We finally have the rulebook for the Paris Agreement, but global climate action is still inadequate


Kate Dooley, University of Melbourne

Three years after the Paris Agreement was struck, we now finally know the rules – or most of them, at least – for its implementation.

The Paris Rulebook, agreed at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, gives countries a common framework for reporting and reviewing progress towards their climate targets.

Yet the new rules fall short in one crucial area. While the world will now be able to see how much we are lagging behind on the necessary climate action, the rulebook offers little to compel countries to up their game to the level required.




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The national pledges adopted in Paris are still woefully inadequate to meet the 1.5℃ or 2℃ global warming goals of the Paris Agreement. In the run-up to the Katowice talks, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report detailing the urgent need to accelerate climate policy. Yet the summit ran into trouble in its efforts to formally welcome the report, with delegates eventually agreeing to welcome its “timely completion”.

Rather than directly asking for national climate targets to be increased, the Katowice text simply reiterates the existing request in the Paris Agreement for countries to communicate and update their contributions by 2020.

Much now hinges on the UN General Assembly summit in September 2019, to bring the much-needed political momentum towards a new raft of pledges in 2020 that are actually in line with the scientific reality.

Ratcheting up ambition

A key element of the Paris Agreement is the Global Stocktake – a five-yearly assessment of whether countries are collectively on track to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals to limit global warming.

The new rulebook affirms that this process will consider “equity and best available science”. But it does not elaborate specifically on how these inputs will be used, and how the outcomes of the stocktake will increase ambition.

This raises concerns that the rulebook will ensure we know if we are falling behind on climate action, but will offer no prescription for fixing things. This risks failing to address one of the biggest issues with the Paris Agreement so far: that countries are under no obligation to ensure their climate pledges are in line with the overall goals. A successful, ambitious and prescriptive five-yearly review process will be essential to get the world on track.

Transparency and accounting

One of the aims of the Katowice talks was to develop a common set of formats and schedules for countries to report their climate policy progress.

The new rules allow a degree of flexibility for the most vulnerable countries, who are not compelled to submit quantified climate pledges or regular transparency reports. All other countries will be bound to report on their climate action every two years, starting in 2024.

However, given the “bottom-up” nature of the Paris Agreement, countries are largely able to determine their own accounting rules, with guidelines agreed on what information they should provide. But a future international carbon trading market will obviously require a standardised set of rules. The newly agreed rulebook carries a substantial risk of double-counting where countries could potentially count overseas emissions reductions towards their own target, even if another country has also claimed this reduction for itself.

This issue became a major stumbling block in the negotiations, with Brazil and others refusing to agree to rules that would close this loophole, and so discussions will continue next year. In the meantime, the UN has no official agreement on how to implement international carbon trading.

Accounting rules for action in the land sector have also been difficult to agree. Countries such as Brazil and some African nations sought to avoid an agreement on this issue, while others, such as Australia, New Zealand and the European Union, prefer to continue existing rules that have delivered windfall credits to these countries.

Finance

The new rulebook defines what will constitute “climate finance”, and how it will be reported and reviewed.

Developed countries are now obliged to report every two years on what climate finance they plan to provide, while other countries in a position to provide climate finance are encouraged to follow the same schedule.

But with a plethora of eligible financial instruments – concessional and non-concessional loans, guarantees, equity, and investments from public and private sources – the situation is very complex. In some cases, vulnerable countries could be left worse off, such as if loans have to be repaid with interest, or if financial risk instruments fail.

Countries can voluntarily choose to report the grant equivalent value of these financial instruments. Such reporting will be crucial for understanding the scale of climate finance mobilised.




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The Paris Agreement delivered the blueprint for a global response to climate change. Now, the Paris Rulebook lays out a structure for reporting and understanding the climate action of all countries.

But the world is far from on track to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. The latest report from the UN Environment Programme suggests existing climate targets would need to be increased “around fivefold” for a chance of limiting warming to 1.5℃. The newly agreed rules don’t offer a way to put us on this trajectory.

Multilateral climate policy has perhaps taken us as far as it can – it is now time for action at the national level. Australia, as a country with very high per-capita emissions, needs to step up to a leadership position and take on our fair share of the global response. This means making a 60% emissions cut by 2030, as outlined by the Climate Change Authority in 2015.

Such an ambitious pledge from Australia and other leading nations would galvanise the international climate talks in 2020. What the world urgently needs is a race to the top, rather than the current jockeying for position.The Conversation

Kate Dooley, Researcher, Australian German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Exit Paris climate agreement: Tony Abbott


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Tony Abbott has called for Australia to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, in a swingeing attack on Malcolm Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee.

