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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:

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Nine years later, Trump has withdrawn the US from the IPCC and the White House says it is already doing everything it plans to do.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.

23 comments on “COP24”

  1. Anne 1

    James Shaw seemed reasonably comfortable with the outcome. It was apparently better than he expected:


    My personal view is that the ‘big boys’ will rapidly come on board as the effects of CC start to heavily bite and that is already starting. When it happens those countries will unilaterally swing into action, taking into account what smaller nations like NZ have already established for themselves. In that sense we have an important role to play in much the same way we have done in the past.

    • Wayne 1.1

      I would be surprised if much money for climate change ever gets transferred from developed nations to developing nations. Much more likely on initiatives like Belt and Road.
      It is still the big emitters that have to do the heavy lifting about their own emissions. Some of their decisions have been counter intuitive. Such as Germany replacing nuclear power with coal burning stations. Going to electric vehicles is not much point if the electricity comes from lignite burning power stations.
      India is going to become a very large emittter as it hugely boosts electrical generation with coal. So there are enormous problems to be solved, mostly around electrical generation. Aid won’t solve the coal problem, technology will. In the short term, gas. In the longer term renewables and nuclear. China in particular is boosting nuclear.
      I know there is anxiety about nuclear. France has generated 70% of its power from nuclear for nearly 40 years without incident. But if it had been coal generation, hundreds of miners would have died over that time, typically in small accidents killing one or two.
      Not an issue in NZ where we have many good generating options. But Europe, Japan, the US, China and India don’t. Nuclear is part of their future if they want to seriously reduce emissions.

      • WeTheBleeple 1.1.1

        There’s the nuclear lie again.

        40 years without incident is nothing compared to the millennia it takes for the by-products to be safe.

        If oceans rise you will soon see how dumbfuckingly obvious it is we shouldn’t have built all those reactors on the coast. Not to mention tsunamis, tectonics, a damn meteorite…

        Who’s gonna man all those old nuclear stations when there’s no money left cos we’ve spent it all on tanks and planes securing the oil to fuel the tanks and planes?


        Try again. That was pathetic.

        • Wayne

          Only a tiny fraction of the nuclear wastes has decay lives measured in millennia. The most dangerous wastes produced by the entire US nuclear power plants since the 1950’s would fit into a cube the size of a typical house.

          They are to be stored deep underground in geological strata that have been stable for millions of years.

          China is building literally 100’s of nuclear plants, so they must think they are a good technology for a low carbon future. And India has similar plans.

          Nuclear power plants are not relevant for New Zealand given our small population, but obviously the two most populous countries on earth think they are a very viable option. I don’t think either country is much influenced by New Zealander’s views on nuclear power plants.

          I think Western Europe (France and Germany), Japan and the US are waiting for fusion to be a viable option. Much less waste. But also probably 30 years before a commercial plant will be built. The final stage experimental plant (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor – ITER) is currently being built in France and is expected to start operation in 2025. Total cost to date is US$20 billion. Probable final cost is US$40 billion. So a cost scale on par with the international space station (well 40% of).

          • Draco T Bastard

            Only a tiny fraction of the nuclear wastes has decay lives measured in millennia. The most dangerous wastes produced by the entire US nuclear power plants since the 1950’s would fit into a cube the size of a typical house.

            I see that you’ve been reading the propaganda again.


            A 98-foot-wide, two-mile-long ditch with steep walls 33 feet deep that bristles with magnets and radar reflectors will stand for millennia as a warning to future humans not to trifle with what is hidden inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) outside Carlsbad, N.M. Paired with 48 stone or concrete 105-ton markers, etched with warnings in seven languages ranging from English to Navajo as well as human faces contorted into expressions of horror, the massive installation is meant to stand for at least 10,000 years—twice as long as the Egyptian pyramids have survived.

            But the plutonium ensconced in the salt mine at the center of this installation will be lethal to humans for at least 25 times that long—even once the salt walls ooze inward to entomb the legacy of American atomic weapons.

            there is already so much nuclear waste in the U.S. that, according to NRC, if Yucca were already open, by 2010 it would be filled to its statutory limit of 70,000 metric tons

            Something tells me that 70,000 tonnes of nuclear waste takes up more space than a small house.

            China is building literally 100’s of nuclear plants, so they must think they are a good technology for a low carbon future. And India has similar plans.

            Doesn’t mean that they’re right.

            • Wayne


              The 70,000 tonnes is all the waste, from fuel rods through to contaminated clothes. The actual spent fuel rod waste (the high level waste) is about 20 tonnes per year per plant. It would be a few thousand tonnes over the last 50 years.

