Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Past Two Weeks Are a Perfect Illustration of What “Solving” Climate Change Will Look Like

The balsa wood man approves. (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
Global warming can sometimes feel like this big, hopeless problem that no one’s actually doing anything about.  But the past two weeks have seen a genuinely impressive barrage of climate action around the world.

Just take a minute to consider everything that’s gone down:
  1. Canada got a carbon tax.
  2. The Paris climate deal went into effect.
  3. A global deal on aviation emissions.
  4. A global deal to phase out HFCs.
Not bad for half a month!  Gernot Wagner, an economist at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, called it a “masterclass in climate policy.”  You’ve got carbon pricing, international agreements, offsets ... all the stuff environmental wonks have been studying for years.

Of course, we’re still not close to solving climate change...

Now, if you wanted to inject some pessimism here, you could focus on the very real limitations of all these moves.  Add ‘em up, and they still don’t get us close to keeping global warming below 2°C (or 3.6°F), the level that governments all agree is dangerous and unacceptable.

Nor are we yet on a trajectory to do so.  If you take all the policy promises that countries put forward at Paris last year (which included an HFC phaseout), they still put us on pace for 2.5°C or 3°C or more of warming.  And that’s assuming countries actually hit their pledges, which they may not.  Case in point:  A recent study in Nature Climate Change warned that the US could miss its targets due to excess methane emissions.

Getting serious about climate change would require more than nibbling around the edges of energy policy.  Global emissions would need to start falling at unprecedented rates.  Starting, like, yesterday.  Every single country would have to radically increase its deployment of clean energy sources — things like solar or wind or nuclear or carbon capture for coal or electric cars or hydrogen cars — by an order of magnitude.

That task is far more complicated.  It’s relatively straightforward for the world to phase out HFCs — because companies are already producing ready substitutes, such as HFOs.  There are no easy substitutes for fossil fuels. Replacing oil, coal, and gas requires an intricate mix technology, policy, and thorny politics.  It’s the work of generations.

We’re not there yet.  But what the past two weeks show is that the world is starting to gesture meaningfully in the right direction.

Read more at The Past Two Weeks Are a Perfect Illustration of What “Solving” Climate Change Will Look Like

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