The two most vocal and polarized actors thus far during the 2013-2015 Review have been the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Saudi Arabia. They sit on opposite ends of a spectrum from 1.5˚C to obstructing the Review process. For AOSIS, the Review is a priority on their agenda. They advocate for immediate action to meet the 1.5˚C goal with a focus on vulnerable countries such as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDC). They argue that their homeland will be completely destroyed after a 2˚C temperature rise. They see 1.5˚C as a tolerable level in which they can still survive. AOSIS has frequently been the first to comment on any discussion. They are aggressive in advocating for climate action and the reduction of the goal to 1.5˚C. The Saudi Arabians are on the opposite end of the spectrum. This oil soaked nation has been obstructive to the Review process at every opportunity. In a join contact group session with the chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) the Saudis were able to stifle conversations on a draft text. The text focused around applauding the work of the IPCC in creating AR5.
As an example, the Saudis proposed replacing “the Fifth Assessment Report represents the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of climate change to date” with “the Fifth Assessment Report represents a comprehensive assessment of climate change to date.” The US, Norway, the EU, and Japan argued back to the Saudis, that the original statement is factually correct. There is no more comprehensive and authoritative assessment of climate change than the IPCC. The delegates from Saudi Arabia are seemingly intervening to slow down the approval of the text and dilute the conclusions drawn by the SBSTA. Every sovereign nation has power in these negotiations, which forces compromise amongst the groups. Compromise leads to dilution of the ultimate text because it approves the least common denominator.
The biggest outcome from this meeting is that 2˚C is too much. With 0.8˚C warming already having occurred since pre-industrial times and 0.6˚C being baked into the current climate regime, there seems little hope that warming could stay under 1.5˚C. That is to say that we are already committed to approximately 1.4˚C warming and there seems to be little action to stop fossil fuels use immediately. In talking with various IPCC experts, they agreed that it is highly likely that we will blow past the 2˚C limit and warm the planet by several degrees by the end of the century. This means severe impacts.
The Reasons for Concern or the Burning Embers Diagram came out with the most recent IPCC synthesis report.This is the most important figure to the 2013-2015 Review because it shows impacts of warming levels as well as corresponding CO2 concentrations and needed emission reductions. This figure represents an enormous effort from IPCC authors and is one of the more important inputs from the IPCC to the COP. This figure now theoretically constrains global emissions seeing that the 2˚C goal was set in Copenhagen. Carbon dioxide emissions must be limited to between 2,500 and 5,000 GtCO2 since 1870. 1,800 GtCO2 has already been emitted leaving between 700 and 3,200 GtCO2 left to burn. This range will be dependent upon climate sensitivity and response. The lower scenario represents highly sensitive climate response, while the high emissions scenario represents a much less sensitive response. The SED will be concluding in February in Geneva in time for a report by June on the long-term temperature goal. The SED is important in the COP because the Review theoretically sets the level of ambition for the Paris Agreement. While a bottom-up agreement will come out of Paris in 2015, this review sets the groundwork to help ratchet up ambition in succeeding COPs under a pledge and review strategy. With the 1.5˚C target being virtually unreachable, the Review becomes political. Can the countries most impacted by climate change represented in the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) and the Africa Group get parties to agree to the 1.5˚C target? If so, this could have major ramifications for loss and damage as well as compensation. This is an important piece of the COP to watch and many people are not paying attention to it. Another Review is expected to coincide with the next assessment report of the IPCC.
In today’s class lecture we discussed Brazil’s progress towards mitigating climate change. Brazil has made an enormous effort in reducing tropical deforestation,“Brazil has kept 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere since 2004″ (Atkin, 2014). Brazil once had the highest deforestation rate in the world mainly due to livestock and logging. Rainforests are an important carbon sink, however deforestation emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus changing the climate. Although Brazil’s 70 percent decline in deforestation has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, other parts of Brazil are still feeling the effects of climate change. Sao Paulo is suffering from one of the worst droughts to have hit Southern Brazil in several decades. The water scarcity is causing violent conflicts between residents. As the climate continues to change, and droughts become more prevalent we can expect to see more violent conflicts and citizens protesting for access to resources like water, which are necessary for survival. Rainy seasons in Brazil have shown a pattern of less rainfall each year, “The Sao Paulo metropolitan area ended its last rainy season in February with just a third of the usual rain total only 9 inches” (Gomez-Licon, 2014). The government is being blamed for the issues of water scarcity, which shows that as the climate keeps changing and water becomes more limited there must be systems implemented for distributing water equally. Otherwise the world’s poor will be exposed to more vulnerabilities, and violent conflicts will increase.