              • Draco T Bastard

                It’s 70,000 tonnes of nuclear waste just in the US.

                You don’t get to count only spent fuel rods when there’s so much more.

                • Wayne


                  Yes, you do get to primarily focus on the high level waste. These are the ones for long term storage (hundreds or thousands of years). Admittedly the US has yet to actually agree on a long term depository.

                  France reprocesses used fuel rods and reuses them for fuel, though of course ultimately there is high level waste, but much less of it. The US used to do so, but no longer does.

                  The rest is (relatively) easily dealt with. It degrades to safe levels within years or decades.

                  However, the reason why western countries are focussed on fusion research as the better long term option (2040 and beyond) is that it doesn’t have anything near the problems of high level waste. It is all based on light elements rather than the heavy elements used in fission.

                  Children born today will be around 20 to 30 when the first fusion plants come on line. It really will be central to decarbonising modern civilisation.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    I replied to you last night with links and stuff showing you were wrong but it seems to have gotten eaten by the spam trap.

      • D'Esterre 1.1.2

        Wayne: “Such as Germany replacing nuclear power with coal burning stations.”

        We have family in that part of the world. When we first visited them, around about the year 2000, a relative remarked that the Greens, having acquired enough electoral influence in the Bundestag to allow the formation of a coalition with the SPD, had pressured their coalition partner to close down all nuclear-powered electricity generation.

        So what are we to use instead for electricity? asked said relative plaintively. Coal?

        Now we know.

        • Draco T Bastard

          No you don’t:

          A wealth of numbers and statistics describe the energy generation and consumption of nation states. This factsheet provides a range of charts (and data links) about the status of Germany’s energy mix, as well as developments in energy and power production and usage since 1990. [Updates graphs on renewables share in power consumption & economic growth, power and energy consumption & power generation with new data]

          The charts show that Germany is seriously decreasing power generation by all fossil fuels while massively ramping up renewables.

          So wayne didn’t know WTF he was talking about either.

          • tc

            Wayne’s got that gentle diversionary routine of his down pat. It all sounds soo reasonable till you strip away the rhetoric with those pesky facts.

            Like the good servant of the national party he continues to be.

            Wonder if they’re rostered on or they self organise so no post or thread cops a once over in case there’s rational socially focused sanity/equity prevailing.

            • Wayne


              I don’t do any of this for the National Party. What I write on The Standard is entirely my own perspective. Some of it (but by no means all) may be similar to National.

              I am pretty sure the NP has never considered the role of fusion or fission in future power generation. It is based on my own reading on the subject. There is simply no way anyone in New Zealand, left or right, can influence the plans of China , India, or the western consortium as they grapple with the future of fission and fusion power generation.

  2. Pat 2

    “Rich countries have been promising since 2009 to help rising economies develop technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and protect their people from consequences of climate change.

    But a joint statement from the four countries expressed “disappointment over the continued lack of any clear road map to provide $100bn per year by 2020, as well as on substantially scaling up financial support after 2020”.


  3. roy cartland 3

    I can’t help but look at this $100b figure and wonder… it looks so small, on a global scale. I mean there are individuals who could fund that and still be massively rich! What if the top hundred billionaires threw in a billion each to stop the end of the world? Or even the top 100 militaries?

  4. Poission 4

    The Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020: It’s the only instrument international climate protection has left

    That is incorrect,we also have the Montreal protocol eg The ES of the recent review (nov 2018)

    The Kigali Amendment is projected to reduce future global average warming in 2100 due to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from a baseline of 0.3–0.5 oC to less than 0.1 oC. The magnitude of the avoided temperature increase due to the provisions of the Kigali Amendment (0.2 to 0.4 oC) is substantial in the context of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature rise this century to well below
    2 oC above pre-industrial levels.

  5. patricia bremner 5

    We may be small, but the World is aware of us, even though the map makers left us off their latest offering.
    Jacinda joked about it and within 2 days it was world news. Our impact defies our size.
    NZ can lead in this needed change.
    We need to believe it is possible. Our small family has made a list of “We won’t buy that… we will get/do this instead”. to improve our carbon footprint. Let’s Do This!!

  6. Grumpy 6

    ….or another view from a group frustrated at the hopelessness of such gatherings and the PR fest they have become.

  7. Gosman 7

    Are there any examples in World History where a number of smaller nations have lead the way and created the environment for World wide changes without one of the major powers being involved?

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