Limping to Paris
Kiss This Important Climate Goal Goodbye

The green movement’s coveted 2C goal may be dead: UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has now said that global climate commitments aren’t enough to keep earth’s warming below two degrees Celsius. In preparation for this December’s big climate summit in Paris, countries are submitting pledges to curb emissions at the national level. So far only 62 member states have turned in their UN homework, but that number accounts for some 70 percent of global emissions. And from the looks of things so far, Figueres thinks that those pledges “do not add up to 2 degrees”, and she “guesstimates” that we’re much more likely to end up somewhere around three degrees Celsius of warming, as compared to pre-industrial levels. Reuters reports:

Aware of the shadow cast by the 2009 Copenhagen summit, the last attempt to reach a global climate deal that ended in failure, EU officials and the U.N. stress Paris is a step, not the end result.

Figueres told reporters in Brussels she wanted it to be “pellucidly clear” that the INDCs were not the magic route to 2 degrees, set as a target by the Copenhagen Accord, from the current trajectory of 4-5 degrees.

So what would missing that target by a full degree mean for the planet? Nothing good, according to researchers. “Beyond two degrees of warming we are leaving the world as we know it”, said the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research’s Anders Levermann. Even Figueres, who has taken on the role of chief hedging officer in the run-up to this year’s climate summit, couldn’t put a good face on this news as she broke it. “Three degrees is much better than 4 to 5 degrees, but it is still unacceptable”, she cautioned. We should take the most apocalyptic predictions with a grain of salt, but nevertheless, if Figueres is right, greens have just been handed a huge defeat on their own terms.

Greens have heaped the expectations high on the Paris summit, but in the months leading up to these supposedly historic talks all we’ve seen has been backtracking and expectation management. Perhaps, just perhaps, this has something to do with the entire approach Paris represents? A Global Climate Treaty can only be effective if it’s both binding and enforceable, and it’s practically impossible to see how delegates from around the world will unanimously sign off on such a document. The U.S. Senate, for one, would never ratify such a treaty, but we’re not the only obstacle—Poland promises to throw a wrench in the works, too. Then also there’s the fact that the gap between the developed and developing worlds looks as wide as ever on the issue.

It hardly seems like we’re heading into a successful chapter in our approach to climate change.

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