December 3, 2018, by Alex Kirby
The NPT treaty has helped to avert a nuclear catastrophe. Image: By Michael, via Wikimedia Commons
To inject some urgency into efforts to slow planetary warming, scientists, politicians and citizens are mulling how far a climate treaty plan could help.
LONDON, 3 December, 2018 − Could a new climate treaty be the way to tame global warming? With world leaders receiving constant demands to act far more urgently to limit climate change, events at either end of Europe are today increasing the pressure on them. At both, hopes are focusing on international diplomacy.
In eastern Europe the Polish city of Katowice is hosting the latest round of annual negotiations held by the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (the UNFCCC), formally known as the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24 (due to end on 14 December).
Hopes for significant progress are muted. The 2015 talks produced the Paris Agreement, praised for making progress on how to limit emissions of the greenhouse gases which human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are adding to warming.
But little has happened since then actually to slow climate change, and in important respects the situation is now worse than it was three years ago.
The combination since 2015 of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly inadequate action by the Agreement’s signatories to slow them means that the gap between where emissions are now and where they ought to be is bigger than ever.
Speaking before COP24 began, Johan Rockström, incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in a statement: “The scientific verdict is clear; global emissions must be cut by half by 2030 to stand a chance of staying well below 2°C [the more modest target agreed in Paris]”.
He said Katowice needed to find the ambition to ensure that the emissions cuts governments promise match the latest scientific assessments, and should also insist that every country’s emissions were counted accurately.
As well, he called for proper financing of the attempt to breathe new life into the Paris process: “The Green Climate Fund needs reliable and substantial contributions from industrialised countries.”
Professor Rockström concluded: “Science clearly shows that we have just one decade to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we must start doing it now.” It sounds like a pretty intense two weeks ahead in Poland, then.
Over 800 miles to the west, London is the scene for the launch of a new international group, the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). Its founders are setting it up to push for accelerated action at the scale and speed needed to meet the 1.5°C climate target, the more ambitious Paris aim.
“Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of”
By gathering and sharing what it calls evidence-based hope, the Alliance seeks to remove excuses for inaction, show what is possible, and find ways for everyone to take an active part in change.
Its members range from household-name environmental groups to professional bodies and international research centres, working internationally and locally, specialists and generalists, involved in practical work, research and campaigning.
The Alliance says examples of rapid action it has already analysed include responses to economic shocks, public health emergencies, financial and energy crises, and conflicts.
The examples range from transport to food, energy and the built environment.
With an eye on Katowice, Andrew Simms, the Alliance’s coordinator, said: “International climate talks matter, but they are not the whole story. The shift to a low-carbon economy isn’t just something for diplomats and presidents. You could say that we are crowdsourcing rapid actions to prevent climate breakdown.”
Results from diplomacy
Yet much like those who continue to work to get the best out of the Paris Agreement, the founders of the Alliance think high-level diplomacy and statecraft do matter and can bring about change.
They say: “A new line in the sand is needed to underpin the existing [Paris] climate agreement, to exert influence over the immediate choices of policymakers. At the very least, the science should mandate a moratorium in rich countries on any further expansion of the fossil fuel industry, or any infrastructure dependent on it.
“A moratorium could take the form of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. The threat of nuclear catastrophe provides a precedent for how, quickly, to stop a bad situation getting worse. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), agreed between 1965 and 1968, was a triumph of rapid diplomacy, at the height of cold war mistrust, and against an immense security threat.”
Andrew Simms does not accept the argument that the NPT, while so far it has not failed, perhaps does not yet deserve to be called a success. He told the Climate News Network that a climate treaty modelled on it could really work: it would also “create jobs, clean air, tackle fuel poverty and generally make the world a better place”.
And ignoring a climate non-proliferation treaty’s potential, he said, “underestimates humanity’s extraordinary ability to cooperate, innovate and act quickly with ambition when the moment demands it. Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of.
“First, and most importantly, we need to let go of the old fossil fuel economy, accept that it brought great benefits for some but that its time is now over and we must find better ways to meet our energy needs.
“Next we can look at the evidence base for hope in a warming world and get to work on a rapid transition.
“We’re calling on people and organisations to get in touch and let us know about such stories of rapid change from which we can learn, and we will work to get them seen and heard by others who can make a difference.” − Climate News Network
The Rapid Transition Alliance is being coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its activities.
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.