Another lost decade

Extinction Rebellion, the climate protesters disrupting ...

Even a cursory glance at the latest climate science makes it abundantly clear that the commitments to the Paris Agreement (“Nationally Determined Contributions” or NDCs for short) are simply not good enough. But rich countries are wriggling around to escape from any attempt to revise those plans in light of science and equity before they take effect in January 2021. 

There is a pattern here: in 2012, countries agreed the Doha Amendment of the Kyoto Protocol. This decision contained binding targets for rich countries to cut pollution from 2013 – 2020. Seven years later and the Amendment has still not been ratified. For comparison, the Paris Agreement was ratified in under a year. 

Several rich countries (Canada, Russia, and Japan) actually said they would no longer participate in agreements to reduce aggregate emissions by 18% below 1990 levels and revise this target in 2014. 

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The so-called “pre-2020 action” has been shown by civil society to be wholly inadequate and unjust as it transfers the burden of tackling climate change from rich to poor. What should be a case of “why put off to tomorrow what you can do today” has become a case of kicking the can further and further down the road. A review of this pre-2020 action, or lack thereof, is scheduled to take place in two stages in Madrid. The first stage on December 4th will be technical followed by a high-level segment on December 10th.  

However, the EU, Canada, Japan, Australia, Russia and the US are unwilling to let the review be more than just a talk shop, as was the case with previous reviews. This is hardly surprising given that ten years of UNEP Emissions Gap reports have basically stated that these countries have spent the last decade doing the exact opposite of what they should have done. 

“Emissions Gap Report 2019”
Graphic from the 2019 Emission Gap Report

Not only have we lost a decade to inaction, according to a new report our governments’ current plans for the coming decade involves the production of a whopping 120% more fossil fuels than we have the ability to produce without blowing past 1.5C warming. 

some men just want to watch the world burn on Tumblr
Let that sink in. 

As we hurtle towards, perhaps beyond, planetary tipping points, there are people in positions of power making a conscious decision to risk the basis for human civilisation — all in the pursuit of profit. 

Of course, we cannot now get back the time we’ve lost. But the next critical decade does not have to be the same as the past. The future is not yet written. We know that global emissions must decrease by 7.6% annually starting now if we are to have any chance of averting a 1.5C warmer world. This would still be a world of incredible climate violence such as we have witnessed this year with forest fires ravaging California and Australia, flooding inundating Venice, and cyclones battering Mozambique, the Bahamas, and China. 

So we need a plan for rapid decarbonisation in every country. But as author Naomi Klein and scientist Sivan Kartha explained in a recent article in the Boston Globe

at a time of tremendous economic inequality and injustice, only a plan firmly rooted in both fairness and boldness has a hope of building the support necessary to take on the big polluters and win transformative climate action.

This is plainly obvious and evidenced in recent protests in Ecuador as well as the Gilet Jaunes protests across France – both sparked by a regressive fuel tax. But the same idea of fairness must also apply at the global level, for the same reasons. As the IPCC put it in their landmark report on 1.5C warming:

Public acceptability can enable or inhibit the implementation of policies and measures to limit global warming and adapt to the consequences. Public acceptability depends on the individual’s evaluation of expected policy consequences, the perceived fairness of the distribution of these consequences and perceived fairness of decision procedures.”

No country can stop climate change on its own. If one, even a large polluter like the US, managed to enact a just transition to zero carbon overnight, it would still experience climate change alongside the rest of the world unless all other countries vastly reduced their emissions too. The irrefutable need for an international approach is the basis for these negotiations. And that requires trust – something which has been severely undermined by decades of broken promises like we have seen with the failure to ratify the Doha Amendment and the failure to deliver the $100 billion per year of desperately needed climate finance.

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