What Happened At Durban?

Cross-posted from NextGen Journal

Following the COP17 talks in Durban, South Africa – the latest attempt to create a global deal to cut carbon emissions and solve global warming – world leaders claimed they had “made history”, calling the conference “a great success” that had “all the elements we were looking for”.

So what agreement did they all come to, that has them so proud? They agreed to figure out a deal by 2015. As James Hrynyshyn writes, it is “a roadmap to a unknown strategy that may or may not produce a plan that might combat climate change”.

Did I miss a meeting? Weren’t we supposed to figure out a deal by 2010, so it could come into force when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012? This unidentified future deal, if it even comes to pass, will not come into force until 2020 – that’s 8 years of unchecked global carbon emissions.

At COP15 in Copenhagen, countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The German Advisory Council on Global Change crunched the numbers and discovered that the sooner we start reducing emissions, the easier it will be to attain this goal. This graph shows that if emissions peak in 2011 we have a “bunny slope” to ride, whereas if emissions peak in 2020 we have a “triple black diamond” that’s almost impossible, economically. (Thanks to Richard Sommerville for this analogy).

If we stay on the path that leaders agreed on in Durban, emissions will peak long after 2020 – in the best case scenario, they will only start slowing in 2020. If the triple black diamond looks steep, imagine a graph where emissions peak in 2030 or 2040 – it’s basically impossible to achieve our goal, no matter how high we tax carbon or how many wind turbines we build.

World leaders have committed our generation to a future where global warming spins out of our control. What is there to celebrate about that?

However, we shouldn’t throw our hands in the air and give up. 2 degrees is bad, but 4 degrees is worse, and 6 degrees is awful. There is never a point at which action is pointless, because the problem can always get worse if we ignore it.

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9 thoughts on “What Happened At Durban?

  1. World leaders have committed our generation to a future where global warming spins out of our control. What is there to celebrate about that?

    This is, I think, what’s known as ‘spin’: if they act as though there’s something to celebrate, and do so using enough of the right words, they can convince enough people that they’re doing a good job ‘leading’ us. Which is, from their point of view, definitely worth celebrating.

    Of course, what we should be doing is preparing the guillotine — for the lot of them, the incumbents and the useless wannabes waiting in the wings. Politicians: bah! humbug! (to use a topical expletive).

  2. The big issue was some language about how India and China agree not to a treaty but other legal mechanism. They were quite prepared to walk.
    The point was to get some sort of agreement, so they can still agree to have another meeting in the future. Otherwise, if there is no agreement, why have another meeting? It is not just 2015, they are saying the new agreement that they agree to pass by 2015 will take place by 2020. By that time, Chinese emissions will double. Indian emissions will double. Those countries are already 30% of emissions. So there’s a 30% increase right there.

    Canada has withdrawn. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, any country that doesn’t meet its obligations in the first period will be subject to a 30% penalty in the 2nd period. Anyone think this will be enforced?

      • So, a further example of agreement bodging by people who didn’t really want to be bound by any agreement in the first place. According to the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted on 11 December 1997 and ‘sets binding targets’. If Canada’s withdrawal was just in time to avoid the penalties by which it was (in theory) bound, one has to wonder which skanky politicians wrote such a ludicrously long opt-out period into a ‘binding’ protocol. I shouldn’t be surprised: reality distortion is, after all, their stock-in-trade.

  3. But how do the penalties work? Say Canada was 5% short of its target. That penalty would be another 1.5% reduction in emissions that Canada will not meet.

  4. “I must clarify that this decision does not imply that India has to take binding commitments to reduce its emissions in absolute terms in 2020.”

    India’s environment minister, courtesy of Roger Pielke Jr.
    These things have been obvious for over a decade. Countries are happy to have other countries reduce emissions, but they will not do so themselves. They want other companies to give them money.

  5. The attendees at Durban were expected to make some progress… but almost all collectively managed ‘deliberately’ to accomplish absolutely nothing….most attendees likely where sent be noticed,to wave the IPCC flag……The main orders were ‘don’t rock the boat’—’MY supporters(voters back home) must not be confused by our hedging about manmade climate change… So we say nothing about the mountains of advice fed to us by our technical advisors,much of which strongly challenges the concept that climate change has any connection to manmade anything–atleast until after the next election..The Durban delay should be welcomed … the debate needs to continue(science is about debate…we learn everyday that some settled science,thought to infallible concept/theory is being challenged…)

    Please give us some citations for these claims, as per the comment policy. Thanks. -Kate

  6. Not sure I’d call 3.7% annual de-carbonisation a bunny slope. It would still be a very difficult task, far exceeding the rate of any previous de-carbonisation except post-Soviet Russia (which was no walk in the park if you look at the demographic statistics).

    But I take your point.

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