Category Archives: Paris COP-21

CapGlobalCarbon in a post-COP21 world

lineOn the 5th of December the delegation of the Irish think-tank Feasta presented a fresh, new way to address climate change in a fair and highly effective manner on the COP21 Climate conference in Paris. This plan is called CapGlobalCarbon and it is aimed at tackling the problem of warming at its source by regulating the extraction of fossil fuels instead of the conventional end-of-pipe approach aimed at emission reduction. The main difference with the COP21 climate agreement is that CapGlobalCarbon is a citizen-led initiative where governments have no negotiation space: they either opt-in or they don’t.

Just as one cannot negotiate with the climate system, one cannot negotiate on the required global de-carbonization rate. By leaving the “how much” question to science we have the best chances of staying below dangerous levels of atmospheric CO2.

How does this relate to the COP21 climate agreement? Has the CapGlobalCarbon project become obsolete now world leaders have promised to “do their bit”? We don’t think so. Many analyses have shown that this agreement isn’t enough to put us on the right track and we still seem to be heading towards a warming of 3 degrees or more. The two major shortcomings of this agreement are that it relies on yet to be invented technologies and excludes shipping and aviation. Interestingly, the CapGlobalCarbon solution can be implemented with no conflict to the efforts and intentions of the climate agreement. Fossil fuels are not mentioned nor regulated by this treaty as the focus is on the emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels, not the fuels themselves. This has frustrated many Keep it in the ground activists but this massive oversight by the policy makers can work to our advantage. The CapGlobalCarbon team shifted its strategy because of this lack of interest in fossil fuels. Where we first tried to get the UNFCCC and other institutions on board to make a cap on the extraction of fossil carbon part of their operation we now seek to set up CapGlobalCarbon as a parallel institution. A global blockadia that limits the extraction of fossil fuels to safe levels.

We need a complementary solution to fill the gaps that are left in the Paris climate agreement. The CapGlobalCarbon proposal can fill this gap because it prevents the fossil carbon from entering the market through an upstream cap. The shipping and aviation industries for example would, in a world where CapGlobalCarbon is implemented, comply to climate safety as their fuel has already been accounted for. How about we keep that 80% of the fuel in the ground and let the annual Conference Of Parties decide on policies for using the remaining 20% most effectively to build a sustainable society?

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Not a fair COP…a report from Paris by Robert Hutchison

While six years ago the big Copenhagen conference ended in tears of anger and disappointment, the 21st Conferences of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris ended in tears of relief and Mexican waves of approval last Saturday – even though the outcome is a rotten deal for the world’s poorest people.

Let’s take the positives first. For the first time 195 nations have been brought into a common cause in taking collective action to minimise the risks of dangerous climate change. And in reinforcing the agreement to limit average global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the Paris conference has given a clear signal that the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. Whether it will end soon enough to maintain a reasonably safe climate remains an open question. What happens in the next few years remains critically important.

But it was not a fair COP. Because those most vulnerable to extreme weather events tend to be those who have done least to cause the problem, human-caused climate change is a major issue of social justice. And at Paris the Least Developed and most vulnerable countries were sold short. The hollow centre of the outcomes are the dependence on voluntary action and the continuing failure of the wealthiest countries to commit to the finance needed for mitigation, adaptation and ‘Loss and Damage’. Given the scale of the problems – and compared with the hundreds of billions that went to shore up the banking industry on both sides of the Atlantic – very little funding has been guaranteed. And the track record of rich countries on making such transfers is not reassuring.

For many of the Least Developed Countries and Small Island States the issue of ‘Loss and Damage’ – those impacts from climate change to which vulnerable countries can no longer adapt – was an important strand of the negotiations. For the first time the Paris Agreement includes ‘Loss and Damage’ as a stand-alone item, but, at the insistence of the USA and the EU the Agreement explicitly states that this ‘does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation’. But make no mistake, many of those most badly hit by extreme weather events will be seeking compensation. And not least because of the grossly deceitful nature of the fossil fuel companies, we should expect a growing stream of litigation on climate change impacts in the years ahead.

