Climate: Paris conference a planned failure?

This is bad news.

The European Union climate chief says talks at a major climate summit in Paris this year will not be a failure even if governments fail to keep warming below the dangerous 2C threshold.

The comments, downgrading expectations for a strong outcome at Paris, suggest that the architects of a global climate deal are already resigned to the prospect that governments will fail to aim high enough when setting out their targets for cutting greenhouse gas emission in the coming months.

The Guardian quotes Miguel Arias Canete, the EU climate chief, as saying:

2C is an objective… If we have an ongoing process you can not say it is a failure if the mitigation commitments do not reach 2C… Any step forward is a step forward… 

That is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit. But there’s worse, the UN is apparently on the same page:

In Brussels, meanwhile, the UN top climate official, Christiana Figueres, was similarly downplaying expectations, telling reporters the pledges made in the run-up to the Paris meeting later this year will “not get us onto the 2C pathway… Every year there has to be more – no backsliding – and there also has to be a long term destination: climate neutrality by the second part of this century.”

“… climate neutrality by the second part of this century”: this is so vague as to be meaningless. What the hell is “climate neutrality” for God’s sake? Is it measured in ppm or Gt of CO2-e? And “by the second part of this century,” does that refer to 2050 or some time between 2051 and 2099?

Worst of all, there is no mention here of the all important short-term objective: peak emissions. We cannot hope to achieve a stable climate without eliminating virtually all of our greenhouse gas emissions — everyone knows that. But before we can start reducing emissions we need to halt their growth. Is that so difficult to understand? Moreover, the later we achieve peak emissions, the steeper the curve of subsequent reductions and the more painful the process. Rocket science it is not.

What the Paris conference needs to do in order to maintain any semblance of credibility is to put a date on peak emissions. But no one’s talking about that and it’s not hard to see why — it means announcing to the oil and gas giants that their reserves, valued at thousands of billions of dollars, have to stay in the ground.

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