is clear that governments have failed to adequately respond to the catastrophic impacts of climate change that were highlighted in the landmark IPCC report on 1.5°C.
Based on a now widely operational Paris Agreement the next two years need to be used to build far-reaching transformational partnerships and reach the level of ambition science makes clear is necessary.
COP24 failed to deliver a clear commitment to strengthen all countries’ climate pledges by 2020. At the same time, a relatively effective though incomplete rulebook for how to implement the Paris Agreement was finalised.
Limited progress was also made with regard to how financial support for poorer countries coping with devastating climate impacts will be provided and accounted for.
The EU has made welcome efforts by building alliances with other countries and finding common ground on sticking points.
It has also set a good example when, together with several other members of the High Ambition Coalition, it committed to increase its 2030 climate target by 2020, in light of the warnings of the IPCC report.
However, it has failed to convince all other governments to make the same commitment.
Germany doubled their support for the Green Climate Fund to support developing countries, but other European countries still have to do the same.
In reaction to the COP24 outcomes,Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europesaid:
“The weak outcome of this COP runs contrary to stark warnings of the IPCC report and growing demand for action from citizens.
Governments have again delayed adequate action to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.
The EU needs to push ahead and lead by example, by providing more support to poor countries and increasing its climate pledge before the UN Secretary General Summit in September 2019. It must be a significant increase, even beyond the 55% reduction some Member States and the European Parliament are calling for.”
Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s leading NGO coalition fighting dangerous climate change.
With over 150 member organisations from 35 European countries, representing over 1.700 NGOs and more than 40 million citizens, CAN Europe promotes sustainable climate, energy and development policies throughout Europe.
CAN Europe members made the following statements wrapping up COP24:
Jennifer Tollmann, Climate Diplomacy Researcher, E3Gsaid: “In the end the EU did finally step up as a bridge-builder. But we now need to see whether they can ace the real test. Will they pull their weight in closing the global emissions gap and support their climate vulnerable allies to weather the storm?”
Mattias Söderberg, Climate Advisor, DanChurchAidsaid: “Poor and vulnerable countries are left behind with the agreement from Katowice.
People who face loss and damage due to droughts, flooding and devastating storms are not acknowledged.
This puts more burden on those living in poverty who are affected by the worst impacts of climate change, and who in most cases have very few emissions themselves.”
Christoph Bals, Policy Director of Germanwatch said: “It’s very clear that the world expects the EU to lead in climate politics.
In the end we have seen some attempts of EU countries to play a constructive role in the high ambition coalition. But only far reaching transformational partnerships between EU members and other countries can develop the necessary geopolitical dynamics for transformation.”
Neil Makaroff, European Policy Officer of Reseau Action Climat France said: “The COP24 climate negotiations should be a wakeup call for EU countries: there is no time to waste in childish divisions.
The IPCC report clearly highlighted that our home is burning and we have a limited time to save it.
Governments should be united in engaging Europe in a more ambitious climate policy, both boosting the energy transition and ensuring that it is socially just, benefiting to all. Europeans have this special responsibility to pave the way and lead climate actions by example.”
Sven Harmeling, Global Policy Lead on Climate Change, CARE International said: “At COP24, a number of powerful countries driven by short-sighted interests pushed to abolish the ambitious 1.5°C limit and throw away the alarming findings on harmful climate impacts of the IPCC Special Report.
The most vulnerable countries, civil society and people on the ground have been leading the fight for climate justice.
While governments accomplished the task of adopting a rulebook to further the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the world now requires much faster and stronger climate action at the national level, and support for poor countries to build climate resilience.”
Sebastian Scholz, Head of Climate Policy, NABU/BirdLife Germanysaid: “Again at this COP civil society made their demand clear to those decide to stay within the limit of 1.5 degrees of global warming.
None the less several issues weren’t solved by the delegations.
Even the alarming findings of the IPCC Special Report weren’t properly integrated into the outcome.
The EU had a rather weak position on closing loopholes in the accounting guidelines of the rulebook.
This won’t help to limit emissions, but also incentivise the use of non sustainable biomass for energy supply, and therefore risks a further loss of biodiversity.”
Karin Lexén, Secretary General of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservationsaid: “Two months ago, the scientific community sent an emergency message on the state of the climate crisis.
Coming to Katowice, we demanded no less than an emergency response.
This was not delivered.
Now all countries must urgently pick up the baton, do their homework and get ready to radically scale up climate action at home.