Abbott said the NEG was not about reducing prices but about cutting emissions. “The only certainty that the National Energy Guarantee as it stands would provide is the certainty of emissions reduction.”

Delivering the Bob Carter Commemorative Lecture in Melbourne, Abbott said: “Withdrawing from the Paris agreement that is driving the National Energy Guarantee would be the best way to keep prices down and employment up – and to save our party from a political legacy that could haunt us for the next decade at least”.

“As long as we remain in the Paris agreement – which is about reducing emissions, not building prosperity – all policy touching on emissions will be about their reduction, not our well-being. It’s the emissions obsession that’s at the heart of our power crisis and it’s this that has to end for our problems to ease.”

Abbott played down the importance of the government’s much-vaunted tax cuts in comparison with the implications of energy policy.

“These are strange times in Canberra when there’s a hullaballoo over modest tax cuts that only take effect fully in six or seven years’ time, while mandatory emissions cuts that start sooner, that mean more for the economy, and whose ramifications will be virtually impossible to reverse are expected more or less to be waved through”.

In the party room last week Abbott had little support for his attack on the NEG. But his constant agitation is unhelpful for the government as it tries to win backing from the states and territories for the scheme. It also reinforces the impression of division in government ranks, even though the majority of the backbenchers now just want the energy policy settled.

Abbott said that his government in 2015 had set a 2030 emissions reduction target “on the basis that this was more or less what could be achieved without new government programs and without new costs on the economy.

‘’There was no advice then to the effect that it would take a Clean Energy Target or a National Energy Guarantee to get there,” he said.

“My government never put emissions reduction ahead of the wellbeing of families and the prosperity of industries”.

When the world’s leading country exited the Paris agreement “it can hardly be business as usual,” he said. “Absent America, my government would not have signed up to the Paris treaty, certainly not with the current target”.

Abbott said he could understand “the government would like to crack the so-called trilemma of keeping the lights on, getting power prices down and reducing emissions in line with our Paris targets – it’s just that there’s no plausible evidence all three can be done at the same time”.

“If you read the National Energy Guarantee documentation, there’s a few lines about lower prices, a few pages about maintaining supply, and page after impenetrable page about reducing emissions.

’‘The government is kidding us when it says it’s all about reducing prices when there ’s an emissions reduction target plus a reliability target but no price target”.

The government said it wanted to give certainty but the only certainty was that any NEG approved by state ALP governments at COAG would be “massively ramped up to deliver even more emissions reduction under the next Labor government”.

The ConversationAbbott repeated his call for the government to subsidise the boosting of baseload power. He again suggested threatening to compulsorily acquire Liddell coal-fired power station, which AGL is refusing either to keep going or to sell.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Trump’s Paris Retreat is Beijing’s Opportunity



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The Chinese hoax.

Clive Hamilton, Charles Sturt University

One of China’s foremost environmental analysts recently explained to me that while for many years climate change was characterized as a western conspiracy to hold China back, it all changed around 2012. Overcoming China’s testiness about western imperialist designs and bringing China into the international climate tent may in future be seen as one of President Obama’s lasting legacies.

When President Xi Jinping took charge in late 2012 he soon launched an ‘energy revolution’. He took up the call for an ‘ecological civilization’ and sent a message that coal would no longer be favoured.

Provincial governments, which had resisted Beijing’s dictats to reduce coal use, began to be brought into line. As Xi accumulated more power, by marginalizing his enemies or having them arrested for corruption, it became increasingly risky to mess with Beijing. But the provinces too are shifting away from their GDP obsession to a greater emphasis on quality of life.

The first phase of China’s national carbon market is expected to get under way this year. The Paris agreement and Xi’s constructive role in it greatly enhanced the influence of China’s environment ministry in bureaucratic tussles. Paris is now a powerful card to play, and incorporating environmental governance into policy has become the ‘new normal’.

Coal use has now topped out in China, and total emissions are expected to peak around 2022-23, well ahead of the committed date of 2030 under the Paris Agreement. Unlike the United States, China takes its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris accord very seriously.

China’s carbon cuts

Beijing has a number of motives for taking an aggressive approach to carbon emissions. The headline one is social discontent due to appalling air pollution in the cities. Instead of closing coal-fired power stations, pollution levels could have been cut sharply by fitting scrubbers to them (as is done in the west), leaving carbon emissions untouched. But there are other reasons for cutting coal consumption.

