Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Real Outcome of Global Warming Talks in Lima:  A Future for Coal

U.S. climate change negotiator Todd Stern explains the laborious proceedings in Lima, Peru. (Credit: © Carlos Garcia Granthon) Click to Enlarge.
“There will be coal burning.”  Negotiators from around the world produced a four-page climate-change accord after some sleep-deprived haggling over the weekend in Lima, Peru, but the agreement could be summed up in those five words.

For the first time, all nations agreed that all nations must have a plan to curb greenhouse gases.  That includes not just reducing pollution (“mitigation” in the jargon), but also “adaptation” (preparing for the climate changes already in the works), “finance” (money for the poor), “technology development” (better ways to get energy or reduce pollution), “capacity building” (helping poor countries develop) and “transparency” (ensuring nobody cheats).

At the same time, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, with 2013 marking another record year for pollution, as evidenced by the constant hum of diesel generators in Lima that helped keep the heated negotiations cooler, among other energy needs.  The single largest source of climate changing pollution continues to be burning coal, whether in wealthy nations like the U.S. or developing economies like China.

The shift of a single word—from a “shall” to a “may”—means the world will very likely continue to burn lots of coal.  Instead of being required to provide “quantifiable information” about their greenhouse-gas emissions, countries may choose whether or not to include those statistics in their pledges instead, known in the jargon as “intended nationally determined contributions.”  These pledges or INDCs are promises that come in a variety of flavors – not just strict pollution cuts like those from the E.U. nations, but also softer targets, such as reducing the amount of energy used to produce a single widget in India while producing more widgets overall (a so-called “carbon intensity” goal).

China and India led the charge against any monitoring or verification of such pledges. Worse, the Chinese and Indian negotiators do not appear to want INDCs to be comparable with each other.  In other words, the pledges “may” prove mutually inscrutable.

Read more at The Real Outcome of Global Warming Talks in Lima: A Future for Coal

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