Hurrah. The world’s senior political leaders have met and come up with an agreement. With various conditions and weasel word limitations the world has committed, sort of, to limiting the anticipated increase in global temperature of no more than 1.5 degrees celsius. Given that the world has already experienced an increase of 1 degree and that current emissions are still working their way through the environment this is a herculean proposal. Although as pointed out by Sua William Sio this is the difference between a life and death temperature increase for parts of the Pacific Islands and the world owes it to the pacific to do its best.
Now that the goal has been agreed to, even if it is aspirational, the next step is to work out how to achieve it. And a starting point is to review existing pledges made by the various world states. Because as the agreement itself recognises if countries are only able to achieve savings mandated by current national pledges then the cap will be well and truly blown.
From the text of the Paris agreement the COP
[n]otes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2 ̊C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030, and also notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the intended nationally determined contributions in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 ̊C above pre-industrial levels by reducing to a level to be identified in the special report referred to in paragraph 21 below …
How did New Zealand’s proposal rate? Really bad. From Climatetracker:
We rate New Zealand’s INDC 2030 target — nominally a 30% reduction from 2005 levels, equivalent to 11% below 1990 levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions excluding land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) by the year 2030 to be “inadequate.” The “inadequate” rating indicates that New Zealand’s commitment is not in line with any interpretations of a “fair” approach to reach a 2°C pathway: if most other countries followed the New Zealand approach, global warming would exceed 3-–4°C.
The report only gets worse:
New Zealand’s climate policy is projected to head in the opposite direction to climate policy frameworks in China, the United States and the European Union. In China, CO2 emissions are projected to peak around 2025; in the US, emissions are expected to decrease by 14–17% below 1990 levels by 2025; the EU will see a decrease in GHG emissions excl. LULUCF of about 30% below 1990 levels by 2025. In all of these countries, unlike New Zealand, emissions reductions are expected across multiple sectors of the economy, and are not confined to the LULUCF sector. There are virtually no policies in place in New Zealand to address the fastest-growing sources of emissions in New Zealand including transport and industrial sources, which comprise over 50% of the growth in emissions in New Zealand since 1990.
To add to the insults going New Zealand’s way it also received not one but two fossil of the day awards, the first after John Key claimed that New Zealand was reducing fossil fuel subsidies when the reality was they had increased seven fold since National gained power, and the second for siding with the Americans and refusing to agree to compensation for climate change hit countries being considered.
How will New Zealand actually make a meaningful contribution to the COP21 mandated goal?
Obviously scientific advances in how to decrease animal ruminations would be helpful. Funding should be increased, not cut. A decreased emphasis on dairy would help our rivers as well as our climate. We should be planting more forests, particularly on erosion prone areas. And protecting urban trees, in particular ancient Kauri living in the hilly slopes of Titirangi. No more road building and an increased emphasis on public transport, particularly the electricity fuelled sort would help. And more compact city building particularly in Auckland where the need to drive huge distances would gradually make a great difference. And placing an emphasis on renewable sources of energy particularly smaller localised generators which reduce the need for large transmission systems would also be beneficial. And don’t forget people leading a less consumerist existence will make a huge difference.
None of this is rocket science. These proposals have been around for years and do work but there is currently no political will to further any of them.
COP21 needs to mark the start of world wide action to address climate change. This will require individuals, communities, corporations, local government and central government playing their part.
What we do not need is leadership that says it is all too difficult for us to do anything and the economy is more important than our future.