One is to undermine the power base of some of the most corrupt officials in the country, the bosses of the coal and electricity sectors. Unlike most of China’s leaders, Xi is no a technocrat, which helps.

Beyond these domestic goals, the Party’s leadership can see a larger global dimension. Hastening China’s transition to low-carbon energy promises to give China ascendancy in the emerging renewable energy industries, industries set for massive expansion over the next decades as coal and oil combustion declines. Vast opportunities are available for the nation that manages to take the lead, and China is well on the way to doing so.

This is why Trump’s decision is not just a serious set-back to global efforts to limit emissions but also damages US economic prospects. When US companies find they must go to China to buy their energy generation equipment they will understand that ‘America first’ means America loses. Some of them can see it already.

A new world leader

At the highest level of strategy, Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris agreement presents Beijing with a golden opportunity to take on the mantle of global leadership. China has been slowly and systematically pursuing that role over some years by, for example, expanding its role in UN peace-keeping efforts.

And it has been presenting itself as the new champion of global economic integration. President Xi’s speech at Davos in January, where he condemned protectionism and lauded the benefits of free trade and investment flows, was timed to contrast with the Trumpian retreat.

The United States abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which through more trade and investment would have strengthened US ties to East and Southeast Asia, left a hole for China to step into. The grand One Belt, One Road initiative is a pitch for global economic leadership that will grow as the United States shrinks into itself.

Climate change presents China with the opportunity to acquire new legitimacy and respect as a world leader, offsetting the damage from its aggression in the South China Sea and escalating repression at home.

Some analysts say that China is not yet ready to become the global leader, and displays a certain reluctance to seize the mantle. But faced with indecision and disorder in the west the Party leadership has often had to decide to grab a chance while it is there, or bide its time and take the risk that it will be much harder later.

The ConversationUS withdrawal from global climate change leadership may be too good an opportunity to let pass. And there could be no better way for Beijing to demonstrate its claimed commitment to a peaceful and prosperous world than by directing the billions of dollars promised under the One Belt, One Road Initiative into low-carbon energy systems in developing countries. Developed countries too may find the lure of Chinese lucre too strong to resist and end up with energy infrastructures stamped ‘Made in China’.

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University

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

15th-century Chinese sailors have a lesson for Trump about climate policy


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Disruptive technology, Ming Dynasty-style.
Vmenkov/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Dave Frame, Victoria University of Wellington

In the early 15th century the Ming Dynasty in China undertook a series of expensive oceangoing expeditions called the Treasure Voyages. Despite the voyages’ success, elements of the elite opposed them. “These voyages are bad, very bad,” we can imagine them tweeting. “They are a bad deal for China.” Eventually these inward-looking, isolationist leaders gained enough power to prevent future voyages.

But this was an own goal. The parochial elites who killed off the Treasure Voyages could stop Chinese maritime innovation, but they could do nothing to prevent it elsewhere. Decades later, European sailors mastered the art of sailing vast distances across the ocean, and created fortunes and empires on the back of that technology (for better or worse). It is hard to see how China’s strategic interests were served by abandoning a field in which they led.

There are some striking parallels in the Trump administration’s decision to renege on the Paris climate agreement. It has been cast as a move to protect America, but in the long run it won’t derail the world’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and instead the US will find itself lagging, not leading.

Trump’s repudiation of the Paris deal is regrettable for at least three reasons. First, because the US is a technological leader whose entrepreneurs are extremely well placed to lead the global low-carbon transition; second, because America’s abdication of climate leadership weakens the global order and sends a wink and a nod to other fossil-fuelled recalcitrants like Saudi Arabia and Russia; and finally because having the world’s second-highest emitter outside the agreement is a clear negative.

That said, US flip-flopping on climate is nothing new. The nation played a strong role in shaping the Kyoto Protocol, only to fail to ratify it. And while that did not help matters, it did not derail international efforts to combat climate change. In fact, the momentum behind climate-friendly initiatives has grown several-fold since the early 2000s.

Viewed in the long run, the latest US defection changes little. Any conceivable future Democrat administration will rejoin the Paris Agreement. But more importantly, the transition to a low-carbon future is not dependent on the actions of a single player.

The criteria for successful climate change policy are hard to achieve but easy to describe: success will come when non-emitting technologies economically outcompete fossil fuels, pretty much everywhere in the world, in the main half-dozen or so sectors that matter.

