In Climate and Ecology

News compilation on New Cold War.org, June 2, 2017 (updated on June 5, 2017)

[And see explanatory note below why Russia voted in favour of the 2015 Paris climate agreement but has yet to ratify it.]

Trump abandons Paris climate deal at bidding of fossil fuel interests

By Sharon Kelly, Desmog Blog, June 1, 2017

‘The Paris accord has been criticized as too weak to address the scale of the climate crisis. Shortly after the November election, the International Energy Agency warned that even if all of the signatories to Paris fulfilled their pledges, carbon emissions would continue to rise, just at a slower pace.’

World leaders pat themselves on the back after approving feeble climate change agreement at conference in Paris in Dec 2015

President Donald Trump made his decision official during a speech outside the White House today, June 1: the U.S. will be leaving the Paris Accord agreement by almost 200 other countries to cut global greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump, who arrived over a half-hour late for his scheduled 3PM announcement, told the gathered press corps that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris accord in November 2020.

“The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord,” Trump said, “but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States and its businesses, workers and taxpayers.”

In Washington on June 1, 2017, Donald Trump announces his regime is pulling out of 2015 Paris climate agreement

“We’ll see if we can make a deal that’s fair,” he added. “If we can, that’s great. If we can’t, that’s fine.”

“Our President is choosing to put American energy and American industry first,” Vice President said as he introduced Mr. Trump.

Less than an hour before the Rose Garden press conference was slated to begin, CNN reported that the White House had told Congress that a pull out was imminent.

“We will initiate the process, which, all told, takes four years in total,” White House energy policy adviser and former fossil fuel lobbyist Michael Catanzaro told Congressional staffers in a conference call just before Trump’s speech. “But we’re going to make very clear to the world that we’re not going to be abiding by what the previous administration agreed to.”

Condemnation from environmental groups was swift. “President Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Climate Agreement sends a dangerous signal to the rest of the world that the United States values fossil fuel industry profits over clean energy innovation and the health and well-being of our citizens,” Earthworks’ Executive Director, Jennifer Krill said in a statement. “The over 12 million people living within a half mile of an oil and gas facilities deserve action to reduce air pollution, not head-in-the-sand climate denial.”

Political centrists also bemoaned the President’s choice. “Protecting American interests in a complex, connected, and unfortunately dangerous world requires partnerships and reciprocity,” Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet said in a statement. “This decision has troubling implications far beyond the climate issue.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump repeatedly pledged his administration would drop the Paris accord. But under immense pressure from world leaders, the business community, and his daughter Ivanka, Mr. Trump had seemed to hesitate.

He teased his Paris decision on Twitter for days before making an official announcement of his decision.

Trump’s drawn out decision-making process had many commentators comparing the announcement to a reality-T.V. finale – though the conclusion could substantially impact the lives and livelihood of virtually every person on Earth if the U.S. fails to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

For all the showmanship, Trump’s decision on the Paris accord was overshadowed on Wall Street by a broader commodities sell-off. Shares in coal mining companies as well as oil and gas producers slid on Wednesday, weighed down by low prices, with some coal investors fearing a backlash from a U.S. exit from Paris.

The political crisis, which spurred alarmed reactions from world leaders, corporate CEO’s and major businesses, and environmental groups alike, has been almost entirely of Trump’s own manufacture.

A narrow coalition of 22 Senate Republicans (a group who has taken a combined $10 million in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industries, a Guardian investigation noted), a handful of state attorneys general and climate science denying think tanks pressed Trump to keep his campaign-trail pledge by abandoning the pledge of the U.S. government.

In the other corner, an array of unlikely allies ranging from the Pentagon and the Kremlin, oil giants and environmental groups, along with 40 Senate Democrats plus Republican Senators Bob Corker (TN), Lindsay Graham (SC) and Susan Collins (ME), have all urged that the U.S. take its climate obligations seriously.

Members of the President’s party have struggled to articulate why exactly the U.S. should leave the international agreement. “Obviously there’s some concern that there’s obligations under the accord that the President doesn’t want to – have those obligations,” said Lousisana Republican Senator William Cassidy, when a reporter asked what the upside to leaving Paris might be. Sen. Cassidy, who described himself as “neutral” on staying or leaving, added, “and that’s why he gets paid the big bucks.”

The Paris accord has been criticized as too weak to address the scale of the climate crisis. Shortly after the November election, the International Energy Agency warned that even if all of the signatories to Paris fulfilled their pledges, carbon emissions would continue to rise, just at a slower pace. “While this is a significant achievement, it is far from enough to avoid the worst impact of climate change as it would only limit the rise in average global temperatures to 2.7°C by 2100,” the IEA wrote. That’s nearly double the 1.5° C warming target that was heavily debated during the Paris negotiations. The accord ultimately called for efforts to keep temperatures “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.”