Atkin, Emily. “Brazil Has Done More To Stop Climate Change Than Any Other Country, Study Finds.” ThinkProgress. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/06/3446097/brazil-cuts-carbon/>.
Gomez Licon, Adriana. “Sao Paulo Drought Leaves Brazil’s Biggest City Desperate For Water.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/07/sao-paulo-drought_n_6118888.html?utm_hp_ref=green>.
Climate change is the largest challenge humanity has ever faced. The problem and solution in its essence are simple: humans are emitting too greenhouse gasses and need to stop these emissions. However, in reality it is exponentially more complicated. The ability to emit greenhouse gasses in unlimited qualities has been built into the fabric of modern society and the global economy, yet, these emissions also threaten to destroy both. The notion of ‘dangerous’ climate change can mean something completely different for each person trying to quantify it; it changes based on region, capacity to adapt, perceptions on the science and so on. For the purposes of this essay dangerous climate change is already happening, at a one-degree increase in global temperatures, and unacceptably dangerous climate change is anything beyond this. Incremental changes in policy and reforms are inherently unable to avoid dangerous circumstances because it is already happening; there is no time to wait for gradual shifts and transitions to a clean energy economy and society. Transformative and radical changes in the way and how much humans consume energy are necessary just to avoid even more dangerousclimate change.
Currently there has already been an observed increase of almost one degree in world temperatures, with roughly 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There has been relative international consensus, with an agreement to review decision later, that a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius is an acceptable amount of climate change to avoid “dangerous” effects. Thomas Lovejoy, a highly respected biologist, has said that based on what he has observed already in terms of ocean acidification, changes in annual cycles, temperature, precipitation and these effects of biology and biological diversity, the idea of two degrees is to much. He noted that anywhere one looks, “the finger prints of climate change” is visible. Just looking at the Burning Embers Graph, created by the IPCC, risk is created with any amount of temperature change. However, if we quantify dangerous change as beginning with the “high risk” category, that begins after one degree and the “very high” category begins right after two degrees. Climate change has already had measurable consequences such water availability, extreme weather events (such as hurricanes and typhoons) that have impacted human health and safety, and an increase in severity and number of wildfires as well as heat waves.[i] While these impacts have not affected each region and every community equally, clearly the world is already at a stage of dangerous climate change for many.
With the realization that the world is already experiencing ‘dangerous’ climate change, the most aggressively climate-resilient pathway must be chosen. A report by the Worldwatch Institute noted that a transformational, “transition is essential if we are to achieve emissions reductions on the scale that the IPCC says is required by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 2-degrees Celsius.”[ii] The report later specifies that a least eighty-percent below 2000 levels, is required. This signifies a truly revolutionary change in energy consumption for such a short time scale, particularly considering this is based off a goal of two degrees, not just one.
Yet, that does not mean it is not possible. According to the same report by the Worldwatch Institute necessary transformational change is viable in the coming two decades (to achieve the 2050 goal) if a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy is used. In the “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policymakers” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said with high confidence that, “Transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways.”[iii] Transformational changes require mitigation actions on these four levels immediately, through a rapid growth in clean energy implementation and use, a drastically more energy efficient society and economy and the strong political force to promote and implement these changes.
An effective strategy of mitigation a few decades ago, before climate change was acutely visible, would have involved incremental changes and gradual policy reform to slowly create a low-carbon economy. However, humanity is no longer in this position. The future security of the world depends on avoiding any and all amounts of dangerous climate change. The ability to do this will directly rely on the collective ability to create rapid transformative change that drastically reduces current greenhouse gas emissions.
Sawin, Janet, and William Moomaw. “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030.” Worldwatch Report (2009): 5-39. Print.
“Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.
[i] “Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.
In the Copenhagen Accord (UNFCCC, 2010), during COP15, 114 countries agreed that “the increase in global temperature should be below 2°C, on the basis of equity”. This has been interpreted as the “dangerous” level agreed to by the parties in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). To have a more likely than not chance at staying below 2°C, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cannot exceed 500ppm (IPCC, 2014). Every 2.13 GtCO2 emitted will raise the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 1ppm (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 2012). As of September 2014, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 395 ppm (NOAA, 2014). Thus, there is approximately 224 more GtCO2 that can be emitted until there is a less likely than not chance of having warming greater than 2°C. To reach this level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global emissions must be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and be at zero or negative emissions by the end of the century (IPCC, 2014). A carbon tax is the most effective way to make the transformative change needed to keep emissions below the agreed upon dangerous level of atmospheric GHGs. An aggressive carbon tax will allow dangerous climate change to be avoided because it is proven to work, it can be implemented quickly, and it has the potentially to drastically reduce emissions.
