Thursday, December 3, 2015

Paris Climate Talks Begin

On Monday, November 30, 2015 the 21st Conference of the Parties opened in Le Bourget, France a suburb of Paris near the Airport. This is the 21st meeting of nations called COP-21 to discuss and try to take action to combat climate change. If you recall last year in Rio the nations came to an agreement that called for:

Reaching an agreement at this Paris meeting that reflects "differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" of each nation. Developed countries will provide financial support to "vulnerable" developing nations. And countries will set targets that go beyond their "current undertaking."

World leaders stressed their support of those goals during the speech making in the first two days of of the conference. After that show of support, the world leaders left the delegates to the conference to get the work done.

With the promulgation of the EPA’s Clean Carbon Plan rule the United States has taken meaningful steps in the spirit of that agreement. It is to be seen if the rule survives the court challenges. I am hopeful, but do not believe the climate talks in Paris will produce a meaningful plan to reduce world CO2 emissions because I don’t see how it ca be done. The developing world will not cap their greenhouse gas emissions or economic growth while they are still poor, and the developed world no longer represents the lion’s share of CO2 emissions and cannot make a big enough reduction to change the trajectory of the planet.

In 1990 the world carbon emissions from burning fuel were 21.5 billion metric tonnes. By 2014 the world carbon emission from burning fuel were initially reported to be 32.3 billion metric tonnes of carbon, but this was before The New York Times revealed in an article last month that China has been burning as much as 17 % more coal annually than previously thought, citing new Chinese government data. So, world emissions for the last several years will be revised upward and China will represent an even larger share of the global emissions, surpassing all of the G-7 nations. At all the climate talks since 2012 China has maintained that their CO2 emission would peak around 2030. Since then they have always maintained that stance, though recently they have stated they will take only some steps to increase their energy efficiency. With China’s emissions now exceeding all of the G-7 nations and growing at an alarming rate and India’s at about half of China’s; there seems little hope of reaching a meaningful accord in Paris.

World CO2 emissions have grown at an alarming pace growing more than 50% since 1990. With tremendous effort and cooperation the nations may be able to halt the growth in CO2 emissions and possibly reduce that slightly, but cutting emissions in the foreseeable future is unfathomable since China and India with continue with unrestrained emission growth, and probably represent about 40% of world emissions now. There remain more than 1.2 billion people on earth without access to electricity, or adequate sanitation many of them in India and China.

In 1990’s when the Kyoto Treaty was signed by the European Union, Japan and Canada, the developed world including the United States represented 72% of global CO2 emissions from fuel, now they represent about 40% and falling. Europe’s birth rate has plummeted and Europe’s population (including Russia and Eastern Europe) of 740 million is projected to decrease to 726 million by 2050. The population of the United States is projected to grow from about 316 million today to 440 million by 2050. China’s total fertility rate is a very low 1.5 children per woman. India is projected to pass China in population size in about 15 years, becoming the world’s most populous country and is projected to have 1.625 billion people by 2050 while China’s population is 1.357 billion today and is projected to peak in 2030 and fall to 1.314 billion in 2050.

As widely reported when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their Fifth Assessment Report on climate change this year, despite the recent decade pause in the increase in surface temperature, the planet is warming and it is “extremely likely that the changes in our climate system for the past half a century are due to human influence.” The IPCC expects global surface temperatures for the end of the 21st century to likely increase 2.7°F to 3.6°F relative to 1850 to 1900 time period. “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker in the press release at the time of the report. Dr. Stocker concluded his comments by reminding us that as a result of our past, present and expected future emissions of CO2, climate change is inevitable, and will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 were to stop today. So we best get ready since no action is going to stop it.

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