In Sweden, we demand a ban on fossil fuels by 2030.”
Otto Bruun, Climate Policy Officer, Finnish Association for Nature Conservationsaid: “Climate scientists have highlighted a safe option to avert climate chaos. Early retirement of fossil fuels should go hand in hand with the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems. While the governments at the Katowice conference did not produce the rulebook to match the ambition of the Paris treaty, governments must now mind the gap in ambition and increase their efforts at once. The April 2019 general election in Finland looks set be a climate election. Our collective ambition in civil society is to drive through an unforeseen and just policy shift to immediately protect and restore forest and peatland carbon sinks while retiring all fossil fuels altogether within two decades.”
Jeff Sparrow is an Australian leftwing writer, editor and former socialist activist based in Melbourne, Victoria. He is the co-author of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within. He is also the author of Communism: A Love Story and Killing: Misadventures in Violence.Wikipedia
Demonstrators stand next to metal barriers around the tomb of The Unknown Soldier at The Arc of Triomphe during a protest of Yellow vests (Gilets jaunes) against rising oil prices and living costs on the Champs Elysees in Paris, on December 1, 2018. (IMAGE: vfutscher, Flickr)
As the globe – and the political climate aimed at saving it – heats up, we need a different politics to tackle an entrenched problem, writes Jeff Sparrow.
Sensible centrism will doom us all.
Take Emmanuel Macron, once hailed everywhere as the savior of liberalism.
“Macron,”explainedPoliticoin April this year, “has stepped audaciously into the vacuum created by Trump’s abdication of America’s historic role as keeper of the liberal democratic flame.”
Nor was this an anomalous view in the English-speaking world.
MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid expressed the perspective of many American Democrats, when she quipped that Macron should be running Washington.
AsSalon put it, “Macron appeared to have everything that centrist Democrats could ever want in a candidate; he was young, smart and charismatic, yet also mature and pragmatic (as all centrists are, in the neoliberal worldview).
Macron also appeared to be different and innovative, like a political version of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and claimed to be “neither left nor right,” as if to have a political ideology was to have an outdated worldview, something like using a flip phone in 2018.”
In Britain, he generated the same kind of excitement among the same kind of people, with Labourite opponents of Jeremy Corbyn enthusing over the ‘new Tony Blair’, even as a new Macron-inspired centrist party called Renew came into being.
With riots, blockades and protests spreading across the country, the demand for Macron’s resignation provided a central slogan uniting an often fractious movement.
But his failure represents something more than the misfire of an overhyped media personality.
It illustrates the peculiar danger posed by the ongoing infatuation of supposed progressives with the so-called ‘radical centre’.
Macron’s international boosters had presented him as the figure to stem the rise of reactionary populism in Europe, someone who would combine market-based prosperity with liberal reforms.
When, in December 2017, Trump repudiated the Paris Climate Accords, Macron launched a slick social media campaign around the slogan ‘Make the planet great again’.
To that end, he proposed a so-called ‘eco tax’ on fuel, a levy intended, he explained, to discourage car use and to raise funds for climate change mitigation.
Symptomatically, though, he provided no alternative for working class drivers in the outer suburbs, small towns and rural areas without public transport.
The meteoric rise of the Yellow Vests reflected the widespread (and accurate) perception that the fuel tax constituted another attack by a government of the rich on some of the poorest people in the country.
In many ways, the tax represented the final straw for a population long sick of austerity.
The Macron bubble had, in fact, already burst well before the Yellow Vests took over the streets.
Nevertheless, for those of us watching from afar, it’s worth reflecting on how centrism brought the rhetoric of environmentalism directly into conflict with the aspirations of the people, in a manner that gave ammunition to the worst denialists.
Hasn’t every right-wing demagogue, from Donald Trump to Pauline Hanson, denounced climate change as a chatter class preoccupation imposed to shackle the working man?
Thus, rather than defeating the reactionary populists, Macron provided them, via his tax, with an effective talking point, a confirmation of the perspective they’ve long argued.
As he back-pedalled, the president acknowledged what he called the tension between ‘the end of the world’ and the ‘end of the month’.
The formulation was repeated by sympathetic commentators who declared that, in the future, environmental measures must be imposed gradually, so as to ease the pain of those living payday to payday. But that argument, too, accepts the underlying frame of the far right, positing workers as innately opposed to an environmentalism that, by definition, rendered them poorer and more miserable.