A carbon tax is an effective tool to mitigate emissions in a least cost manner. Every use of fossil fuels that is worth less than the price of the emissions will not occur and thus reduce emissions. As the fee rises, more carbon intensive activities will become economically infeasible, driving down GHG emissions. Depending on the original fee and rate of increase this would be an effective tool to rapidly decrease emissions at the least cost because market forces will drive carbon reductions. By setting a tax floor, emission reductions are ensured (as opposed to a price cap in cap-and-trade systems) and increase over time with price increases (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). A cap-and-trade system will be associated with less certain emissions reductions because an emissions cap is also an emissions floor (Burtraw and Woerman, 2012). This means that maximum emissions reductions cannot always be achieved because the number of permits issued sets the reduction amount as opposed to market forces pushing emissions with economic forces. This tax scheme allows for efficient carbon reductions.
Several European countries have already put a tax on carbon. Denmark was able to do this successfully by taxing industry emissions to fund renewable energy projects (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). Denmark proved that the carbon tax works when you tax the polluters and subsidize renewable energy (Prasad, 2008). A recent study even found that a majority of republicans, democrats and independents in the United States would support a carbon tax similar to Denmark’s in which all revenues would be returned to research and development of renewable energies (Amdur, 2014). This could make a carbon tax feasible in the US and allow for economically efficient emissions reductions.
During the last week of October 2014, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announced his intentions to introduce a carbon fee bill to the US Senate (Pantsios, 2014). This bill would put a price on the carbon to fund social programs including helping workers transition out of carbon intensive jobs (Pantsios, 2014). Two MIT economists hypothesize that it is better for the economy to have carbon taxes than high federal taxes (specifically looking at the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts) even if those funds go towards social programs or tax cuts (Rausch and Reilly, 2012). For all these reasons, it seems like a carbon fee bill would do well in US congress; it makes logical sense, but the politics can get messy.
Australia passed a carbon tax in 2012 (Meng and others, 2013) under a pro-labor government attempting to reach across party lines to gain votes (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). The politics around this legislation have been messy for a number of years and in 2014 the law was repealed under the notion that it hurts business and is preventing Australia from exporting its rich energy resources to countries across the world (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). AGL Energy was cited as saying that this would cause a loss in revenue in the near term due to loss in assistance from the government/carbon tax; however, long-term profits are now looking up (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). This could lead to backlash from citizens as the government takes away a A$500+ check, which was promised to households in the form of yearly savings (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). Australia is the first example of a nation to pass a carbon fee and then later repeal it. A program, which gives money to the citizens, would seem to have broad voter appeal, like British Columbia’s program (2014). It appears that the politics were not set up properly for Australia to have a carbon fee that sticks. This does not mean that a carbon fee is impossible, but rather that care must be taken to set up a program that is politically feasible.
Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) are a good first step and should not be discourage amongst UNFCCC parties. To be effective, an agreement with a great deal of stringency, participation and compliance must be reached in Paris. It does not appear to be politically feasible, but if a global price on carbon could be agreed upon, this would allow for the best system to tie everyone together ensuring participation and compliance. The tax could provide increasing stringency over time to ensure effectiveness. This would allow certainty around carbon leakage out of countries with strict carbon rules and into low regulation nations. The carbon tax is a clear transformation change that would work to drive emissions down. Incremental changes and small policy reforms are unlikely to put the world in a position to mitigate warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Effective and decisive action is needed immediately to instill transformative change.
Amdur, D., Rabe, B., Borick, C. Public Views on a Carbon Tax Depend on the Proposed Use of Revenue. Issues in Energy and Environmental Policy. Number 13. July, 2014.
British Columbia. Carbon Tax. Ministry of Finance. 2014.
Burtraw, Dallas, and Matt Woerman. “US status on climate change mitigation.” Resources for the Future (RFF) Discussion Paper (2012): 12-48.
Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center – Conversion Tables. September, 2012.