Beating the ‘free-rider’ issue

A stable climate is what we call a “public good”, similar to fresh air or clean water. The US political scientist Scott Barrett has pointed out that climate change is an “aggregate efforts public good”, in the sense that everybody has to chip in to solve the problem of safeguarding the climate for everyone.

“Aggregate efforts” public goods are especially hard to preserve, because there is a strong incentive to free-ride on the efforts of others, as the US now seeks to do.

But technology can transform this situation, turning an aggregate efforts public good into a “best-shot public good”. This is a situation in which one player playing well can determine the whole outcome, and as such is a much easier problem to solve.

We have seen technology play this role before, in other global environmental issues. The ozone hole looked like a hard problem, but became an easy one once an inexpensive, effective technological fix became available in the form of other gases to use in place of ozone-harming CFCs (ironically, however, the solution exacerbated global warming).

Something similar happened with acid rain, caused by a handful of industrial pollutants. Dealing with carbon dioxide emissions is harder in view of the number of sources, but breakthroughs in five or six sectors could make a massive dent in emissions.

Technology trumps politics

This suggests that solving climate change relies far more heavily on technological innovation and successful entrepreneurship than it does on any single government. Policies in specific jurisdictions can speed climate policy up or slow it down, but as long as no single government can kill the spirit of entrepreneurship, then no country’s actions can alter the long-run outcome.

This is why German climatologist John Schellnhuber is right to say that “if the US really chooses to leave the Paris agreement, the world will move on with building a clean and secure future”.

The low-carbon race is still on, and the main effect of Trump’s decision is to put US innovators at a disadvantage relative to their international competitors.

We have seen these technological races before, and we have seen what recalcitrance and isolationism can do. Just ask the Ming Dynasty, who ceded their maritime leadership and in doing so let Europe reap the spoils of colonialism for half a millennium.

Similarly, the Trump administration can ignore basic physics if it likes, although this is electorally unsustainable – young Americans can see that it is in their own interest to support climate policy. Democracies are imperfect, but over time they have the ability to self-correct.

The ConversationDeveloping polices that regulate the release of environmentally damaging gases is important. Pricing carbon is important. But government policy is not everything. Ultimately, this problem will be solved mainly by technology, because the way out of the jam is by finding new, inexpensive ways for humans to flourish without harming the planet.

Dave Frame, Professor of Climate Change, Victoria University of Wellington

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

Time for China and Europe to lead, as Trump dumps the Paris climate deal


Christian Downie, Australian National University

President Donald Trump’s announcement overnight that he will withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement comes as no surprise. After all, this is the man who famously claimed that climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese.

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While it will take around four years for the US to withdraw, the prospect is complicated by Trump’s claim that he wants to renegotiate the agreement – a proposal that European leaders were quick to dismiss. But the question now is who will lead global climate action in the US’ absence?

As I have previously argued on The Conversation, there are good reasons for China and Europe to come together and form a powerful bloc to lead international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

China is now the world’s number-one energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter, and should it combine forces with Europe it has the potential to lead the world and prevent other nations from following the US down the path of inaction.

There are very early signs that this may be happening. Reports this week indicate that Beijing and Brussels have already agreed on measures to accelerate action on climate change, in line with Paris climate agreement.

According to a statement to be released today, China and Europe have agreed to forge ahead and lead a clean energy transition.

While it is too early to predict how Chinese and European leadership will manifest in practice, in the face of American obstruction they are arguably the world’s best hope, if not its only hope.

Decades of destruction

Trump’s announcement only reaffirms his antipathy towards climate action, and that of his Republican Party, which for decades has led attempts to scuttle efforts to reduce emissions at home and abroad. Let’s not forget that it was President George W. Bush who walked away from the Kyoto Protocol.

In just the few short months of his incumbency so far, Trump has halted a series of initiatives executed by President Barack Obama to address climate change. These include taking steps to:

  • Repeal the clean power plan

  • Lift the freeze on new coal leases on federal lands

  • End restrictions on oil drilling in Arctic waters

  • Reverse the previous decision against the Keystone XL pipeline

  • Review marine sanctuaries for possible oil and natural gas drilling.

And the list goes on.

This remains the real problem, regardless of whether the US is inside the Paris climate agreement or outside it. As the planet’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, what the US does domestically on climate change matters a great deal.

As a result, if China and Europe are to lead the world in the US’ absence, not only will they have to ensure that other nations, such as Australia, do not follow the US – and some members of the government hope they do – but they are also going to have to think creatively about measures that could force the US to act differently at home. For example, some leaders have already mooted introducing a carbon tax on US imports, though such proposals remain complicated.

