Global climate agreements: useful, next to useless or completely useless? (Reprint)

A very interesting article on The Conversation today by Luke Kemp at the ANU – insightful, and very much in line with my own thinking. Enjoy!

Universal and useless? The 2015 global climate agreement

By Luke Kemp

It looks as though everyone will be happy to sign the next global climate agreement, due in 2015. Why? Because there will be very little in the agreement that will force countries to act on climate change.

The most recent climate negotiations in Germany – which I attended as a researcher to observe negotiations and interview negotiators on the topic of decision making and climate governance – focused on designing the next global climate agreement. The negotiations gave some worrying signs on where the international community is going.

A recent trend in politics and academia has been to look at the next global climate agreement in terms of three aspects: ambition, compliance and participation. But all is not well with this holy trinity. Tensions exist, particularly between participation on the one hand, and ambition and compliance on the other.

Simply put, trying to get complete global participation could lead to a weak laws and low emissions-reduction targets.

New Zealand observed this tension on the opening day of negotiations. If there is a top-down agreement where emissions reductions are scientifically determined and then distributed among countries, New Zealand worried it would be difficult to get all parties involved. But a bottom-up model in which countries choose their own targets won’t create the ambition to stop the dangerous impacts of climate change. They quickly declared participation was of “first and foremost” importance for the 2015 agreement.

Universal participation, flexibility and respect for “national circumstances” are quickly becoming the commandments of international climate negotiations. These are also the main priorities for Australia and its allies in negotiations.

Along with others such as Canada, the US, New Zealand, Norway and Japan, Australia is part The Umbrella Group of industrialised non-EU countries. The group is renowned for being a “spoiler” of negotiations and has been exceptional in influencing the international dialogue and outcomes on climate. The discussions on the 2015 agreement have been no exception.

The Umbrella Group’s primary goal is making sure any future agreement has the right aspects to allow Umbrella Group parties to join. This is clear from their submissions to the climate negotiations.

A few ideas tend to reappear throughout the official submissions of Umbrella Group members. Norway emphasises the importance of guaranteeing “broad participation“ through having flexible arrangements for countries to meet their emissions targets.

The US has renewed calls for its “pledge and review” system by declaring that if parties choose their own “nationally appropriate” targets it will actually increase ambition. The idea that self-determined targets will lead to ambitious mitigation defies both logic and the history of the climate negotiations. But Australia is pushing the same argument, putting forward the idea of “national schedules” where countries can inscribe their own targets along with timelines and policies for meeting them.

From the Australian perspective, insisting on a bottom-up approach is logical. It keeps us close to the US and fits our own domestic circumstances.

The Liberal party is highly favoured to win the next federal election. Tony Abbott has promised to repeal the carbon tax and dismantle the Department of Climate Change (which just so happens to contain Australia’s negotiating team).

Even if Abbott fails to abolish the carbon tax, Australia will not be looking to increase its national emission targets anytime soon. The man who once described climate change as “absolute crap” is unlikely to be open to ratifying a progressive global climate agreement.

Some other members of the Umbrella Group find themselves in similar positions. The US already has major institutional hurdles in ratifying any international treaty that doesn’t involve trading things or blowing them up. On top of that they have oppositional political system which can’t even agree to background checks on gun buyers, let alone a global climate deal. Even Australian economist Ross Garnaut told diplomats during a special workshop at the negotiations that no-one could really believe the US would ratify a legally binding climate deal in 2015.

There is a common thread among most members of the Umbrella Group: domestic constraints are severely limiting what they can agree to internationally. So, instead they want their national realities to shape the next global agreement. From their perspective, national concerns should shape the global regime, not vice versa.

Trying to appease and include parties such as Australia will likely lead to a lowest-common-denominator outcome. It happened with Kyoto when the protocol was significantly weakened to accommodate the US who could then not ratify it.

If we are not careful then history may repeat itself. We need to be aware that getting everyone on board may very well sink the next climate agreement.

Luke Kemp receives funding from an Australian Postgraduate Award and a DAAD Research Grant. He is affiliated with the Earth System Governance Project and the Fenner School of Environment and Society.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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30 thoughts on “Global climate agreements: useful, next to useless or completely useless? (Reprint)

  1. Steve says:

    Logically, the three alternatives suggested (useful, next to useless or completely useless?) do not cover all possibilities. There is a definite possibility that an ineffective international agreement could do more harm than no agreement because some leaders might say that they are complying with the agreement as a way of resisting pressure to take real action.
    I’m not at all sure this is the case, but I think the alternatives considered should be : useful, next to useless, completely useless or worse than useless.

  2. Eric Worrall says:

    I’m heartened by the lack of cooperation on forging an agreement to bomb the global economy back to the stone age.

    If you want to reduce CO2 emissions, you will have to find a way to work with capitalists – otherwise, even when we can’t completely stop international cooperation on climate change, we will succeed in making them ineffectual.

    • john byatt says:

      so you are a capitalist ? big money in egg timer app

      Is that the Royal or Papal We ?

      • Eric Worrall says:

        I’m self employed – the details are not your concern. I recall a certain hostility from some members of this forum, threats of “writing to my employer” to try to mess up my job when I first started posting here, so I’m not about to disclose anything which could be used to harm me financially.