IPCC, 2014: 5th Assessment Synthesis Report, Summer for Policy Makers. [Myles R. Allen (United Kingdom), Vicente Ricardo Barros (Argentina), John Broome (United Kingdom), Wolfgang Cramer (Germany/France), Renate Christ (Austria/WMO), John A. Church (Australia), Leon Clarke (USA), Qin Dahe (China), Purnamita Dasgupta (India), Navroz K. Dubash (India), Ottmar Edenhofer (Germany), Ismail Elgizouli (Sudan), Christopher B. Field (USA), Piers Forster (United Kingdom), Pierre Friedlingstein (United Kingdom), Jan Fuglestvedt (Norway), Luis Gomez-Echeverri (Colombia), Stephane Hallegatte (France/World Bank), Gabriele Hegerl (United Kingdom), Mark Howden (Australia), Kejun Jiang (China), Blanca Jimenez Cisneros (Mexico/UNESCO), Vladimir Kattsov (Russian Federation), Hoesung Lee (Republic of Korea), Katharine J. Mach (USA), Jochem Marotzke (Germany), Michael D. Mastrandrea (USA), Leo Meyer (The Netherlands), Jan Minx (Germany), Yacob Mulugetta (Ethiopia), Karen O’Brien (Norway), Michael Oppenheimer (USA), R.K. Pachauri (India), Joy J. Pereira (Malaysia), Ramón Pichs- Madruga (Cuba), Gian-Kasper Plattner (Switzerland), Hans-Otto Pörtner (Germany), Scott B. Power (Australia), Benjamin Preston (USA), N.H. Ravindranath (India), Andy Reisinger (New Zealand), Keywan Riahi (Austria), Matilde Rusticucci (Argentina), Robert Scholes (South Africa), Kristin Seyboth (USA), Youba Sokona (Mali), Robert Stavins (USA), Thomas F. Stocker (Switzerland), Petra Tschakert (USA), Detlef van Vuuren (The Netherlands), Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium)]. November 1, 2014.
Meng, S, Siriwardana, M., and McNeill, J. “The environmental and economic impact of the carbon tax in Australia.” Environmental and Resource Economics 54.3 (2013): 313-332.
Monica Prasad, “On Carbon, Tax and Don’t Spend,” New York Times, 25 March 2008.
NOAA. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth Systems Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division. Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. October, 2014.
Patsios, Anastasia. Sen. Whitehouse Proposes Carbon Tax to Repay Citizens for Pollution Costs. Eco-watch. October, 2014.
Rausch, S., and Reilly, J. Carbon tax revenue and the budget deficit: A win-win-win solution?. MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, 2012.
Sawin, J., and Moomaw, W.. Renewable revolution: low carbon energy by 2030. Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
Taylor R. and Hoyle R. Australia Becomes First Developed Nation to Repeal Carbon Tax. The Wall Street Journal. July, 2014.
UNFCCC. Copenhagen Accord. “Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009.” UNFCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1. March 30, 2010.
UNFCCC. United National Framework Convention on Climate Change. UNFCCC/INFORMAL/84. 1992.
It is undeniable that the current global climate crisis is unprecedented in international relations. It is an issue of critical importance as it affects each nation at varying degrees and each nation contributes to the problem, in extremely varying degrees. Global climate change, by its nature, necessitates strong, unified global action. However, there is a difference in international relations theory that attempts to understand how and if this transnational cooperation will happen. Realism is a paradigm that asserts that all international relations are based on a struggle for power between sovereign states in an anarchical world. This approach believes that nation states are only interested in their own security and so all actions are defined by the notions of “self- help” and the “security dilemma;” thus cooperation between states to create a system of global governance is impossible. However, liberalism is a paradigm that suggests that perhaps the opposite is true with a different set of international norms and institutions that would facilitate international relations based on cooperation not military might and power insecurities. According to Russell Bova, liberalism holds that, “as long as your state is better off as a result of cooperating with others, the gains of others should not matter” (Bova 19). Certainly, in the issue of climate change each nation would be better off by addressing the tragedy of the commons and cooperating to mitigate the problem. Actions and cooperation already in affect by the international community intend to deal with how to mitigate and govern global climate change, follow the paradigm of liberalism.