Two degrees of warming could leave many American cities partially underwater, cause crop failures, increase the severity of storms, and make it unlikely for coral reefs to survive. Between two and three degrees, predictions become extraordinarily grim and experts warn of crossing a tipping point where natural processes that pull carbon from the atmosphere could reverse or a melting permafrost could unleash vast amounts of methane.

Still, the Paris agreement had been hailed as unprecedented in scale and scope, reflecting an extraordinarily rare global consensus. “The greatest triumph of the Paris climate agreement is that there is an agreement at all,” the Atlantic’s Robinson Myer wrote.

“Global South and Global North countries alike have grave concerns with the Trump administration’s head-in-sand views on climate change,” Corporate Accountability International President Kelle Louaillier said in a statement. “The global community must move forward, leave Trump, Tillerson and their oil lackeys behind, and advance lifesaving climate policy now.”

Read also:

Five things to consider on Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement, by Brandon Wu, published on Global Justice Now, June 2, 2017

Tobacco to fossil fuels: Tracing the roots of Trump’s claims on Paris climate deal, by Graham Readfearn, Desmog Blog, June 1, 2017

Carbon dioxide set an all-time monthly high in May 2017, by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, June 2, 2017

With May in the books, it’s official: carbon dioxide set an all-time monthly record. It’s a sobering annual reminder that humans are pushing the climate into a state unseen in millions of years. Carbon dioxide peaked at 409.65 parts per million for the year, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

New studies highlight danger in failing to rapidly cut carbon emissions now, commentary by Roberts Scribbler, May 25, 2017

The Earth is on track to pass 1.5 C degree of warming by 2026, by Fred Pearce, New Scientist, May 11, 2017, print edition of May 20, 2017


On Trump’s big Paris agreement pullout

Unsigned commentary on Newsvandal, June 1, 2017 (editor JB Sottile)

President Trump just yanked the Yanks from a treaty that was intentionally designed to be mostly non-binding because the Senate would never pass a binding treaty on climate. It was, however, a significant global political agreement to move toward goals that would create a working framework built on an unprecedented consensus. Mostly, Paris was an important admission that there is a problem … like an environmental AA meeting. So what just happened?

Trump used the Paris Climate Agreement as a buttress. This was a political ploy to shore up support among his loyalists out in the vast swath of Red on that electoral map he recently hung in the White House. This was a move meant to give the President a chance to say he’s fulfilling promises. This was about serving red meat to demoralized Trumpist media outlets. This is about generating a much-needed point of agreement with increasingly uncomfortable conservatives in Congress. This is about selling a new catchphrase: “Pittsburgh before Paris.” And this speech signaled the return of Bannon.

Trump rehashed the grievances of his campaign with all its incessant whining about the ways the world is taking advantage of America. It doesn’t matter that the global system was constructed by the U.S., in the interest of the U.S., and with American corporations and financial “leaders” always benefiting from this system. It doesn’t matter that the American people have benefited mightily from this system, too. America is less that five per cent of the global population, but it consumes over 26 per cent of the world’s resources. America’s middle class was enriched by America’s domination of the global system it created. But now the world is leveling out a bit and Trump is telling the people they should moan and groan because the benefits of the post-WWII system are waning … because America isn’t getting everything.

Yet the truth is that America’s wealth isn’t being stolen by wily Chinese or shady Indians or conniving Europeans. The people who’ve hoarded the wealth are not only a lot like the people in Trump’s cabinet, some of them are in Trump’s cabinet. Ivanka and Jared are hoarders, too. And so, too, has the oil industry and the defense industry each held a death-lock grip on this system. In fact, the intersection of weapons and crude is the nexus of the system Trump slags-off as some global conspiracy to deny Americans their birthright. And it is a big reason why the Paris Agreement was needed in the first place.

But that’s okay. Why? Because Trump is unintentionally creating space for the the rest of the world to finally have a real say in the way the global system works. He’s catalyzing even more leveling-off of an imbalanced system long tilted by America in America’s favor. Trump has been totally played by President Xi. Outmaneuvered by Vladimir Putin. Dismissed by Chancellor Merkel. And now he’s shown the world that America is more fallible than ever. It is moving backwards. It is retreating. And that’s more room for China and Europe and Russia. Maybe that’s not so bad. Maybe it is a good thing that America is the laughingstock that Trump, in a perfect moment of solipsistic irony, said he wanted to forestall.

One thing is for sure, the rest of the world shouldn’t wait around for America to clean up its own mess … because that’s something it was loath to do well before Trump body-slammed the body politic and put the future in a headlock. Alas, that’s a wrestling match America is now having with itself … and the rest of the world should just head for the exits.