In reality, it’s climate change, not climate action, that necessarily threatens ordinary people, simply because the environmental crisis can no longer be disentangled from the broader crisis of a decaying capitalism.
The catastrophic weather associated with global warming will, for instance, overwhelmingly affect those already targeted by austerity – the individuals too poor to relocate or rebuild or use aircon or take other preventative measures.
The refugees from rising seas will be indistinguishable from the victims of war and poverty; the political ruptures provoked by drought, land degradation and other environmental disasters will blend into the general instability of the 21st century.
The tension between climate activism and the working class emerges not from the nature of the problem but from the logic of centrist solutions, which always centre on neoliberal mechanisms such as carbon taxes.
But there’s no environmental reason to rely on the market to combat fossil fuels.
A government could, after all, forcibly acquire polluting industries at the stroke of the pen, much as almost every regime nationalised parts of the economy during the Second World War.
To put it another way, the decarbonisation of the developed nations could be presented in a program designed to extend democratic control over industry, improve working conditions and materially improve the lives of the populace.
If it’s not – if climate action instead becomes a fig-leaf for austerity – that’s because of political choice rather than necessity.
Centrists pride themselves on their political acumen.
Carbon taxes and other market mechanisms might not be ideal, they say, but they reflect the horizon of the possible.
We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and it’s better to do something than nothing at all.
Macron’s example demonstrates the bankruptcy of that argument.
To their credit, the Yellow Vests seem to be moving to the left rather than to the right.
Nevertheless, the French situation will inspire right-wing populists everywhere to bring climate denial to the front of their agenda, adding to the difficulty of achieving genuine environmental change across Europe and elsewhere.
The fight for climate change depends on ordinary working people.
We have more to learn from the Yellow Vests and their militancy than we do from ‘sensible centrists’, no matter how much they drape themselves in green.
Now, more than ever, climate action must become radical.
In 2007, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a story calling for a “Green New Deal.”
Friedman explained that he no longer believed that there was one silver-bullet program that would solve climate change.
Rather, just as a variety of programs were part of former US president Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” for economic revitalization in the 1930s, so it would take a variety of investments in environmentally-friendly technologies to help stabilize the climate.
Friedman almost certainly could not have imagined that some day politicians would propose a Green New Deal that might include a universal basic income.
Newly elected US congress member and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for office on an ambitiousclimate-change platform which she also calls a Green New Deal.
The plan has gained attention and supportersover the last month, and is becoming a main talking point among Democrats who are looking for a meaningful agenda for the party over the next decade.
Ocasio-Cortez envisions the federal government leading efforts to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions by investing in renewable energy infrastructure, improving the efficiency of residential and industrial buildings, and constructing an energy-efficient electricity grid.
To achieve the Green New Deal’s goals, the government would need to hire millions of people. Ocasio-Cortez sees this as an opportunity to transform the economy.
The Green New Deal would include training and education for workers, as well as a federal job-guarantee program.
Further, all investments would be focused on low-income communities.
Presenting climate-change mitigation as a jobs program, rather than an economy killer, may be politically savvy.
As if all that wasn’t ambitious enough, the Green New Deal would also include “basic income programs, universal healthcare programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor-market flexibility, and entrepreneurism.”
It is basically everything liberals desire and more.
Supporters defend the need for these welfare programs as ways to alleviate the disruption that would be caused by the elimination of fossil fuel-supported jobs.
With a universal basic income and government-guaranteed health care, losing your oil-industry gig wouldn’t be as bad.
The program would of course be very expensive.
It’s hard to estimate how much it would cost, as the details are still murky. Green Party leader Jill Stein estimated that her version of the Green New Deal, which isless ambitiousthan the one presented by Ocasio-Cortez, would cost $700 billion to $1 trillion annually.
Ocasio-Cortez says hers would be funded by debt spending and tax increases.
In Friedman’s original conception, the government played a much smaller role in the Green New Deal.
He believed the government’s place was not in funding projects, but in seeding research and creating tax incentives andefficiency standards (paywall), and that harnessing the power of the private sector was the key to taking on climate change.
While Ocasio-Cortez believes the private sector has a role to play, she argues that the scale of the project is too big to leave to government-guided market forces.
The Green New Deal has come a long and very expensive way.
It still far cheaper than catastrophic climate change.
Ruth Kaser is a retired Roseburg teacher. A past board member of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition.
