Rome Club Report 2018, Chapter 1.5: The Climate Challenge

Original author: Prof. Ernst von Weizsäcker and Dr. Anders Wijkman
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The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Paris in December 2015, was declared very successful. All 195 countries present in Paris really agreed on the need to “reduce global emissions of pollutants as soon as possible” and “take them down quickly afterwards”. The call to curb the rise in world average temperature “substantially below 2 ° C and the effort to limit its increase to 1.5 ° C above the pre-industrial level” is undoubtedly very ambitious.

Despite formal praise, there have been quite a few criticisms. Lead climate scientist Jim Hansen called the agreement a fraud. “These are just meaningless words. There are no actions, only promises ... As long as fossil fuels remain the cheapest fuel on the planet, they will continue to burn it ... The decision made is meaningless without an obligation to tax greenhouse gas emissions. ”These are his words in the Guardian. [46] Hansen is convinced that only a significant price factor is the only way to quickly reduce emissions.

George Monbio sums up his opinion of the Guardian in another way: “The accepted agreement is a miracle compared to what could have been, and a catastrophe compared to what it should have been.” - And adds: “The actual outcome of this is probably , will lead us to a climate accident of a level that will be dangerous for everyone and fatal to some. "[47]

The words of Monbio must be taken seriously. Indeed, it was an achievement that it was possible to agree not only about keeping the temperature rise “substantially below 2 ° C”, but also about the intention “to keep its increase within 1.5 ° C”. However, hardly anything was said about measures to achieve these goals. No agreement was reached on the need for a universal carbon tax, or on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. Moreover, it is foreseen that the rate at which emissions will decrease in subsequent years up to the 2030th (a critical point in order to avoid accumulation of excess CO2 in the atmosphere) is modest at best. There is in fact a serious discrepancy between the actions taken and the necessary actions and plans.

If countries mostly adhere to their Paris commitments - the so-called estimated nationally determined contributions - then there is a small chance to keep the average global temperature at least from reaching the 3 ° C threshold above the pre-industrial level by the second half of the century. Such warming can be catastrophic. The climate system is non-linear in nature and can reach unfavorable turning points already with warming at 1.5 ° C or 2 ° C. That is why it is so important to take action in the very near future.

1.5.1 We need an “emergency plan”

Let's face it. In order to have a chance to fulfill the Paris Agreements, the world must go through a quick and thorough transformation of its production and consumption systems. In order to avoid exceeding the target of 2 ° C, the carbon power of the global economy should be reduced to at least 6.2% annually. To meet the 1.5 ° C target, it would be necessary to reduce this figure to 10% per year. For comparison, global carbon power declined by an average of 0.9% between 2000 and 2013!

A positive point is that many smaller, but still key participants - countries, cities, companies, financial institutions, public and civil organizations, representatives of faiths and society - spoke in support of the Paris Agreement. More than 1,000 cities around the world have pledged to achieve 100% renewable energy, and the same applies to more than 100 of the largest companies in the world.

However, this is a huge challenge, not only for an open and market economy. Humanity really needs an "emergency plan." One thing seems obvious: the market alone will not cope with the problem. Climate change prevention will require such widespread and rapid action, where any single technology, new or emerging, cannot be a solution. Thus, the challenge lies in the rapid, transformative deployment of a whole set of emerging and well-established technologies, both in the field of energy and outside it. For this to happen, governments — not short-term markets — must be at the helm.

It can be argued that society has the knowledge, financial resources and technology to make a timely transition to a low-carbon society in order to prevent disaster. Given the incredibly positive trend of introducing solar and wind technologies, and more recently energy storage technologies, there are no longer any excuses for not taking meaningful actions.

But only low technological cost will not allow to achieve the desired. All sorts of irrecoverable costs associated with the fact that power plants, vehicles and production equipment were designed to work on fossil fuels are an effective barrier to change. Officials, no doubt, will do everything possible to counter or at least slow down the necessary transformations. And so far, the missing universal tax on hydrocarbons and the price of oil in the region of $ 50 per barrel will not make the task easier.

Only a few are willing to discuss this topic. But the truth is that if humanity fails to implement the “emergency plan” required for decarbonization of the economy, only two alternatives remain, both very doubtful in terms of their effectiveness and entailing unknown effects for the ecosystem: geo-engineering and large-scale implementation of “technologies negative emissions.

1.5.2 How to cope with exceeding the limit

Carbon dioxide is held in the atmosphere for a long time, and the carbon budget balance is very poor. This is why it is perfectly acceptable to assume that CO2 emissions will exceed the limit. The only question is: how much?

