Paris Climate Agreement Not Strong Enough to Prevent Global Catastrophe
Atmospheric physicist Pablo Canziani explains why the agreement is ‘necessary, but not sufficient’
DHARNA NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore. This week, the most powerful hurricane in a decade hit the Caribbean and now threatens the States. Many climate scientists are attributing the strength of Hurricane Matthew to climate change. On Tuesday, the European Parliament backed the Paris accord to fight climate change, tipping it over the threshold needed to enter into force after 12 more countries joined. U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon called the deal “historic”, as did President Obama. Let’s take a look at what Obama said.
POTUS: Today is a historic day in the fight to protect our planet for future generations. And if we follow through on the commitments that this Paris Agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.
NOOR: Hopes are high that the Paris Agreement will curtail increased climate change that has been linked to the growing intensity of extreme weather events. But a recent report, from Argentina-based NGO, Universal Ecological Fund, found the agreement inadequate. Joining us to discuss this is Dr. Pablo Canziani, a Senior Scientist at the Argentine National Research Council CONICET, and Professor at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional. He’s one of the authors of the report, “The Truth About Climate Change.” Thank you for joining us.
PABLO CANZIANI: Thank you for calling.
NOOR: I’d like to speak about the inadequacies you found in the Paris Agreement but first tell us why the Paris Agreement is important and what is to celebrate here?
CANZIANI: I think what we have to celebrate in the first place is that, with the Paris Agreement, finally we have a starting point to go into serious climate change negotiations and try to build a new plan or scheme for the development of society and the world. So, as a mathematician would say, we have something that is necessary but probably not sufficient. It is a starting point and we have to view it as a good starting point. I think we have to be optimistic in that sense.
However, because the agreement requires that climate change stay below 2o C and that is, I wouldn’t say a mythical figure but it is a very important figure. 2o C means that we can avoid catastrophic climate change, we cannot avoid climate change now because of two things. The inertia of the climate system with response to the delay of 20-30 years of whatever action we take now. Secondly, beyond 2o, you have the emissions that we’re doing now for most greenhouse gases, primarily, carbon dioxide, which comes up from fuel emissions, fuel burning emissions, energy generators, et cetera, has a life span in the atmosphere of 180 to 300 years depending on the calculations. So, whatever we do now will be with humanity for, at least, 200 to 300 years, if not longer. So, we cannot say that we can fight back climate change. The only thing we can do is to stop getting it worse.
NOOR: There’s a growing body of scientific evidence. Study after study that now links climate change to extreme weather events, such as the Hurricane that just ravaged the Haiti and other Caribbean countries . And just before the last G20 meting, massive insurance companies were asking major world leaders to stop subsidizing fossil fuel corporations. So my question is, does the human and financial cost of continuing to use fossil fuels at the rate that we have been, now outweighing the benefits of doing so?
CANZIANI: Definitely, especially when most of the fuel industry is subsidized. Clearly, we have to figure out how to change the production of energy in our world. Our main cheap energy source has been oil and gas. They issue is that that can no longer go on because we are seeing the costs of doing this. It is clear that the cost far outweighs the benefits, right now; far outweigh what we can do to prevent it getting much worse. So, if we have to stop, it’s the time now to stop emitting and try to figure out a new way for the development. Our society has become accustomed to this cheap energy and the fact is that humanity in the future can no longer — if we want to survive in this planet as part of the eco-system, as part of the biosphere and keep the biosphere going — there’s no way that we can go on spending cheap energy as we are right now.
That requires new energy sources, mainly of which we already know of. Like, solar energy, wind energy. We can get energy out of the sea – through the waves – some people are talking about using the different thermal gradients of the sea to retrieve energy. There’s plenty of ways to do it. The only thing is that it requires a lot of change in the way we produce it, the way we distribute it. It requires a change on the average citizen of, especially developed countries and middle-income countries, to change the way they use the energy. That refers to being more efficient in the way we access energy, more efficient in the way we use the energy. And people don’t realize it but globally, only 30 percent of the energy currently being used is made by renewable sources like hydropower or by nuclear energy. 70 percent comes from burning fossil fuels and that is huge.
NOOR: Now, a growing number of scientists are saying that not only is the Paris Agreement inadequate to limit global warming but also, some are saying, that the horse has long left the stable and that it is too late to meet the limits of not only the 1.5o Celsius mark but also the less ambitious goal of 2o Celsius global temperature rise, set out in the Agreement. Do you agree that it’s too late and if not can you speak about some of what your suggestions are as outlined in the report?