When the Roseburg Library opens its doors, get your hands on “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan. It is page-turner nonfiction that follows some tough, hard-luck people through the Dust Bowl.
It is a story with surprising resonance today.
Australia in the grip of record drought.
My parents grew up during those years of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. My dad farmed in Colorado, a part of the country deeply impacted by that natural, economic and human disaster.
Maybe I wasn’t listening, or dad didn’t want to burden his kids with those stories, but I had no idea the scale of misery visited largely on the poorest, least-powerful people in this country in those years.
A compelling story that resonates today, it tells of hard working people trying to realize the American dream by plowing up the prairie and planting it in wheat — acre after acre of wheat.
These people, boxed out of opportunity in the East and Far West, are encouraged to come to the southern plains.
They are enticed to farm a dry buffalo grass prairie by a government that is at a minimum ignorant of how all that plowing will impact the cattlemen who already were there, the native people who had been promised this land seen as useless, the wildlife that had flourished in its harsh environment, and ultimately the farmers themselves, who would be ruined by their own success.
It is also the story of a government which belatedly took drastic but successful action to reclaim that now ruined land by creating soil protection districts, teaching new methods of farming and planting thousands of trees as wind breaks.
That government action was opposed by hate filled politicians who blamed Jews or immigrants or nature for the disaster.
It was opposed by honorable men who feared a federal government’s power. But those who recognized the scale and potential of this horror show were tenacious and dogged and won.
Had they not been, the misery would have been even worse, and this country may have had an economy that never recovered.
We now face a worldwide disaster in climate change of even greater size and potential to cause misery to hardworking people everywhere.
Once again it is largely the result of humans and of governments either ignorant of the price of complacency or willing to sacrifice the bulk of humanity for re-election, power or wealth.
We need leaders the equal of those who then took on all the forces that said “Do nothing,” or “Do less,” and through their courage and tenacity led this country out of the dark misery of the Dust Bowl.
We need to support all those young people calling for a Green New Deal to match the New Deal of the 1930s.
We need to have the grit of the Americans who lived through watching their children die of dust pneumonia.
Americans who lost everything, surviving on wild game and pickled tumble weeds, and kept going.
If they could suffer all that and not throw up their hands in despair so that we could enjoy all the opportunity and ease we have today, surely we can use less, drive less and vote more for leaders who recognize the catastrophe on the horizon.
Somewhere all three Roosevelt’s, FDR, Teddy and Eleanor, are rooting for us to do just that.
Secretary-General’s remarks at the closing of the High-Level Segment of the Talanoa Dialogue, COP-24 [as delivered]
Ladies and gentlemen,
In my opening statement to this conference one week ago, I told you that this was the most important COP since the adoption of the Paris Agreement.
I warned that climate change is running faster than we are and that Katowice must—in no uncertain terms—be a success, as a necessary platform to reverse this trend.
To achieve it, I said that ambition and compromises were both needed. Never have the stakes been higher.
I left Katowice hopeful, but uncertain.
While I was away, three more reports were added to the long list of warnings signals:
A Special WHO report on impacts to health due to climate change;
A UN Environment Programme report which highlights the opportunities for reducing emissions in the construction sector; and
NASA’s research on the first signs of significant melting of glaciers in East Antarctica.
Returning to Katowice, I see that despite progress in the negotiating texts much remains to be done.
And today, the Presidency is presenting a text as new basis for negotiations.
I’d like to thank the Polish Presidency for its efforts.
I understand it takes an enormous amount of energy and work to organize such a conference.
I also understand the weight of responsibility that this COP carries.
There can be no doubt that it is a moment of truth.
In this regard, key political issues remain unresolved.
This is not surprising—we recognize the complexity of this work. But we are running out of time.
Today, it is only fitting that we meet under the auspices of the Talanoa Dialogue.
I’d like to thank Fiji for initiating this Dialogue.
It’s no coincidence they’re the ones who established the process to discuss ambition to meet a 1.5C° goal.
Small Island States know better than any of us the importance of meeting that goal.
As I said in my opening remarks, for people living on those islands, climate change isn’t a theoretical exercise about the future – it’s a matter of life and death today.
Talanoa’s spirit is exactly how we can achieve a successful result in these last crucial days of COP24.
It is defined by openness, driven by optimism, and focused not on political differences, but on the collective well-being of those living on this planet.
And let me be open and transparent.
The IPCC Special Report is a stark acknowledgment of what the consequences of global warming beyond 1.5 degrees will mean for billions of people around the world, especially those who call small island states home.