The Paris Agreement pledged to reach a neutral level of greenhouse gases by 2050. Interpretations used in it can be viewed as an incentive to use “geoengineering” - starting with relatively harmless but expensive carbon capture and retention technologies (including biogenic), ending with wild fantasies about transforming the atmosphere, the stratosphere or the ocean surface with the intention of changing the global exposure pattern and way to reduce the average temperature.

Inside the Rome Club, opinions on the use of carbon capture and retention technologies are being seriously discussed, where the argument is that this is the only way that has a chance to stop uncontrolled climate change. On the other hand, to achieve the effect, both technical and biogenic technologies for carbon capture and retention will require an incredible scale of implementation. Professor Kevin Anderson, Visiting Professor at Uppsala University and Deputy Director of the Tyndall Center, comments on the prospects for the use of biogenic technologies:
The wide range of assumptions about biogenic carbon capture and retention technologies that underpin the Paris Agreement is breathtaking: decades of continuous planting and collection of energy crops in an area comparable in size to one to three Indians. At the same time, the aviation industry intends to refuel its aircraft with biofuel, the shipping industry seriously considers biomass as an energy source for ships, and the chemical sector also sees potential raw materials in biomass. And still need to feed 9 billion or so human mouths. Of course, this important assumption requires special attention in the framework of the agreement. [48]

Add to this questions in terms of approval from the logistic, legal and public parties. The CO2 volumes that need to be stockpiled to compensate for the carbon limit exceeding are incredibly large, among all the possible trajectories proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Unfortunately, limited attempts have been made to critically analyze whether it is possible in principle to keep such volumes. Without a doubt, considerable efforts must be made to further develop technologies for capturing and retaining, because they will be required as a backstop strategy to eliminate carbon emissions. It is impossible to ignore the continued use of coal in many parts of the world in the foreseeable future, as well as the production of steel and cement.

1.5.3 Why not the Marshall Plan?

It is very likely that negative emissions will be used, and therefore biogenic technologies should be considered as an option. And at the same time, everything possible should be done in order to limit the scope of their use, since a large dependence on “negative emission technologies” is very dangerous. This can give people the false sense of security that society will find an engineering approach to solving a climate problem.

Instead of agreeing to apply a kind of Marshall plan - to massively invest in low-carbon technologies (which is possible both from a technological and economic point of view), the Paris Agreement suggests that deterrent measures up to 2030 could only provide an annual decline in the region. % If climate change is a serious threat - and the Paris Agreement confirms this - prudence would force us to take more serious action in the near future and not leave them for later. Without such actions, confidence in the efficacy of negative emissions would be too strong.

The main hope for the post-Paris agenda is that the various participants (governments, cities, companies, financial markets and civil society organizations) will take the challenge seriously and do everything possible to right now, with their support, help everyone strengthen the mitigating measures. Decisive action by individual governments, countries or cities matter. The world is desperate for good examples, including your own neighborhood.

1.5.4 Has mankind already missed the chance to reach climate goals?

Almost 2 years have passed since the Paris Conference. 2016 alone brought a huge amount of climate change cases caused by human activities - some are good, others are bad and some are absolutely terrible.

The positive point is that the Paris Agreement was ratified much faster than many thought. Parties to the climate convention met again in November 2016 in Marrakesh. Many observers feared that a number of states were using Trump's victory (which happened during the conference) as an excuse for lowering their emission reduction ambitions. Far from it, most states, including the United States (with President Obama still at the helm) and China, reaffirmed their commitments from the Framework Convention and called on the world community to strengthen their efforts to comply with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Moreover, at a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, about a month before the conference in Marrakech, in October 2016, about 200 countries made a deal to reduce emissions of one of the most powerful greenhouse gases - the hydrofluorocarbon. This step may allow excluding up to 0.5 ° C from global warming by the end of the century.

Perhaps the best news of all is the rapid cheapening and distribution of clean energy (mainly solar and wind) throughout the world. "The global energy industry has reached a climax," read the headline in Blumberg. [49] “Solar energy is for the first time becoming the cheapest form of electricity” - the publication was enthusiastic about (see Chapter 3.4).

But there is also bad news, even in the light of the progress noted above: global warming continues. 2016 swept the previous record of maximum temperatures set in 2015, which in turn surpassed the record of 2014. Joe Romm of Climate Progress notes: “Such a three-year period has never been recorded for 136 years of temperature observations. This is only the last avalanche of evidence from 2016 that global warming will be either as bad as it has been predicted by climate scientists for decades, or much worse. ”[50]

If the registration of such temperatures is not enough for people to prove the warming trend, then a few studies done in 2016 provide new evidence of the extent of the warming of the oceans. The ocean contains a huge surplus of energy, which means: most of the excess land energy will remain in it for centuries.