In the meantime, while these political battles play out around the world, climate scientists are left to count the rising cost of inaction, be it the bleaching of coral reefs or increasing droughts, fires and floods.

The ConversationIf only it were all a hoax.

Christian Downie, Fellow and Higher Degree Research Convener, Australian National University

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

The US quitting the Paris climate agreement will only make things worse


Jonathan Pickering, University of Canberra

US President Donald Trump has announced that he will decide this week whether to follow through on his threat to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Some news outlets are already reporting that he has decided to leave. But would the world be better off if the US stays or goes?

An array of environmental groups, businesses and leaders of other countries are calling for the US to stay. While their reasons vary, a common theme is that the US has both a moral obligation to play its part in global climate policy, and an economic interest in doing so.

Many of these arguments rely on the US taking strong domestic climate action. But Trump has already begun dismantling a raft of Obama-era climate policies. Unless reversed, these moves will ruin any chance of the US meeting its current target of reducing emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Trump’s draft budget would also drastically cut US climate aid to developing nations.

With this in mind, the question becomes: is global climate policy better served if a recalcitrant major power stays on board or if it goes its own way?

Considered this way, the arguments for leaving become harder to dismiss. In two thought-provoking commentaries, climate policy experts Luke Kemp of the Australian National University and Matthew Hoffmann of the University of Toronto argue that the world would actually better off if the US pulls out. Two reasons loom large in these analyses: the US would be prevented from white-anting further UN negotiations, and the backlash to its withdrawal would spur on China, Europe and other nations to greater action.

But if we look closely at each argument, it’s far from clear that leaving is the lesser evil.

Sidelining US obstruction?

It is not a foregone conclusion that the US, if it stayed, would be able to hold the talks hostage or successfully water down rules aimed at preventing countries from backsliding on their targets. Granted, the UN’s consensus-based model makes this a real danger, but climate negotiations have reached decisions even in the face of opposition from a major power, as happened when Russia was overridden in 2012.

What’s more, withdrawing wouldn’t necessarily stop the US trying to play spoiler anyway. Formal withdrawal from Paris could take until late 2020. Even then (assuming a more progressive president isn’t elected shortly after that), the US could still cause trouble by remaining within the Agreement’s parent treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The “nuclear option” of withdrawing from the UNFCCC itself would create further problems. Rejoining it would be likely to require the approval of the US Senate (which, given its current makeup, seems highly doubtful), whereas a new administration could rejoin Paris through a Presidential-executive agreement.

Will other countries do more?

Major economies like China and India have their own domestic reasons for cutting emissions, not least local air pollution and energy security. Both China and India plan to stick with the agreement regardless of what the US does. There are signs that they will exceed their current climate targets, thus more than outweighing the increase in emissions resulting from US climate policy rollbacks. We can’t be confident that US withdrawal would encourage China and India to do any more than they are already doing now.

The Kyoto Protocol provides a sobering precedent: while those countries that stayed in the protocol complied with their targets, none of them raised their targets to take up the slack when the US withdrew.

Writing in The Conversation, Luke Kemp suggests that US withdrawal could trigger countries to slap carbon tariffs on US imports. Large economies such as the European Union and China could attempt to do so outside the Paris framework, but few (if any) major trading partners will be eager for a trade war with the US.

US withdrawal is just as likely to demotivate other countries as energise them. Nations with less domestic momentum on climate policy may likewise pull out, water down their current or future targets, or fail to ratify Paris. For now, Australia plans to stay in, regardless of what the US does. A greater risk is Russia, the world’s fifth-largest emitter, which doesn’t plan to ratify the Paris Agreement until at least 2019. Other reluctant countries whose stance may be influenced by what the US does include Saudi Arabia and the Philippines (which have ratified Paris) and Iran and Turkey (which have not).

Fallout for multilateralism

Neither of the two arguments I’ve discussed so far amounts to a solid case for leaving. Meanwhile, there is another key reason for the US to stay: the risk that its withdrawal would strike a broader blow to the principle of multilateralism – the idea that tough global problems need to be solved through inclusive cooperation, not unilateral action or a spaghetti bowl of bilateral deals.

The UN climate talks are firmly integrated into the bigger picture of global diplomacy, and the Paris deal itself was seen as a huge achievement for multilateralism. Both the US and Australia previously suffered significant diplomatic fallout for deciding to stay out of Kyoto.