      • john byatt says:

        not very nice of them, how do you know that they were members, you are casting aspersions against Mike by that remark sure they were not just trolls

        how many? you said some

        clear it up

      • Eric Worrall says:

        Fair point John, I can’t recall who made the remarks, so they could have been trolls. Nevertheless I feel a need for caution in this respect.

        As for your remark Nick, even John’s link shows that the EU’s version of socialism is placing unacceptable burdens on the EU economy, which are causing economic hardship. I’m not heartless, I wouldn’t like to see the old and infirm turned out to die, so I can buy an extra inch of screen size on my new TV.

        But when the burdens imposed by excessively business unfriendly socialist policies damage the economy which funds them, to the point where it is at risk of collapse, socialist policies are then responsible for creating the very nightmare which promoters of social welfare seek to avert.

      • Nick says:

        Ah,musings on the uneasy pact between the commonweal and those who would carve it up…Should business be friendly or get all the friendship?….peace and love,Eric!

      • Sadly, it does happen. Some forum readers feel empowered to abuse.

        I’ve had three CFACT “admirers” attempt to undermine me. One falsely spread I’d been fired (I put him in touch with the CIO), one persistently sent private emails with abusive language and one created a fake Facebook persona, mimicking me – and then used it to send abusive messages to my friends and family.

        My own reaction is to be fairly open about my information – but protect it from abuse robustly. But I can quite understand the reaction of sharing less rather than more.

        At one point I considered no longer posting due to the abuse. But that would me the disinformers would have won. Instead, I treat it as a badge of success. Science will triumph.

        (For Eric, austerity is not a socialist programme – and it is that failed capitalist policy that is the risk for Europe.)

    • Nick says:

      Though there was never a plan to do so, I am also heartened by the lack of “agreement to bomb the economy back to the stone age”…not that agreement is needed. The invisible hand of the market will do it.

  3. Eric Worrall says:

    Here’s a job for activist enthusiasts amongst you – you could help make the 2015 agreement more than a sham. h/t WUWT, but as far as I know the job is genuine.

  4. Stuart Mathieson says:

    The thing to keep in mind is that public sentiment like climate change has tipping points. Unfortunately it will take quite a few extreme weather events, and possibly emerging correlations with geophysical events (seismic), before the tipping point is reached. Remember Pearl Harbour?
    Hurricane Sandy apparently has shipped opinions considerably. I expect the Oklahoma tornados will do the same.
    The other matter is that new technologies are likely to give certain countries or regions significant advantages. Progress will have to be sought on many fronts.

  5. catweazle666 says:

    In a blow to those that want to link increased severe weather with global warming/climate change, a new record low has been set according to NOAA tornado data. At the same time, it has been 2750 days (7 years, 6 months, 11 days) since the last major Hurricane (Cat 3 or greater) hit the USA on October 24th 2005 when hurricane Wilma made landfall. Each new day is a new record in this major hurricane drought.

    • Nick says:

      It’s great news that the US has been lucky enough to enjoy a lull in landfalling cyclones,but that is just a subset of total cyclone behavior. The proportion of intense cyclones to the total number of any category has risen. And great news about tornadoes…meanwhile rainfall,droughting and heat events are showing more extremes and return time change.

      Tony Watts will ALWAYS present data selectively. That is a trend that has maxed out at 100%.

      • Watts cherry picking fail. Yes, that is yet another Watts cherry picking fail.

        Our resident “sceptics” are so unsceptical it brings wry smile to my lips every time they post their unquestioning nonsense. NOAA trumps Watts. But then dandelions and garden gnomes trump Watts. Easy-peasy-fact-free-Wattsy.

  6. Tony Duncan says:

    I must say I have to agree with Eric about activists making unsubstantiated statements about issues we don’t really know about. Deniers have had a heyday with the hurricane frequency and the tornado events. It just gives them ammunition saying that “alarmists” make shit up for cynical purposes. and it supports the whole conspiracy theory mentality.
    for the same reason I have vehemently disagreed with statements from Hansen about 5 meter sea level increase this century or a possible runaway greenhouse effect. to be fair he has NOt made these statements as being scientifically valid, just as possibilities, but they serve as fodder for activists and deniers alike.

      • john byatt says:

        Should Hansen not even discuss these issues,

        Hansen “Some people take comfort from the fact that there have been times in the history of the planet when greenhouse gas concentrations were much higher than now. The world was very different, but there was no runaway greenhouse and life endured. James Hansen devotes the entire tenth chapter of Storms of My Grandchildren to considering whether this assessment is valid. Three things give him pause:

        The sun is brighter now than it was during past periods with very high greenhouse gas concentrations. The 2% additional brightness corresponds to a forcing of about 4 watts per square metre and is akin to a doubling of CO2 concentrations.
        For various reasons, the greenhouse gas concentrations in past hot periods may not have been as high as we thought.
        We are introducing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere far more quickly than natural processes ever did. This might cause fast (positive) feedback effects to manifest themselves forcefully, before slower (negative) feedback effects can get going.
        He also explains that the sharp warming that took place during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) were not caused by fossil fuels (which remained underground), but rather by the release of methane from permafrost and clathrates. If human emissions warm the planet enough to release that methane again, it could add a PETM-level warming on top of the warming caused by human beings.”

        SLR during the Eemian rose 3 metres in fifty years,

        then there is what is happening in the Arctic which is running decades ahead of the models

        “activists making unsubstantiated statements about issues we don’t really know about”

        does eric have a link to such claims? have only come across it once myself in the past decade,

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