This is not good news, but we cannot afford to ignore it.
Over the last 10 days, many of you have worked long, hard hours and I want to acknowledge your efforts.
But we need to accelerate those efforts to reach consensus if we want to follow-up on the commitments made in Paris.
The Katowice package needs to deliver the Paris Agreement Work Program, progress on finance and a strong basis for the revision of National Determined Contributions under the Talanoa Dialogue.
These three components are linked by one central idea—boosting ambition.
Ambition when it comes to predictable and accessible financial flows for the economic transition towards a low-emission and climate-resilient world.
Ambition with respect to climate action.
And ambition with respect to developing a flexible but robust set of rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Let us start by finance.
The financial obligation from developed countries to support efforts of developing countries was established in the Convention when it was adopted in 1992—more than 25 years ago.
It’s very difficult to explain to those suffering from the effects of climate change that we have not managed to find predictable support for the actions that must be taken.
The World Bank announced a new set of climate targets for 2021-2025, doubling its current 5-year investments to US$ 200 billion, both in mitigation and adaptation, in support for countries to take ambitious climate action.
Here at COP24, Multilateral Development Banks announced the alignment of their activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement and in line with the science-based evidence identified by the IPCC.
It represents US$ 35 billion in developing and emerging economies with an additional leverage on US$ 52 billion from private and public sources.
And before the COP, we saw a new Investor Agenda, as well as, for example, an announcement by ING that it would set science-based targets to shift its lending portfolio towards a low-emission future.
These private sector actors are making important progress because they recognize the seriousness of the climate challenge we face and the opportunities related to addressing it.
Failing here in Katowice would send a disastrous message to those who stand ready to shift to a green economy.
So, I urge you to find common ground that will allow us to show the world that we are listening, that we care.
Developed countries must scale up their contributions to jointly mobilize US$100 billion annually by 2020.
And we need to strengthen the Green Climate Fund.
Germany’s pledge to double its contribution in the current replenishment process is a very positive sign that I hope will inspire others to do the same.
I have appointed the President of France and Prime Minister of Jamaica to lead the mobilization of the international community, both public and private, to reach the target of US$ 100 billion in the context of the preparation of the Climate Summit I have convened in September of next year.
Second, the rulebook.
I just arrived from Marrakech.
It reminded me that the deadline to finalize the Paris Agreement Work Program was not one that was imposed upon Parties by anyone—it was a deadline Parties imposed upon themselves at COP22, precisely in Marrakech.
Both the Convention and the Paris Agreement recognize that countries have different realities, different capacities and different circumstances.
We must find a formula that balances the responsibilities of all countries.
This will allow us to have a regime that is fair and effective for all.
To achieve this, and to build the trust that everyone is doing their fair share, we need to have a strong transparency framework to monitor and assess progress on all fronts: mitigation, adaptation and provision of support, including finance, technology and capacity building.
I am aware that this issue is also technically complex and many linkages across different parts of the texts are being considered.
But I have confidence that you will find a way to overcome those challenges.
Third: climate action.
Today, Katowice is the hub of global climate action. The eyes of the world are on us. And more than 32,000 people have come here to find solutions to climate change.
They are inspired, engaged and they want us to deliver. They want us to finish the job.
Katowice must be, Mr. President, the dawn of a new determination to unleash the promise of the Paris Agreement.
We clearly have the know-how and the ability to reach 1.5C.
We see incredible momentum from all segments of society to lower emissions and make the transition from the grey economy to the green.
We have the ways.
What we need is the political will to move forward.
As the IPCC Special Report indicates, the intersection between State and non-State is essential to reaching our climate goals.
This Talanoa Dialogue is an example of how this can all come together.
The IPCC report outlined a catastrophic future if we do not act immediately.
It also clearly states that the window of opportunity is closing.
We no longer have the luxury of time.
That’s why we need to have our work here in Katowice finalized—and finalized in less than three days.
Meeting your deadline means we can immediately unleash the full potential of the Paris Agreement and its promise of a low-emissions climate-resilient future.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I understand that none of this is easy. I understand some of you will need to make some tough political decisions.
But this is the time for consensus. This is the time for political compromises to be reached. This means sacrifices, but it will benefit us all collectively.
I challenge you to work together for that purpose.
I challenge you to accelerate and finish the job.
And to raise ambition on all fronts.
To waste this opportunity in Katowice would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change.
It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.