2016 was crazy year in terms of weather disasters caused by climate change. There were severe droughts in some parts of the world, and strong floods in others. An incredible period of intense heat in the Arctic was observed, which resulted in the lowest ice level during the entire period of observations in winter. Hurricanes and typhoons became stronger due to global warming. According to expert Jeff Masters, [51] the strongest of the registered storms occurred in two regions in 2016, along with seven storms of the 5th category, a huge number for one year. The trend continued in 2017, when major tropical storms occurred in Asia and North and South America - “Harvey” and “Irma” seriously devastated Texas and Florida.

When it comes to really terrible events, it’s not surprising that Trump’s election was the most important of them. Some experts hoped that in time, Trump would begin to listen to scientists and take climate change seriously. However, his decisions in support of coal, oil and gas in March 2017 did not confirm such optimistic hopes. The worst, of course, was the decision he made in early June to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.

Climate change is a topic where international commitment is needed. To reach such an agreement, it took the world 23 years after the Earth Summit in 1992 to sign the Framework Convention. The United States during the Obama administration played an important role in reaching this agreement. Trump's decision is without exaggeration a tragedy for the climate treaty and all the efforts undertaken by governments, cities, companies and civil society organizations from around the world to prevent dangerous climate change. His behavior is both arrogant and ignorant. While all other states have agreed to put climate first, he insisted that America should be first. The irony is that the United States will no doubt be the losers, in terms of its position on the world political arena, omitting here the role of leader, and in the sense of leading position in the production of "green" technologies. Other countries (not least China) will take the lead.

As already noted, the rate of emission reductions in the coming years should be much higher than the original estimates of the Paris Agreement. Otherwise there will be no opportunity to achieve the goals set out in the Agreement. And without the active participation of the United States, this challenge seems simply grand.

In conclusion, our view of the Paris Agreement and the ability to keep rising global temperatures "significantly below 2 ° C" became significantly more pessimistic today than a year earlier. Trump's election and his actions to extend the life of the economy and enrich the owners of the energy industry, based on fossil fuels, is the first important factor. Another is that only a few states began to act decisively in relation to the challenges that set the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement, and revised their “intended nationally determined contributions”. The world is still on its way to warming at a minimum of 3 ° C.

In order to have a chance to comply with the Paris Agreement and prevent the threat of climate change, players like the European Union, China and India should from now on play a more proactive role in climate decision making. The EU has indeed led the way over the past two decades, not least during the presidency of George W. Bush. Now the world is in a similar, if not worse, situation.

For the European Union, which is again claiming the leading role, the goals set by it by 2030 (reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared to 1990) do not seem to be enough. Even China and India must rethink their goals and work out more ambitious ones in return. At the same time, the actions in question must be commensurate with measures to establish customs duties in order to compensate for the advantage that will be provided to US-made products compared to regions in which companies are subject to carbon tax or emissions trading. We will definitely return to these challenges - both in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals, and in the light of the Paris Agreement - in Chapter 3 of this book.

To be continued ...

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More translations of the report of the Club of Rome 2018


Chapter 1.1.1
“Various types of crises and feelings of helplessness”

Chapter 1.1.2:

Chapter 1.1.3:
“An Empty World Against Full Peace”

Chapter 1.6:
“Technological Wild Cards”

Chapter 1.11:
“Disruptive Technologies and the Digital Revolution "

Chapter 1.12:
" From an empty world to a complete world "

Chapter 2.6:
" The philosophical mistakes of market doctrine "

Chapter 2.10:
" Maybe we need a new era of Enlightenment "

Chapter 3.1:
" Regenerative Economics "

Chapter 3.2:
" Development Alternatives "

Chapter 3.3 :
“Blue economy”

Chapter 3.4:
“Decentralized energy”

Chapter 3.5:
“Some Success Stories in Agriculture”

Chapter 3.6:
“Regenerative Urbanism: Ecopolis”

Chapter 3.7:
“Climate: Good News, but Big Problems”

Chapter 3.8:
“The Economy of a Closed Cycle Requires a Different Logic”

Chapter 3.9:
“Quintuple Productivity resources "

Chapter 3.10:
" The tax on the bits "

Chapter 3.11:
" reform of the financial sector "

Chapter 3.12:
" The reforms of the economic system, "

Chapter 3.13:
" Philanthropy, investments, and kraudsors blokcheyn "

Chapter 3.14:
" not a single GDP ... "

Chapter 3.15:
“Collective Leadership”

Chapter 3.16:
“Global Government”

Chapter 3.17:
“Actions at the National Level: China and Bhutan”

Chapter 3.18:
“Literacy for the Future”


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