Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Paris Talks Won’t Achieve 2°C Goal:  Does That Matter?

Climate negotiations kicked off Sunday in Geneva. (Credit: UNFCCC/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Officials involved with United Nations climate talks have been warning that the next pact, which will be negotiated in December in Paris, won’t alone hold global warming to less than 2°C, or 3.6°F.

Those warnings have triggered renewed concern for the future of the planet as negotiators meet this week in Geneva, Switzerland, for a round of lower-profile talks.  Slate described the cautionary words — made separately by EU climate negotiator Miguel Arias Canete and U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary Christiana Figueres — as “heartbreaking.”  The Guardian characterized the statements as a downgrading of expectations.  Figueres’s renewed warnings prompted Grist to ponder whether there’s “any point” to the negotiations process.

Dismay is understandable.  When negotiators agreed in Copenhagen in 2009 to “reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2°C,” it was because an Earth hotter than that was considered unacceptably dangerous.  (The planet’s surface has warmed about 0.85°C (1.5°F) since 1880, worsening floods, storms and deadly heat waves.)  The 2°C target has since become a keystone goal of the negotiations.

The recent warnings did not, however, surprise climate negotiations experts.  Nor were their fears for the planet worsened.

That's because the Paris meetings are being viewed as an opportunity to launch a wholly new approach to global climate action — an approach that could eventually do far more to constrain temperature rise than the Paris agreement alone.

“More and more of the participants in the process recognize that maybe the 2 degree goal is not something that’s going to be achieved out of the Paris agreement,” Alex Hanafi, an Environmental Defense Fund climate strategist, who is in Geneva for the meetings, said.

“The idea is that the Paris agreement will put us not on an emissions trajectory for 2 degrees, but on an institutional trajectory that allows us to try to meet that goal,” Hanafi said.
Robert Stavins, an environmental economist who directs the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, says keeping to less than 2°C of warming becomes “less feasible each year.” But the most important thing “for ultimate success” on long-term climate action right now, he says, is building a “sound foundation” — something he thinks the Paris agreement may provide.

“Some advocates will characterize the Paris agreement as a failure if it does not lead to an immediate decrease in emissions, and does not prevent atmospheric temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius,” Stavins said.

“These well-intentioned advocates mistakenly focus on the short-term change in emissions among participating countries,” he said, pointing, for example, to the 5.2 percent cuts to pollution required over 10 years from some developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol.  “It’s the long-term change in global emissions that matters.”

Read more at Paris Talks Won’t Achieve 2°C Goal:  Does That Matter?

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