The international reaction to withdrawal from Paris would be even harsher. US participation was a prerequisite for China and India to sign up, and key elements of the treaty were designed to enable the US to join. To pull out after all that would be an egregious violation of trust and goodwill.

Some might welcome the resulting diminution of Trump’s ability to push through his agenda globally. But ultimately the erosion of multilateralism – already damaged by Brexit and Trump’s abrasive trip to Europe – is in no country’s interest if it undermines international trust and cooperation on issues like trade, public health and security.

Treaty withdrawal is uncommon in international diplomacy, arguably much more so than non-compliance. One of the few studies on this issue found that only 3.5% of multilateral treaties had any withdrawals. As most treaty exits are concentrated in a small number of treaties, the risk of knock-on effects is a real concern. When Canada withdrew from Kyoto, for example, it cited US non-participation as a justification.

Given how badly the US is behaving on climate policy, it is tempting to argue that it needs some time out from Paris until it’s ready to play nicely with the other kids again. But the fallout from US withdrawal could last far longer than a one- or two-term Republican presidency.

Withdrawal from Paris would signal, more emphatically than domestic inaction alone, that a major polluter is ready to turn its back on the international consensus that a 2℃ warmer world should be avoided. That would be bad, not just for international cooperation on climate change, but also for the broader project of multilateralism.


The ConversationThanks to Christian Downie, John Dryzek, Mark Howden, Luke Kemp (whom the author debated at an event held by the ANU Climate Change Institute), Peter Lawrence and Jeff McGee for insightful and lively discussions on this topic.

Jonathan Pickering, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance, University of Canberra

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

The world would be better off if Trump withdraws from the Paris climate deal



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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has argued the US should stay in the Paris climate agreement. But for the rest of the world, a US exit is better than staying reluctantly.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

Luke Kemp, Australian National University

The conventional wisdom that the United States should remain under the Paris Agreement is wrong. A US withdrawal would be the best outcome for international climate action. The Conversation

With Trump set to decide on the matter after this week’s G7 meeting, his aides are split on the issue. Chief strategist Steve Bannon heads the faction pushing for an exit. Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson has argued for the US to retain a “seat at the table”.

It is within the president’s power to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and perhaps even the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which has overseen global climate diplomacy for some 25 years.

In a commentary published in Nature Climate Change today, I argue that a US withdrawal would minimise risks and maximise opportunities for the climate community. Simply put: the US and the Trump administration can do more damage inside the agreement than outside it.

There are four key, interconnected risks related to US participation in the Paris Agreement: that the US will miss its emissions target; that it will cut climate finance; that it will cause a “domino” effect among other nations; and that it will impede the UN negotiations.

Money and emissions are all that matter

The first two risks are unaffected by withdrawal. The Paris Agreement doesn’t require the US to meet its current emissions reduction pledge, or to provide further climate finance to developing countries. The agreement is procedural, rather than binding; it requires a new, tougher climate pledge every five years, but actually hitting these targets isn’t mandatory.

The US will probably miss its climate target regardless. It would need more than just Obama’s Clean Power Plan to hit its goal of reducing emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025. And now that Trump has decided to roll back those policies too, US emissions are set to increase through to 2025, rather than decrease.

The same goes for international climate funding, which will be cut under the “America First” budget plan. That includes funds previously earmarked for the Green Climate Fund, which has so far raised US$10 billion in climate aid. The US was to provide US$3 billion but has donated just US$1 billion so far. The remaining money is almost certainly not coming.

Domino effect?

The third risk is the domino effect: that US actions could inspire others to delay climate action, renege on their targets, or withdraw. But there is little evidence to suggest that the US dropping out will trigger other nations to follow suit.

The closest historical parallel is the Kyoto Protocol, which the US signed but never ratified. When President George W. Bush announced that the US would not ratify the treaty, others rallied to the protocol’s aid and pushed through the Marrakech Accords in 2001, to strengthen Kyoto’s rules.

What’s more likely to cause a domino effect is US domestic behaviour, rather than any potential withdrawal from the Paris deal. Other countries are more likely to delay or free-ride on their pledges if they see the US miss its target, revealing how weak the Paris Agreement really is.

Paris has little aside from inspiring public pressure and long-term low-carbon investment patterns. Neither pressure nor the “investment signal” is likely to work if a renegade US shows that Paris is an empty global show-and-tell regime. Investors and the public are likely to lose faith in an agreement that can visibly do nothing to constrain a climate laggard.