This may sound like a dramatic appeal, but it is exactly this: a dramatic appeal.
Let us then carry forth the spirit of the Talanoa Dialogue in these crucial next few days and let us heed its messages.
It’s about more than the future of each country.
I have three young granddaughters. I will not be here at the end of the century. The same probably applies to all of you.
I do not want my granddaughters or anybody else’s to suffer the consequences of our failures.
They would not forgive us if uncontrolled and spiraling climate change would be our legacy to them.
Rapidglobal warmingcaused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found.
The mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago and marked the end of the Permian geologic period.
The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65m years ago.
10,000 fruit bats (Flying Fox) die from heat stress during record heatwave in Cairns last week.
Up to 96% of all marine species perished while more than two-thirds of terrestrial species disappeared.
The cataclysm was so severe it wiped out most of the planet’s trees, insects, plants, lizards and even microbes.
Scientists havetheorized causes for the extinction, such as a giant asteroid impact. But US researchers now say they have pinpointed the demise of marine life to a spike in Earth’s temperatures, warning that present-day global warming will also have severe ramifications for life on the planet.
“It was a huge event. In the last half a billion years of life on the planet, it was the worst extinction,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanography expert who co-authored the research, published on Thursday, with his University of Washington colleague Justin Penn along with Stanford University scientists Jonathan Payne and Erik Sperling.
The researchers used paleoceanographic records and built a model to analyse changes in animal metabolism, ocean andclimateconditions. When they used the model to mimic conditions at the end of the Permian period, they found it matched the extinction records.
According to the study, this suggests that marine animals essentially suffocated as warming waters lacked the oxygen required for survival. “For the first time, we’ve got a whole lot of confidence that this is what happened,” said Deutsch. “It’s a very strong argument that rising temperatures and oxygen depletion were to blame.”
The great dying event, which occurred over an uncertain timeframe of possibly hundreds of years, saw Earth’s temperatures increase by around 10C (18F). Oceans lost around 80% of their oxygen, with parts of the seafloor becoming completely oxygen-free. Scientists believe this warming was caused by a huge spike in greenhouse gas emissions, potentially caused by volcanic activity.
The new research,published in Science, found that the drop in oxygen levels was particularly deadly for marine animals living closer to the poles. Experiments that varied oxygen and temperature levels for modern marine species, including shellfish, corals and sharks, helped “bridge the gap” to what the model found, Payne said.
“This really would be a terrible, terrible time to be around on the planet,” he added. “It shows us that when the climate and ocean chemistry changes quickly, you can reach a point where species don’t survive. It took millions of years to recover from the Permian event, which is essentially permanent from the perspective of human timescales.”
Over the past century, the modern world has warmed by around 1C due to the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, rather than from volcanic eruptions.
Thiswarmingis already causing punishing heatwaves, flooding and wildfires around the world, with scientistswarningthat the temperature rise could reach 3C or more by the end of the century unless there are immediate, radicalreductionsin emissions.
At the same time, Earth’s species are undergoing what some experts have termed the “sixth greatextinction” due to habitat loss, poaching, pollution andclimate change.
“It does terrify me to think we are on a trajectory similar to the Permian because we really don’t want to be on that trajectory,” Payne said. “It doesn’t look like we will warm by around 10C and we haven’t lost that amount of biodiversity yet. But even getting halfway there would be something to be very concerned about. The magnitude of change we are currently experiencing is fairly large.”
Deutsch said: “We are about a 10th of the way to the Permian. Once you get to 3-4C of warming, that’s a significant fraction and life in the ocean is in big trouble, to put it bluntly. There are big implications for humans’ domination of the Earth and its ecosystems.”
Deutsch added that the only way to avoid a mass aquatic die-off in the oceans was to reduce carbon emissions, given there is no viable way to ameliorate the impact of climate change in the oceans using other measures.
The research group “provide convincing evidence that warmer temperatures and associated lower oxygen levels in the ocean are sufficient to explain the observed extinctions we see in the fossil record”, said Pamela Grothe, a paleoclimate scientist at the University of Mary Washington.
“The past holds the key to the future,” she added. “Our current rates of carbon dioxide emissions is instantaneous geologically speaking and we are already seeing warming ocean temperatures and lower oxygen in many regions, currently affecting marine ecosystems.
“If we continue in the trajectory we are on with current emission rates, this study highlights the potential that we may see similar rates of extinction in marine species as in the end of the Permian.”