The COP 21 UN Climate Conference is underway in Paris, and hopes are high, yet, it will take a political miracle for a solid, lasting, and enforceable agreement to be reached.
The one common denominator, of course, is that we are all potentially facing into a climate Armageddon. The problem is we don’t know precisely when that will happen or how bad it will be.
Click above to hear discussion of COP 21 deal prospects with Anne Marie Donelan, host of The Grapevine, on CRC FM.
Politics and human nature being what they are, means that politicians are very good at dealing with a ‘clear and present danger’ but very bad at dealing with some kind of vague, not easily identifiable threat.
This is what unites the problems of dealing with ISIL and climate change. The enemy is out there, but not in full view.
Meanwhile, there have already been rumblings of ‘breaches of trust’ between the rich nations at COP 21 and the poorer nations. Meetings have been held outside of the main group, and this has increased the sense of paranoia and tension that surrounds the meeting.
Think about how hard it can be to get two nations to agree on difficult issues. Ireland and the UK perhaps, or Israel and Palestine? Imagine trying to get agreement from all the nations of the world, on climate, when each and every nation working to a different agenda.
This time around, as opposed to the last attempt to get climate deal in Copenhagen in 2009, each country has been asked to submit its own assessment of what it can achieve on emissions reduction.
The plans, when taken all together, are, one analyst reported, likely to lead to a disastrous 3 Celsius rise in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels. So, a lot of painful compromise will be required.
For a multitude of political reasons that looks an almost impossible task, and a fudge of some sort looks the likely outcome.
Expect the announcement of a deal – as no deal would look bad for all the politicians gathered in Paris – but the reality to be different.
Countries like China, India, Japan, and the western nations are not going to risk damaging their economies, by making a real deal.
There is too much to lose, and not enough – concrete – to gain. Each nation wants a deal, but they want others to do the compromising.
For example, Ireland’s emissions are high, largely due to agricultural practices here, and we are coming under pressure to reduce them. This will not be easy, and will come at a financial and political cost.
Does the Government have the political will to do this, and risk annoying rural voters with an election coming? I think not.
The US, meanwhile, is the main contributor to greenhouse gas, but they don’t want to do anything to reduce emissions which will hurt their economy. They have an election coming up too.
China, the other main offender, is busy burning cheap coal, trying to get into the elite club of developed nations, and it too, is not inclined to do anything to hinder its progress.
Then there is India. The west is in a very weak position when trying to preach about reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to a country where some 240 million people are living without electricity.
Then there are the agreed targets. Everyone is talking about limiting the damage to a rise of 2 Celsius. However, 2 Celsius is far too high for low lying nations, which could be underwater with that kind of rise. These countries need something of the order of 1.5 C or less to survive.
There is talk about eliminating the use of coal, which will have ‘no future’ as a result. Yet, try telling that to countries like India, and China and, even Japan, that are still burning huge amounts of cheap coal, to provide for their growing demand for energy.
For countries to develop they need cheap energy. Coal provides that, while renewable sources don’t – for now at least.
The best hope of success is if the rich western nations, led by the USA, agree to allow developing nations to continue to burn coal, while paying for technology which will reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide from that burning, or to bury it safely under the ground.
The west also needs to make massive investment in developing renewable sources of energy, such as wind, wave, and solar so that it can truly start to meet growing energy demand – at the right price.
The problem of course is that there is no immediate threat here, which could be the impetus to push a deal over the line.
Think about how Europe dealt with the financial crisis. The can was pushed down the road continually until a gun was put to the leader’s heads, and the break of the EU looked imminent.
Then there is the question of enforcement. How will leaders ensure that everyone is adhering to the deal, if one is reached? What will the penalties be like? Will they be sufficient?
The European Central Bank only enforced its will on reluctant nations like Ireland by threatening to stop money being available in the ATMs. Something just as drastic will be required here if a deal is to work.
However, in the absence of Paris, New York, and London being hit this week by a climate-change inspired Superstorm, a deal looks unlikely.
The history of this issue is one of fudge, from the first climate change conference in Rio in 1992, up to 2009 and failure at Copenhagen. If something real emerges from Paris it will be truly historic.