Don’t cry for #Paris

by Vlad Loteanu, Panoramio
Image by Vlad Loteanu, Panoramio

Unlike virtually everyone else of my fellow political travelers yesterday, I was not very miffed by Trump’s (entirely political, not policy-driven) withdrawal from the Paris accords yesterday. The reason is that Paris was nothing more than a fig leaf for the developing countries to do absolutely nothing. India and China in particular are taking action towards their “goals” under Paris, but those goals fall well short of the 2°C target for meaningful change as defined by the IPCC, let alone the ambitious 1.5°C change enshrined as a “target” in Paris. The Paris goals are non-binding and non-enforceable (which is a point, ironically, many liberal commentators explicitly recognized while agonizing about Trump being Trump. If we are acknowledging the goals are non-binding, of what value is the agreement?). Even the US goal under Obama, while substantial, was insufficient to get us to 1.5°C.

(Clarification: 1.5°C and 2°C are targets of maximum warming. In other words, these targets represent the increase in global temperature that policy will limit us to. Here is why 2 degrees is the magic number.)

This is why former Romney advisor Oren Cass called Paris a meaningless “collating exercise”:

Developing countries actually blocked a requirement that the plans use a common format and metrics, so an INDC need not even mention emissions levels. Or a country can propose to reduce emissions off a self-defined “business-as-usual” trajectory, essentially deciding how much it wants to emit and then declaring it an “improvement” from the alternative. To prevent such submissions from being challenged, a group of developing countries led by China and India has rejected “any obligatory review mechanism for increasing individual efforts of developing countries.” And lest pressure nevertheless build on the intransigent, no developing country except Mexico submitted an INDC by the initial deadline of March 31—and most either submitted no plan or submitted one only as the final September 30 cut-off approached.

After all this, the final submissions are not enforceable, and carry no consequences beyond “shame” for noncompliance—a fact bizarrely taken for granted by all involved.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the submitted plans are even less impressive than the process that produced them. In aggregate, the promised emissions reductions will barely affect anticipated warming. A variety of inaccurate, apples-to-oranges comparisons have strained to show significant progress. But MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change calculates the improvement by century’s end to be only 0.2 degrees Celsius. Comparing projected emissions to the baseline established by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change back in 2000 shows no improvement at all.

Here is the link (and PDF) to the MIT study of expected outcomes under Paris. In a nutshell: 3C. This is bad; see above link on why 2C is the magic number.

The only way to get to 1.5C is to accelerate economic incentives – and American, blue-state energy and technology companies will have to lead the way. In fact, without Paris, the fig leaf is gone and US corps are waking up to reality: global warming will cost them billions.

So, I think Trump truly dealt the old energy industry its final deathblow yesterday. It’s already started. Game over for coal, and good riddance. We don’t have time to waste waiting for politicians to save us.

Interested in more? Follow sci-fi author and energy pundit Ramez Naam (@ramez on Twitter), and bookmark Climate Central (@climatecentral).

(also see my tweet thread on above)

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