The dependence on voluntary action – on it being left to each government to decide what to do – does not put the world on the path to avoid dangerous climate change. At present the world is gambling on the potential of unproven technologies – like Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) – to reduce emissions in the second half of the century.

At the conclusion of the Paris negotiations, David Cameron announced that ‘We’ve secured our planet for many, many generations to come’, an utterance as bland and inappropriate as it was irresponsible. If we are to stabilise the climate for future generations wealthy countries need to make much steeper – and more immediate – cuts in our emissions than those currently planned. We need to invest more heavily in renewables – and discontinue subsidies to fossil fuels. The British government is leading us in completely the wrong direction – with bogus assurances and misplaced investments.

After a fortnight in Paris I came home with the belief that the main tasks of those seriously concerned with the injustices of climate change must be not just to press for faster emissions reductions in wealthy countries, but also to campaign for a legally binding global limit on fossil fuel extraction. The race against time continues.

Above all, climate change presents an opportunity to give the highest priority to human wellbeing, with stronger smarter communities, healthier lifestyles, and millions of new jobs. Facing up to climate change and ending abject poverty are two sides of the same coin. Unprecedented innovation – not just in energy and transport systems but also in food production, and in the way we organise and live in cities – a cultural and moral revolution, transparency and greater integrity of governments at every level are also needed. The climate change threat will only be fully met – and the opportunity for greater human wellbeing only fully realised – when the collective courage of humanity forces governments to face up to their responsibilities. Climate change remains everyone’s issue; we need to tread more lightly, more softly, while listening and responding to the most vulnerable.

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The Paris agreement: a Christmas truce, or a new beginning?

I had the uneasy privilege of being able to attend a few days of the COP-21 Paris summit and I was moved by the sheer volume and variety of people gathered there from all over the world to try and address the climate crisis in a spirit of cooperation and (officially at least) on an equal footing.

It gives you a vision of how the world could be, even if you know very well that it’s a mirage, that the real power lies elsewhere, that many of the people negotiating in Paris are effectively just ground troops who are following orders.

Personally I’m much happier to see the negotiators all clapping, cheering and shaking hands than yelling at each other and storming out of rooms.

But I’m worried that all the clapping, cheering and hand-shaking will turn out to be just like the Christmas Truce of 1914. German, English and French ground troops back then temporarily stopped fighting and instead exchanged greetings and gifts, and sang Christmas carols together. There was a certain amount of musing about the absurdity of the war.

But the officers quickly threatened disciplinary measures and within a few days, things were back to normal – the soldiers were obediently firing at each other again and the grotesquely meaningless war continued as though nothing had happened to interrupt it.

I can’t shake off a deep fear about the climate, nor a nagging concern that the agreement as it stands is not nearly strong enough on justice and equity.

It’s good that the agreement requires countries to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels’. It’s better than nothing that it implies that emissions will need to be net zero ‘in the second half of this century’ – although the science indicates that in order to (possibly) avoid even a 2 degree rise, what is actually needed is net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.

It’s slightly better than nothing that the agreement says that equity and justice need to be taken into account. We all knew in advance that there wouldn’t be anything legally binding on climate finance, because of the politics involved, particularly in the US. However, abundant and reliable climate finance is what is needed and a way needs to be found to achieve that.

I hope that those who argue that the agreement will send a signal to markets that the age of fossil fuels is over are right. But I’m not convinced.

Negotiators at climate summits are representing the interests of their countries – interests that are frequently defined in terms that favour powerful elites. For example, apparently governments wordwide pay out about $540 billion annually in fossil fuel subsidies. This dwarfs the $100 billion in climate finance that the Paris agreement suggests that the Global North pay over to the Global South each year. (And as mentioned above, that’s only a suggestion anyway, not a requirement.)

At one of the summits’ many ‘side events’ – enormously informative and constructive sessions that were mainly organised by NGOs – Julie-Ann Richards of the Climate Justice Programme pointed out that the phrase ‘fossil fuels’ doesn’t appear even once in the agreement text.

How can we seriously expect to lower emissions when we not only do nothing to control a major source of those emissions – worse, we even subsidize it heavily?