Paris climate deal is agreed – but is it really good enough?

By Michael Le Page, published in New Scientist, Dec 12, 2015

History has been made in Paris – but perhaps not the kind of history we hoped. The climate summit in Paris may come to be remembered as the moment when the world’s leaders let the last hope of limiting warming to 2 °C slip away from us.

The Paris agreement, which covers the period 2020 to 2030, is a better deal than many expected, and if countries stick both to the spirit and the letter of the agreement, it could give us a good chance of limiting global warming to under 4 °C and perhaps even under 3 °C. But this is far from certain. The Kyoto Protocol was hailed as a dramatic turning point when it was agreed in 1997 but most now regard it as a failure.

Many scientists have welcomed the stated aim in the Paris agreement not just of trying to keep warming under 2 °C but endeavouring to limit it to 1.5 °C – a more ambitious goal than expected before the summit. However, they point out that what is in the agreement does not go nearly far enough to achieve these aims. The strongest criticism has come from renowned climate scientist James Hansen.

Worthless

“It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises,” Hansen said today. “As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

It has long been clear that what countries were offering to do as part of a deal was not nearly enough to keep us under 2 °C. In the lead-up to Paris, this was not only been acknowledged but stressed by many involved in the process, including UN chief negotiator Christiana Figueres.

This has not changed. “The emissions cuts promised by countries are still wholly insufficient,” says Corinne Le Quere of the University of East Anglia, who studies global emissions.

However, the agreement does contain a “ratchet mechanism”. Countries will have to say every five years what they are doing tackle climate change review – what will now be called their nationally determined contribution. Each successive NDC “will represent a progression beyond” the country’s previous one. This wording did not appear in earlier versions of the agreement, in which the language was weaker.

The idea is that this will ensure countries rapidly “ratchet up” their ambitions. But the gulf between what is being done and what is required is huge, and nothing in the deal compels countries to make much greater efforts required. While the deal is being described as legally binding, countries can withdraw from it without consequences, as Canada did from the Kyoto Protocol.

Now or never

And time has nearly run out for limiting warming to 2 °C. “If we wait until 2020, it will be too late,” climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre in the UK told New Scientist on Friday. “It’s a very small window.”

As for 1.5 °C, it would take nothing less than “a true world revolution”, according to Piers Forster of the University of Leeds. “We need renewable energy, nuclear power, fracking, zero-carbon transport, energy efficiency, housing changes,” he said. “Even international aviation and shipping that were excluded from this report will need to be tackled within the next few years.”

Few regard this as a realistic prospect, not least because no politician would be prepared to take the drastic and costly measures required. “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5 °C is simply incompatible with democracy,” Michael Grubb of University College London told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

But unless such drastic action is taken in the next few years we are headed for a very different world, one in which seas will rise by more than 5 metres over the coming centuries, and one in which droughts, floods and extreme heatwaves will ravage many parts of the world.

There has been much praise for the way the French have organised the summit and handled the negotiations.

The deal in Paris may well have been the best deal possible. But the protesters outside the summit are right when they say it will not save the planet.

“The bureaucrats have a better grasp of what is politically possible, and the protesters of what is physically necessary,” says Anderson. “What do you want to bet on, science or politics?”


Explanatory note by New Cold War.org:
As of June 2017, the climate change mitigation agreement reached at the United Nations-hosted conference in Paris in December 2015 (Wikipedia) has been signed by 195 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including Russia. One hundred and forty eight of those countries have ratified the agreement. The agreement does not come into effect until 2021.

Russia has not ratified the agreement because of the complexities of bringing its oil and gas-dependent economy into line with greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. As well, Western economic sanctions imposed against Russia since 2014 make it more costly to adhere to the modest goals of the Paris agreement. For further explanation of Russia’s handling of the Paris agreement, see this article published in September 2016 at The Conversation.

Two signators of the Paris agreement–Canada and Australia–are taking aggressive action to expand tar sands bitumen production, coal extraction and a host of other climate-wrecking projects. Germany is switching to greater use of non-fossil fuel energies but is simultaneously increasing its extraction and burning of coal. All the big capitalist countries of the world are increasing their production and use of automobiles and every imaginable consumer product, while urban sprawl continues apace. Thusly do they negate any of the supposed gains of signing the Paris Agreement.

And did we mention the utterly wasteful and destructive spending on weapons of war? See, for example: Canada’s multibillion-dollar warship replacement plan is 2.4 times over budget, The Canadian Press, June 1, 2017 (‘The cost to produce 15 warships is closer to $61 billion, not $26 billion, and could grow with delays, says federal gov’t budget watchdog’).

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