The fourth risk is that the US will act as a spoiler in international climate talks. This requires membership. If the US remains in the agreement it will retain a veto in the negotiations.

The negotiations are at a crucial juncture. The so-called “Paris Rulebook”, which details how exactly the agreement will be fulfilled, is being negotiated, with plans for it to be adopted in 2018.

The US could use its voice and veto to water down the rules. It might even stall and overload negotiations by demanding amendments to the Paris Agreement, as Energy Secretary Rick Perry has suggested. A US that has credibly threatened to withdraw may have even more diplomatic clout going forward.

Considered in this light, giving the former head of ExxonMobil a “seat at the table” is a terrible idea.

New opportunities

A US withdrawal, on the other hand, could create new opportunities, such as renewed European and Chinese leadership. In the wake of the 2016 US election, former French presidential nominee Nicholas Sarkozy raised the idea of applying a carbon tax of 1-3% on US imports. In a time of rising protectionist policies, particularly in the US, carbon border tariffs may become more politically palatable.

A US dropout would also be an ideal opportunity for a rising China to stamp its mark on an international issue. It would give both China and the European Union a chance to jump even further ahead of the US in the renewable energy markets of the future.

The EU previously showed leadership in the absence of the US to revive the Kyoto Protocol and forge ahead with renewable energy. This time Europe could do so with the support of another great power.

Such cooperation could take numerous forms. One simple way would be for the two to put forward a stronger joint climate pledge. This could be strengthened by uniting their respective carbon trading schemes and applying a common border carbon tariff.

Trade measures and an EU-China climate bloc will be far more effective than Paris ever could have been. Yet none of these possibilities is likely to become reality without the diplomatically drastic move of US withdrawal. On balance, it is clear that a US climate exit is preferable to remaining.

It is worth stressing here the difference between pulling out of the Paris Agreement and withdrawing from the UNFCCC. The latter is far more dramatic, and more likely to trigger a domino effect. It would also mean the US would no longer be legally bound to report on its emissions and actions to the international community. It would become a complete climate pariah.

A future president could easily rejoin Paris through an executive agreement. In contrast, re-ratifying the UNFCCC might require a vote in the US Senate, which has become more partisan and divided since the convention was first ratified in 1992. However, withdrawal from the UNFCCC would lessen the threat of US obstruction, as it would lose its veto in the wider negotiations and be even more politically ostracised.

Despite this, the same basic risk-opportunity calculus applies. The domino effect may be more likely, but overall a withdrawal is still preferable.

Participation is a red herring

Wanting the US to remain is a short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction. The international community should be much more worried about the real domestic actions of the US, rather than whether it is symbolically cooperating internationally.

The international community appears to be mortally afraid that the US will make the largely symbolic gesture of quitting Paris. Yet there was less concern when Trump rolled back domestic climate measures.

EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete recently stated that Paris allows for the continued use of fossil fuels and provides the flexibility for a “new US administration to chart its own path”.

Is this really a worthwhile message to send to the White House: that blatantly violating the purpose and spirit of the Paris Agreement is fine, as long as you are still cooperating on paper? It is disturbing that symbolism has apparently become more important than action.

Policy, not participation, needs to be the focus of criticism. Otherwise Paris will prove itself to be nothing more than a diplomatic fig leaf.

While Paris may be weak, international climate action can still be strong. The shock of Trump’s withdrawal could make international action stronger by allowing emboldened leadership to blossom elsewhere.

Luke Kemp, Lecturer in International Relations and Environmental Policy, Australian National University

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

Is Paris climate deal really ‘cactus’, and would it matter if it was?


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

President Donald Trump is keeping some of his promises. Late last month he signed an executive order that tore up Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Some commentators see this as putting the world on “the road to climate catastrophe”, while others have described it as an effort at “killing the international order”. The Conversation

Will America lose out? Will China, which has chided Trump for selfishness, be the prime beneficiary as its solar panel industry continues to expand?

Here in Australia, in response to Trump’s order, Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly, chair of the government’s Environment Committee, took predictable aim at Australia’s international climate commitments, labelling the 2015 Paris Agreement “cactus”.

Kelly is on the record as disputing climate science and poured scorn on the Paris deal when it was struck.
He is certainly not alone among the government’s ranks in this view.

The day after Trump’s election win last November, Australia ratified the Paris deal
and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that it would take four years for Trump to pull out.

So is the Paris deal really “cactus”? What would we have lost if so? And does it matter?

What was agreed in Paris?

The Paris Agreement came after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (agreed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992) had suffered a body blow at the 2009 UN climate talks in Copenhagen .

