Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Paris in the Crosshairs

As COP21 in Paris gets underway, Jim Hansen has come out of his corner punching, publishing in an editorial on November 28 that Obama had stonewalled his attempts to have a discussion about the crucial factors creating climate change. The problem, as Hansen sees it, is that the pervasive optimism in the lead up to the climate talks is only so much hot air, the desired result of spinsters in Washington who are promising change while hedging their bets on ineffectual climate policies, in other words, bullshit:

"Hansen, a NASA alum who put global warming on the map in a big way with his congressional testimony in 1988, is no stranger to controversy: he’s called out NASA for censoring his data on climate change, he’s been arrested twice at the White house for protesting the Keystone pipeline, and he’s called for a trial of the CEO of ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel magnates for “high crimes against humanity and nature.” While his latest foray into pot-stirring is less flamboyant, it doesn’t mean the issues at hand are any less pressing."

Hansen is correct that the cap-and-trade mechanism is a failure, Europe's experience with the market has shown this. His argument is for a straightforward carbon tax, which can work as a mechanism but unfortunately will never reduce the carbon emissions sufficiently unless it's tied to some kind of framework agreement that is stringent in principle yet flexible enough to accommodate the changing emissions structures over time. This is the heart of the problem since Kyoto: asking nations to commit to some kind of specific number has resulted in the failure of a global agreement. For this reason, the negotiations are starting "bottom up" this time around, which unfortunately has fallen far short of the necessary reductions in carbon.

In September of this year, a letter sent to Obama, signed by climate leaders, major organizations and individuals (it carries my signature as well), called for him to take leadership on strong emission reduction targets. It cites "Laudato Si" from the Pope as a moral imperative and emphasizes the call for urgent action by the USA.

Politically Obama's options are limited. The USA has long been the monkey wrench in earlier climate negotiations, which have proven to be dialoguing at cross-purposes. Much of it had to do with the demands by third-world countries for financial support in the transition to carbon-free energy sources, embedded in the Kyoto agreement in a way that would have been impossible for the USA to comply with. There were pie-in-the-sky requirements that would have generated immense failures in attempting to extract money from the northern countries in lieu of unobtainable negative carbon goals (below zero!!).

At this conference, Obama is attended by a California state delegation that includes Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon among others. This group is funded by corporate money, and is proposing a cap-and-trade scheme that is already in place, including Canada, China and India. California has been building this trade agreement structure for several years now. Thus Brown has taken the lead on this trade agreement structure, with the assistance of former Secretary of Commerce John Bryson in cooperation with the Obama administration. Brown has shown great capability in forging this collective approach, but the local citizenry has begun to take a dim view of some of his policies. As he is in his second two-term governorship in California, and his tactics have worn thin for many people.

The New York Times goes into a summary of the potential options for "deep decarbonization", realizing that it will be difficult to achieve the necessary reductions in time to stave off the worst effects of global warming, especially since the planet has already hit the 1C degree temperature increase which is halfway to the absolute 2C maximum goal of these talks. Unfortunately it fails to note that the success of these efforts, and the agreements that underlie them, rely on a framework structure that can equitably balance the emissions measurements against global benchmarks in an internally consistent manner that is also transparent. I can only hope that the Contraction and Convergence structure will ultimately be engaged as the means to that end in a global partnership. It's flexible and incorporates feedback emissions as well as real-time reduction efforts and the critically necessary reforestation that acts as a carbon sink. It is able to calculate and verify the various scenarios under discussion. And the online CBAT is here for public use.

Let it be so.

Update 12/1/15: 'Whole System' Approach Needed to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Experts Say at Climate Meeting 

Update 12/2/15: Jerry Brown - a little history