Climate activism is on a roll for the next week and a bit. Next Monday marks the start of a UN Climate Summit where nations are expected to unveil concrete plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions. What are they going to do to help meet the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
Signed in December 2015 by every government on earth except North Korea and Costa Rica, the Paris Agreement stands as the strongest achievement of climate diplomacy since governments first debated the issue at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. In a shock to climate insiders, the agreement not only committed signatory governments to limit temperature rise to the relatively less dangerous level of 2 degrees Celsius. It also obliged governments to keep temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, in a major victory for the most vulnerable countries, to strive for 1.5 degrees.Trump has supposedly pulled America out of the pact only there's a snag.
Despite Trump’s bluster, the US withdrawal still has not happened. Precisely to guard against such capriciousness, the negotiators in Paris stipulated that every signatory was legally bound to remain in the agreement until four years after the treaty took effect, which would only happen after countries responsible for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratified it. Thus, the Paris Agreement did not take effect until November 4, 2016. That means the United States cannot leave until November 4, 2020—which, not by accident, is one day after the US 2020 presidential election.
Trump is not expected to attend this week’s summit; the US delegation will instead be led by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal company lobbyist who is now the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.Monday's summit is supposed to be a gathering to "name and shame" climate change slackers.
“Don’t bring a speech, bring a plan!” For months now, that’s what Secretary General Guterres has been telling heads of state and government. Instead of the endless blah-blah-blah heard at most UN meetings, Guterres wants this summit to be more like “show-and-tell,” a meeting where governments share concrete and replicable examples of how they are cutting emissions and boosting resilience to the climate impacts already unfolding. As such, the summit aims to address a glaring deficiency of the Paris Agreement. In part, because the agreement made emissions cuts voluntary, global emissions have continued to increase since 2015. On current trends, the earth is heading towards 3 to 5 degrees C of temperature rise—enough, scientists warn, to destroy civilization as we know it.
“The secretary general has very clearly demanded that all participants identify very concrete measures that can be implemented immediately,” Luis Alfonso de Alba, Guterres’s special envoy for the summit, said in an interview with Covering Climate Now, a collaboration of 250 news outlets around the world to strengthen coverage of the climate story. “What we need is for all actors to put in practice their commitments [and to] recognize that whatever they had in mind before, they need to do much more—because climate change is running faster than we are, the situation is much more serious than we thought.”It makes you wonder what sort of dog and pony show Canada will be bringing to New York. According to the Trudeau government's own Enviro-Can, we're not even on track to meet Harper's target of 30 percent cuts by 2030 and we're falling ever further behind even before Justin gets his new pipeline to 'tidewater.'
The climb remains very steep, however. Scientists with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared last October in their landmark “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC” that humanity had to slash emissions by 45 percent by 2030, on the way to net-zero by 2050, to hit the 1.5 degree Celsius target. Failure to do so would condemn many millions of people, particularly in poor and vulnerable countries, to destitution and death and make irreversible global warming more likely. Such dramatic emissions reductions, the scientists added, would require the transformation of the global energy, agricultural, transportation, and other sectors at a speed and scale without precedent in human history.The UN can assess and verify and chastise but, beyond that, we're going to have to supply the muscle to hold our governments to their promises. That's especially challenging for the peoples of petro-states who normally have leaders very long on lofty talk but very short on action. Hmm, does that sound familiar?
If you want to Scheer and Trudeau that you mean business and they had better too there are global demonstrations planned for this week and next, a good chance to get some fresh air before the cold returns. In Germany, an inter-city bus operator, Flixbus, will be offering free rides to protesters.