CANZIANI: Yes, I would say that the 1.5o limit lower limit that we would hope for the best is almost impossible at this stage. We would need to reach the 2o agreement to go into the optimum scenario from the APCC models, the 2.6 scenario. Which would require a very quick turnaround, by 2030, in the way we emit fuels. We cannot go on growing fuel emissions ‘til 2030. We have to think about reducing our emissions before. If we don’t do that, we’re probably going to overshoot the 2o around 2070 if we do reach some kind of agreement. If we do not reach an agreement, at all, and if we go on with the “business as usual” scenario, we would probably overshoot by 2050. So we have very little time to do the change and that will require a decision by governments, decision by private sectors and participation of the citizenship around the world.
NOOR: In the report, one solution that you talk about is the need for reforestation to absorb greenhouse gas emissions. And you also call for intense financial investment in what’s called “CCS,” carbon capture and sequestration technology. CCS has been a controversial subject in the environmental movement, as you in your report outline. Opponents argue that if CCS is untested, it has the high possibility of leakage of heavy greenhouse gases like methane, which is actually worse than CO2, and it takes up a lot of land, which we’ll need a lot more of due to population growth. Your report says that the world population is set to increase by 40% by 2050. So how would you respond to those who’d ask: why CCS? Why not invest this money in heavily renewable energy instead?
CANZIANI: Well, there are two issues with that. Let’s go with the simpler one. Reforestation has to be done very carefully. As you point out, if we reforest, we’d probably lose food production areas and that is a problem. As you say, world population will probably stabilize around 2050, by about 20.5 billion people, that’s what the UN predicts right now. We have to feed people and we have to include people in the markets. Right now, we have about 49 to 50 percent of the population which are outside the markets and that is a huge problem, as well. If we go to reforestation, we have to be careful because not all reforestation generates the benefits you expect, it’s a main source, you have to work with local species and that is crucial. You have to figure out how that could be done. You could profit from reforestation and use the wood, for example for permanent activities like construction, like furniture, et cetera. So you can enhance the carbon capture.
There’s a lot of discussion with what we call geo-engineering, which would include carbon capture processes. There are some experiments that have been done, which have been successful. Others have been a failure, for example, feeding iron oxide into the oceans. So, it still depends on how the technology will develop. That’s why we request for investment. However, the use of reforestation, the use of carbon capture technologies cannot completely cover — some people have argued the need for emission reductions — you need both emission reductions and working on techniques which are as natural as possible, to capture carbon and fix it again. The other issue is, if emissions go on, you will have a problem with the main sync that we have right now, which are the oceans.
The oceans are also warming at a slower rate than the atmosphere but the warming of the oceans is more dangerous in 2 crucial aspects. The first one is that, as it warms, the ocean reduces its capacity to capture carbon. So, as the ocean warms, it becomes more acidic with the carbon, we lose the biological syncs that retain and reduce carbon in the atmosphere. If the ocean becomes acidic, we will have problems with the bio-dome, with the biosphere, the oceanic biota, and it will warm faster. We have to be careful with the emissions in that sense, too. Its crucial that we reuse emissions on source not just hoping that technology will solve the problem by carbon fixing.
NOOR: Now, the Paris Agreement is set to enter into force in under a month. That’s just ahead of the 22nd UN Conference with the Parties in Marrakech, COP22, which will begin in early November. So I’d like to wrap just by asking: what do you hope goes differently in the Marrakech agreement, can we expect anything better than the Paris Agreement?
CANZIANI: I hope that people revise the INDCs. The INDCs are the engagements countries take to reduce our emissions. Right now, there’s a huge dispersion in the sense that there’re very different INDCs that are not going to comply or help comply with the current Paris Agreement. We need countries to undertake a series of revision of INDCs as required by the Paris Agreement, which is one of the best aspects of the Paris Agreement. Things have to be periodically revised. And that is a feature that was copied from the very successful Montreal Protocol. If people take seriously the revisions, and the engagements they are going to make as nations — and I refer to nations because that way we include the participation of citizens – we will be able to face this challenge. I’m optimistic in that sense. What worries me is that we need to educate the citizen, as we’re doing right now with your help, by talking about all of this. We have to engage the citizen, because as we know in the field of science and the field of social sciences, this is going to be a bottom-up change. This is going to come from the citizen, up through the private sector, and through the government, through the way we can request for change.
A new thing that we have to remember with all these issues is that right now, 25 percent of the global population use about 80 to 85 percent of the resources, including energy, globally. We have 50 percent of the population, which only uses 3 to 4 percent of the natural resources or have access to natural resources. So not only do we have to face the challenge of reducing emissions but making this more fairly distributed, globally. So, that is an important issue to detain in all of our countries.
NOOR: Dr. Canziani, thank you so much for joining us today.
CANZIANI: Thank you so much for your chance to speak about this.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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