Opinion was divided on the reasons for the failure of the Copenhagen summit, but the then prime minister Kevin Rudd didn’t mince words in blaming the Chinese, infamously accusing them during the negotiations of trying to “rat-fuck us”. (For what it is worth, the British climate writer Mark Lynas agreed, albeit in less incendiary tones.)

A series of fence-mending meetings and careful smoothing of frayed nerves and wounded egos followed over the next five years. The French took charge and, with the price of renewable energy generation plummeting (and so making emissions reductions at least theoretically “affordable”), a deal was struck at the Paris summit in December 2015.

The agreement, notably silent on fossil fuels, calls on nations to take actions to reduce their emissions so that temperatures can be held to less than 2℃ above the pre-industrial average. This limit, which is not actually “safe”,
will require a herculean effort and luck. If you add up all the national commitments, they will most likely take us to roughly 3℃ or beyond.

Australia’s commitment of a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030, relative to 2005 levels, was seen as being at the low end of acceptable, and not enough to help meet the 2℃ limit.

Eminent climate scientist James Hansen labelled Paris a fraud, while Clive Spash (the economist monstered by Labor in 2009 for pointing out that Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was not much cop) thought it was worthless.

British climatologist Kevin Anderson is similarly dubious, arguing that the agreement assumes we will invent technologies that can suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in, well, industrial quantities in the second half of this century.

So why the relative optimism among the climate commentariat? They’re desperate for a win after so many defeats, which stretch back all the way to the Kyoto climate conference of 1997.

Second time as farce?

After Australia’s initial promises to be a “good international citizen”, reality quickly set in during the early years of serious climate diplomacy.

Although Australia was an early ratifier of the treaty that emerged from the Rio summit, it nevertheless went to the first annual UN climate talks (chaired by a young Angela Merkel) determined to get a good deal for itself, as a country reliant on coal for electricity generation and eyeing big bucks from coal exports.

That meeting resulted in the “Berlin Mandate”, which called on developed nations to cut emissions first. Australia, gritting its teeth, agreed. Later that year the Keating Government released economic modelling (paid for in part by fossil fuel interests) which predicted economic Armageddon for Australia if a uniform emissions-reduction target was applied. This work was picked up by the new Howard government.

After much special pleading and swift footwork, Australia got two very sweet deals at Kyoto in 1997. First, its “reduction” target was 108% of 1990 levels within the 2008-12 period (the then environment minister Robert Hill reportedly refused to push for Howard’s preferred 118%).

Second, Australia successfully lobbied for a clause in the Kyoto treaty allowing reductions in land clearing to count as emissions reductions. This meant that Australia could bank benefits for things that were happening for entirely different reasons.

Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in April 1998, but in September of the same year the cabinet decided not to ratify the deal unless the United States did. In March 2001 President George W. Bush pulled out, and Howard followed suit on World Environment Day in 2002.

Kyoto ratification then became a symbol of green virtue out of all proportion with its actual impact. Rudd got enormous kudos for ratifying it as his first official act as Prime Minister. And then reality set in again when he tried to actually implement an emissions-reduction policy.

Why does it matter?

Reality keeps on impinging. In a beautifully written piece in the New York Times, Ariel Dorfman lists disasters befalling Chile (readers in Queensland will feel like they know what he is on about). He concludes:

As we get ready to return to the United States, our friends and relatives ask, over and over, can it be true? Can President Trump be beset with such suicidal stupidity as to deny climate change and install an enemy of the earth as his environmental czar? Can he be so beholden to the blind greed of the mineral extraction industry, so ignorant of science, so monumentally arrogant, not to realize that he is inviting apocalypse? Can it be, they ask. The answer, alas, is yes.

Will the opinions of politicians like Donald Trump and Craig Kelly matter at all as long as the price of renewables keeps dropping? Well, possibly. “Shots across the bow” of renewables policy have in the past made investors nervous.

As Alan Pears on this website, and Giles Parkinson at Reneweconomy
have explained, investors in electricity generation got spooked by the policy uncertainty caused by former prime minister Tony Abbott’s hostility to the Renewable Energy Target. That’s the real (and presumably intended) effect of statements like Kelly’s.

Will it work? Optimists will point to last week’s announcement that a $1bn solar farm will be built in South Australia, regardless of the concatenating Canberra catastrophe. Perennial pessimists will point to the Keeling Curve, which shows a remorseless and escalating rise in the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Time and prevailing politics are certainly not on our side.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

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