COP21: The UN climate change talks are now in their final hours, but politicians are accused of ignoring scientific advice and still doing too little to avoid a dangerous future.
PARIS, 11 December, 2015 − A political agreement at the COP21 summit on how to slow climate change is now very close to completion. But some the world’s leading climate scientists say that, without significant changes to the draft text, it will not prevent the world from overheating dangerously.
They are especially concerned that the draft does not state explicitly that action should be consistent with climate science, and that it shows a blind trust – unjustified, in their view − that humanity can engineer its way out of the problem by technology such as carbon capture and storage, which has yet to be proved to work commercially.
The panel of scientists told journalists in Paris that they applauded the negotiators’ intention to hold the temperature below 2˚C warming − and, if possible, below 1.5˚C − but said the policies endorsed in the draft would condemn the world to an increase of at least 3˚C.
Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UK, said the agreement was flawed because “the aspirations and rhetoric of the politicians do not take the science into account”.
He said: “The fact is we have to keep 90% of all fossil fuels in the ground if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Under this agreement, keeping to a 1.5˚C rise is not viable for the poor, non-white vast majority of people on the Earth. This represents a dangerous and deadly version of business as usual.
“In order to keep below 2˚C, steep reductions in carbon emissions need to begin now – at least a 7% drop in 2016, and then continuing to fall by that order of magnitude thereafter.”
Anderson said that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to reducing emissions that have already been submitted by 186 governments to the conference fell short of what was needed. In addition, international aviation and shipping had been left out of the draft altogether.
Aviation emissions are growing dramatically, and there is no technical alternative to fossil fuels for aircraft. This means that much steeper cuts are needed elsewhere.
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said that unless cuts were made in greenhouse gases now, there was no hope of avoiding dangerous climate change.
The world needs to be “carbon neutral” by 2050, he said, which means there should be no net emissions of CO2. Any emissions that do occur would need to be absorbed each year by extra vegetation or by the oceans.
Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said the only way to prevent the world sliding into uncontrolled overheating was for the pledges to reduce carbon to be revised frequently, probably bi-annually, so that they could be brought in line with the science.
According to Professor Anderson, the draft as it stands means there is only a slim chance – less than 10% − that the world can stay below 1.5˚C. He said that to achieve less than 2˚C, “not a single new coal plant should be built anywhere in the world”,
And he thinks it is impossible for countries to build renewable energy power stations fast enough to make up the gap. The only way to achieve the reductions is for the richest 10% of the world’s population – responsible for 50% of the planet’s emissions − to use less energy.
That means using smaller cars, taking fewer flights (with first class seats abolished), and living in smaller houses that require less heating.
The scientists’ outspoken tone is in contrast to what they have previously said at these essentially political meetings, where they would leave the decisions to the politicians.
Now, they say, the situation has become so urgent and potentially catastrophic that they need to point out that the world’s leaders are failing to protect the people they represent.
The talks are due to end today, but even the optimists think they may end late tomorrow. And the pessimists are wondering whether to reschedule their flights home for Monday.
However, many crucial parts have been agreed − particularly a five-year review process so that every country will have to show how it is already reducing CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases, and how it intends to improve on its performance.
Business leaders have welcomed this, saying it gives them a clear signal that investing in renewables such as wind and solar energy is the right course.
Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, chairman of the Grantham Research Institute, UK, said: “This agreement marks the transition to a low-carbon economy. It is no longer a fake two-horse race between the environment and development. Now it is development with climate responsibility. We will have better growth and a better climate.”
He said that investing in low-carbon technology was a low financial risk, whereas a high-carbon one would be so risky that “sensible people will not want to do it”. − Climate News Network
Our daily service
Climate News Network is a free and objective service publishing a daily news story on climate and energy issues. Sign up here to get our latest articles sent straight to your Inbox.