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Filling in the X-Y draft

December 18th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Another day, another leak from COP15. As final (???) negotiations go on, from the outside it seems clear that there is no possibility that world leaders can leave Copenhagen having put in place a fair, aggressive, and binding (FAB) that would provide a good deal of assurance (insurance) that the world community will successfully act together to mitigate climate change. Today’s leak, a (near?) final draft of the end of COP15 communique (agreeement?) parsed by Brendan DeMelle at DeSmogBlog.

In short, some good flowery language with huge gaps between the language and substance with some quite serious holes to fill in. Going to the title of this post, the most striking thing might just be the “X” and “Y” in the following:

Annex I Parties to the Convention commit to implement, individually or jointly, the quantified economy-wide emission targets for 2020 as listed yielding in aggregate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions of X per cent in 2020 compared to 1990 and Y per cent in 2020 compared to 2005

Quick pause for definitions: Annex I parties are, writ large, developed nations that were already (or should have been, e.g., United States) covered by the Kyoto Accords.

To achieve a ‘stabilization’ at 450 ppm, up from today’s roughly 387 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, that “X” should see a replacement of “25-40”. For the United States, that would also mean that “Y” should be in the range of “35-50” (see Sandbag Copenhagen Target Converter).

Those numbers, however, are truly outdated against requirements for several reasons:

  1. The scientific judgments were based on nations actually working on Kyoto Accord timelines, with serious reductions actually occurring, and truly did not account for the speed / extent of growth in developing world emissions in the intervening years. What truly matters, at the end of the day, is the total amount of Co2 (and other GHG) buildup in the atmosphere.  Globally, we have ‘booked’ quite a bit more of the acceptable total amount in the past decade than was anticipated by the scientists who arrived at this estimated amount of required reductions.
  2. Science and knowledge, writ large, progress and advance (not necessarily in a linear fashion, but does advance).  And, an increasing number (and share) of the experts in the relevant scientific domains for understanding the complex climate system have concluded that we cannot afford to allow a stabilization at 450 ppm, the risks of catastrophic climate chaos are too great. 350 ppm is increasingly seen as where our efforts should aim … with getting there as soon as possible.

Now, two points about the inclusion of 2005:

  • This is a useful addition to the discussion, the world today is not that of 1990. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, for example, with one result being the shutting down of incredibly inefficient industrial facilities has made it ‘easy’ for many nations to cut emissions against 1990 targets. And, looking at it from another direction, the world’s largest single emitting nation in 2009 (the People’s Republic of China) wasn’t top tier in 1990.
  • On the other hand, the 2005 baseline is an interestingly problemmatic one in terms of framing the message and discussion.  For multiple reasons (including the global financial recession, increased oil and coal prices, reduced natural gas prices, and increasingly rapid introduction of clean energy technologies), emissions are lower in many nations (notably the United States) today than in 2005.  For discussing necessary cuts, it would be far easier in ‘political’ framing to be discussing the need for a 40% cut from today’s emission levels than, for example, a 50% cut from 2005 levels.   And, it would be a more honest discussion, as well, since it would be a discussion of necessary change from where we are now, rather than taking our cue from some arbitrary historical point.
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Tags: climate change · Global Warming

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 paulina // Dec 18, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Thanks for this Adam.

    Handy online tool for conversions (1990, 2005):

    http://www.sandbagclimategame.org/tc

    Thank you. Should have had this in hand (since I’ve used it before). Changed diary. By the way, never looked at their climate game before. That is interesting.