Then there’s military funding – a huge elephant in the room that was pointed out by a member of the audience at our own side event. About $1629 billion dollars are spent every year worldwide on defense. Again, it’s easy to tell what is truly being taken seriously by governments and what is not. If climate was taken seriously, much of this funding would be diverted from the military in recognition of the fact that we’re facing an emergency and need to act as though we are on a war footing. It’s a question of survival, so it should be obvious that it’s also a question of defense.

Instead, the summit seemed at times like a huge promotional event for travel agents. The richer countries had the most amazingly elaborate stands and displays. India’s was particularly striking as it featured a waterfall within which there was a kind of water-based powerpoint presentation. Indonesia’s had nice parasols, Peru had a lovely display sign, the US had all kinds of fancy screens.

Meanwhile the delegates from the more desperate countries, like the Marshall Islands, tended to stick to plywood for their stands and in any case, weren’t usually around to mind them.

During the time that I was there there seemed to be no real sense of emergency on the part of many of the delegates. I looked in on a plenary presentation and it seemed to be sheer show business, smooth and slick, complete with booming music from loudspeakers every time someone new took the floor.

The free travel passes for Paris that we were all given made it very tempting to take a bit of time off and go visit the Louvre. I’d love to believe that the pleasure of spending time in such a rich cultural setting helped the negotiations along. Maybe it did. Maybe.

I realise that many of the summit attendees do care about the climate and that, despite the distractions, a lot of hard work was done. But in any case, I don’t think the negotiators could be expected to really deliver what we need. To reiterate – the negotiators are ground troops.

The framework within which these talks take place, pitting countries against each other, is wildly inappropriate, just as the dynamic of the First World War made it impossible for the soldiers to continue their truce. What’s needed is a back up to the international negotiations to ensure that emissions really get reduced and justice is truly respected. This is what we’re proposing with CapGlobalCarbon.

Will the Paris agreement prove to be as ephemeral as the Christmas truce or will it mark the beginning of real movement on climate change? A lot depends on popular pressure and on cool-headed, realistic thinking. Visions are great – indeed, necessary – for inspiration. Now it’s time to work on the reality.


Featured image: Christmas truce 1914. Source:

[Edit on December 19 2015: added the word ‘uneasy’ before ‘privilege’ in the first paragraph.]

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An overview of the INDCs for COP21

MindTheCover_alt4-page-001As of 17/10/2015 total of 123 submissions are now posted on United Nations (n.d.) covering 152 countries and 90% of current global emissions (RTCC, 2015). This is up from 23 submissions on 18/8/2015. Note that the EU is covered by a single submission. The major additional submissions are from India and Brazil so all the major economies/emitters have now submitted. Boyd et al (2015) suggest this will lead to emissions of 56.9 to 59.1 Gt CO2e in 2030 compared to a target of 36 Gt CO2e.

India (5.7% of 2012 emissions) has, as expected, submitted on a reduction of emissions by 33-35% per unit of GDP based on the 2005 level by 2030 and is proposing a re-forestation programme to act as a carbon sink. Brazil (5.7% of 2012 emissions) is targeting a 37% reduction on 2005 levels by 2025.

Many of the more recent submissions are from poorer countries submitting reductions compared with ‘business as usual’ scenarios (RTCC, 2015). These are very hard to judge and almost certainly anticipate overall increase of emissions over the timeframe suggested. Armenia is the first country to submit a per capita target. Several countries (for example South Africa) have signalled that they want international support (presumably money). Actual submissions can be viewed at United Nations (n.d.) while Carbon Brief Staff (2015) are blogging on country submissions as they come in. Climate Action Tracker (n.d.) has more detailed analyses of many of the submissions. Carbon Brief Staff (2015) have created a useful summary spreadsheet.

At the end of June Ban Ki Moon (secretary general of the United Nations) expressed his frustration at lack of progress (Goldenburg, 2015). Also many submissions fall far short of hopes. The USA and China in particular made an apparently bold joint proposal (Hope, 2014) which, while an improvement over no agreed targets, appears to fall far short of what’s needed.

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