Written By: - Date published: 8:59 am, December 17th, 2018 - 23 comments
Categories: climate change, Environment, global warming, james shaw, russel norman, science, United Nations - Tags: matthew hooton
Emissions and global temperatures continue to rise, officials and children and activists decry how little is done, and still massive conferences on climate change take place. The easiest thing to do when faced with a really large human-made problem is to start fighting because it is too hard and we are too small and any response is inadequate.
In the face of human-accelerated climate change, such a cause with so many enemies is hard to entrust to yet another group of countries who don’t have a great track record in enforcing multilateral agreements of this nature. It’s Left Melancholy 2.1.
But nearly 200 nations agreed to the accord in Poland over the weekend. It will seek to limit global temperature rises to below two degrees Celsius. Minister of Climate Change James Shaw said:
The Paris Agreement said what we wanted to do, it didn’t say a great deal about how we wanted to do it. Now that we’ve got this, and this applies to everyone in the world, it should increase momentum.”
On New Zealand’s place in the talks, Minister Shaw commented that New Zealand was part of a group of countries called the high ambition coalition committed to a 1.5 degree temperature goal. It’s useful for New Zealand diplomats and politicians to work in a pack, because our political voice is always going to be small by itself. Which is where the basic confusion of the critics come in; that because we are too small to matter and because our emissions are so small, we should not bother and we should let the larger powers do all the work. This is the view clearly expressed by Matthew Hooten in the NZHerald in October:
Ardern, and even leaders of mid-size powers like Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, do not have the regulatory power to affect the emissions behaviour of a sufficiently large number of people or businesses.
Only Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin do, and only if they act in concert.
This is why Barack Obama dealt directly with then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when salvaging something from the UN’s 2009 Copenhagen fiasco.
Nine years later, Trump has withdrawn the US from the IPCC and the White House says it is already doing everything it plans to do.
Putin denies human-caused climate change and the Kremlin points to Russia’s GHG emissions having already fallen significantly since 1990 following the collapse of the polluting communist system. Neither he nor Xi or Modi have had anything to say about this week’s IPCC report.
There will be no agreement between these four when tens of thousands of delegates jet into Katowice for the IPCC’s next climate jamboree this December.”
Hooten took the easy human route of facing a massive human problem and decrying any attempt to meet it as worthless unless a few great powers did all the work. Yet if we left it to only the great powers to agree, then it is only the interests of the great powers that will be taken into account. Instead we have something substantially more.
And then, on the other side, the NGO leaders felt it did not go far enough. Greenpeace International Director Jennifer Morgan said:
A year of climate disasters and a dire warning from the world’s top scientists should have led to so much more. Instead, governments let people down again as they ignored the science and the plight of the vulnerable. Recognising the urgency of raised ambition and adopting a set of rules for climate action is not nearly enough when whole nations face extinction.”
Previous Green Party MP and now Greenpeace New Zealand Director Russell Norman similarly said:
The downside of the talks is that there’s no increase in ambition in terms of cutting emissions. We’re still on track to increase global temperature 3 to 4 degrees, which would be a global catastrophe. I mean, it was great that Donald Trump and co did manage to completely destroy the Paris Agreement, but if we don’t actually cut our emissions it does just remain a set of rules on a book.”
Well, Mr Norman, like poverty reduction frameworks, common measurement of climate change reduction is a pretty important task in its own right. We’re about to go through a year of common climate mitigation measurement and legislation ourselves. Which is why it was so heartening to hear this morning National Leader Simon Bridges congratulate the success of the accord: to me this is the strong signal that Shaw has done his job in Wellington and has laid the path for full cross-Parliamentary support for his carbon legislation.
But this kind of “Goldilocks” comparison of critical extremes isn’t enough either. Are such conferences really worthwhile? After all, our own voice is so small, our potential mitigation effects so minor. Are these mammoth climate conferences, with thousands of participants and negotiations that inevitably go on late into the night, ultimately capable of addressing the global climate problem? Especially when the outcome is comprehensible only to experts, and greenhouse gases have risen unabated since climate conferences began in the early 1990s?
But there are voices even tinier than ours – whose only recourse is to speak strongly and with one voice, at the only forum designed to hear them. Ask the delegates from the Marshall Islands, Fiji, and many African countries. At these UN climate conferences, this is the only forum where anyone listens to them when they talk about a total threat to their existence. So we support them. Because we too are one of the small voices.
Also, something that didn’t get much attention in Katowice: The countries are planning to provide $100 billion (€88.4 billion) a year for climate protection — all together. An estimated 80 billion is already in place — money that would not have been allocated without the climate conferences.
Finally, the climate conferences are among the few remaining forums for a multilateral attempt at solving global problems under the aegis of the United Nations. This was also why UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres repeatedly urged the delegates in Katowice to reach an agreement.
Perhaps it will only become clear in a few decades’ time what these agonizing, laborious climate conferences have achieved. Climate change is a global problem that can be resolved only if all countries work together. This is often said, but it is, quite simply, the truth. The Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020: It’s the only instrument international climate protection has left. In an age where even the WTO is failing, any major multilateral success on climate change should be congratulated.