Global climate change has forced international cooperation on a smaller but quickly growing scale. There is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international scientific community to inform the policy makers on the science behind the problem. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a treaty created and being implemented by many sovereign nations attempting to cooperate to confront climate change. They also continuously further their cooperation to create better governance through the Conference of the Parties (COP). Out of this international process, the Kyoto Protocol was created in attempt to legally require international participation and cooperation to limit greenhouse gas emissions. There is much speculation on whether or not the Kyoto Protocol was “successful”, however, it is an example of a potential base line for future legally mandated international cooperation. There has also been further and more voluntary cooperation on global climate change, specifically by developing counties, attempting reduce greenhouse gas emission, through the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA). The fact that these actions were all voluntary and were not based on power play between nations implies that there is reasonable evidence that climate change can be regulated globally through continued mutual support and cooperation.
The efforts to govern climate change mitigation through a liberalist mentality have certainly been present in the last couple of decades. While the results have largely been nominal in actually preventing or lessening climate change, the fact that it is happening at all, and is building off of itself to continuously create better cooperation is promising. The prisoner’s dilemma for realists is a way of explaining how parties will inevitably act in their own self-interest, to assume the least consequences. However, the liberal interpretation ends in a scenario that is already playing out in the global action and negotiation of climate change. In this prisoners dilemma the results and ability to cooperate improve after each round of conversation and negotiation. The level of trust increases and the relationships strengthen; the process is one that builds off of itself to create improved cooperation each time. The evidence of the various international organizations and agreements suggest that this process of the prisoner’s dilemma is currently taking place. Realism is perhaps a more appropriate response when dealing with the consequences of climate change, while liberalism is better suited to create insights in how nations are attempting to solve climate change through international relations.
Bova, Russell. How the world works a brief survey of international relations. New York: Pearson Longman, 2010. Print.
Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing climate change. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Held, David, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag. Climate governance in the developing world. Cambridge: Policy Press, 2013. Print.
For as long as there have been humans, there has been conflict and attempts to remedy it. These attempts have been in the form of treaties, intergovernmental organizations, or merely a compromise between two people. The League of Nations was a notable example of an attempt to remedy global conflict. Formed in the aftermath of World War I to foster international security and sustain peace. It was notable in that it represented a fundamental shift from the diplomatic philosophy of the preceding hundred years: The League lacked an armed force of its own and depended on member countries to enforce its resolutions and provide an army if needed. The League of Nations ultimately failed, but it inspired a myriad of intergovernmental organizations post-World War II, among them the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). All of these organizations were created to in some way forge a more peaceful world.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovernmental body under the UN, created in 1988 to assess scientific information relevant to climate change, its impacts, and options for the mitigation of it. The creation of the IPCC was obviously a huge step forward in combating global climate change, as it brought together the ideas of independent scientists in separate fields around the world in an institution devoted to the full-time study of climate change and the addressing of urgent policy questions. But the creation of the IPCC might have been just as important in areas unrelated to climate change.
Stephen R. Weart only mentions it only in a very short, two-paragraph section in his book, The Discovery of Global Warming. But as an international relations major, this short section stood out to me. It discusses the IPCC as being an important player in the promotion of world peace.
One of the problems that international organizations have in creating more peaceful relationships between countries is that all member countries will naturally have conflicting national interests. Just look at the US and Russia—the US has vetoed 14 UN draft resolutions, and Russia has vetoed 11. Realist theory dictates that all states will act in their national interest and increase their power, even at the expense of other countries, because this is the only way for states to ensure their national security in an anarchic system—to become the most powerful state in the system. International institutions were created as a way to mitigate this anarchy, but as long as states remain sovereign the international system remains anarchic.
What makes the issue of global warming different from many other issues that the UN deals with is that the slowing of climate change is mutually beneficial to all countries. While it might not be in all countries; interest to allow Ukraine to join the EU, or to drive Bashar Al-Assad out of power in Syria, it is in all countries interests to mitigate global warming because the effects of a warmer climate on areas such a as a country’s economy, population and on the global food supply will be devastating. Getting countries to work cooperatively on an issue that is mutually beneficial is far easier than getting countries to work together on issues that are more decisive, and countries that cooperate form better relationships and will be less likely to come into conflict with each other. Why are we more scared of North Korea than of the UK, even though the UK has far more nuclear capabilities than North Korea? The UK theoretically should be a bigger threat to us than North Korea, but because we have a good relationship with the UK, we aren’t worried about coming into conflict with it. If these beneficial relationships can be formed between countries through cooperation on an issue that is mutually beneficial, it could be possible to foster more peaceful relationships in the international system. Of course, there are many other problems that must be dealt with before a lasting peace is achieved, but the IPCC could definitely play a major role in creating a lasting peace in the future.