As the Paris COP21 negotiations continue, Kevin Anderson, who is in France for the conference, gives his views.
Paris will witness frenetic discussion centred ostensibly on the long-established 2°C temperature threshold between ‘acceptable’ and ‘dangerous’ climate change. However, as a citizen concerned with the moral framing of climate change, I consider the 2°C increase above the pre-industrial average as too high. It is not a safe threshold. Many people will die as a consequence of a 2°C rise – they will typically be poor, very low emitters, non-white and living in climatically vulnerable parts of the southern hemisphere. And if we’re brutally honest, us high carbon emitters simply do not care. We consider our business-class flights, powerful cars and high-carbon homes are far more important than the lives of those eking out a living in already challenging circumstances.
As an academic who works intimately on issues of mitigation within our rapidly dwindling carbon budgets, I conclude the best that Paris can now deliver is a very slim chance of holding the rise in temperature below 2°C. In 2015, our prolonged and abject failure on climate change has squandered most of the 2°C budget. We’re now well into injury time. The carbon emissions this year will be over 60% higher than at the time of the first IPCC report on climate change in 1990 – a quarter of a century of fine oratory, vacuous promises and complete inaction. And next year the emissions will be higher still.
Consequently, if 2°C is to be anything more than a rhetorical excuse for another international jamboree, Paris needs to deliver rates of mitigation far beyond the unscientific and inequitable levels voluntarily offered by national governments. Moreover, world leaders and many within the scientific community must cease their Machiavellian substitution of real and politically difficult action today for Dr Strangelove engineering tomorrow. We need a radical plan for deep and immediate reductions in emissions by wealthy high-emitters now – not evermore speculative technologies for sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere in decades to come. But let us be clear, it is this latter ruse that underpins the naïve and dangerously misleading optimism in the run-up to Paris.
So where to from here? Horse-trading, short-term political one-upmanship and late night deals will fail – though no doubt a Chamberlain-esque agreement would be held aloft and proudly heralded as an important step forward. But the climate will not be so easily appeased. If the global community is to deliver on its 2°C commitment, leaders in Paris must demonstrate courage, collegiality and candour – in short, leadership.