Last year around this time I wrote a summary of what to expect in 2017 on the case of climate change, and I felt that it is necessary to continue on this year. The aim of this piece is to provide readers an insight as to what took place in 2017, and lastly what to expect in the upcoming year of 2018.
The rise of greenhouse gases has been a persistent issue for many years, but has gained certain relevance in the last decade or so. However, writers and followers of the environmental politics do not find it fit to call it an issue of greenhouse gases, but rather an issue of climate change. The reason for this identification is a more professional explanation of the issue at hand, and, relatively, a more fitting description of the shift in the environment of the world. The rising number of extreme weather storms, and the shifts of rising global temperatures have been the reason to dub the issue at hand as climate change.
In an article written by David Suzuki, and in discussion with Van der Weil on the case of climate change, Weil has said in an email “The climate is changing in many places over the world and these changes are ongoing now”. He also said that “Globally, mild weather is decreasing and in many locations summers are going to be increasingly too hot and too humid to be considered mild. These are not desirable changes.”[i]
The purpose of this paper is not to only give the reader an understanding of climate change, but to also make people familiar with the Paris Climate Agreement (henceforth Paris Climate Accord). The public needs to understand this agreement, and how important it will be in shaping future agreements and declarations of environmental protection. In addition, the public and the academicians must familiarize themselves with the topic of environmental protection, because it will be a dominant topic in the foreseeable future.
The Paris Climate Accord
The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is redrawing the way to battle climate change, and the start of it all was the Paris Accord. The UNFCCC negotiations, which include every COP since 1995, formerly ran on a cycle where a new agreement was always the next finish line. The Paris Climate Accord was intended to end that cycle.[ii] The Paris Climate Accord was set out to be the focal agreement to lay a foundation. Every following COP will present a chance to the participating nations to come to the table and discuss their efforts and plans. The legal basis for the Paris Climate Accord comes from a treaty signed in 1992 from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.[iii]
The 1992 UN treaty set the following long-term goals:[iv]
- Avoid dangerous human interference with the climate system.
- Establish principles to guide the global effort.
- Commit all countries to “mitigate” the effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead of having a different agreement or accord every five or ten years, the Parties are expected to regularly submit new nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Thereby, setting forth each Party’s individual pledge to address global warming with each interaction steadily improving upon those already submitted.[v]
The Paris Climate Accord is essentially, a set of rules and laws for nation states to participate by, in order to meet one of its essential goals of keeping the global temperature under 2˚C. In addition, the entire succeeding COP’s, after Paris Climate Accord, will be to implement and analyze the actions of NDC set out by each nation. There are several concerning issues pertaining to the Paris Climate Accord. Most importantly, is that the state is the driving force and is the primary actor for implementing or taking on the Paris Climate Accord. Thereby, the State is the ultimate decision maker, thus, it sets its own NDC without any exterior influence. However, this is necessary in order to “not scare off”[vi] states from engaging on issues dealing with the environment.
On the other hand, it is evident that a collective effort is needed to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Climate Accord. However, we cannot ignore the fact that this cannot happen without a fully pledged participation from the world top 3: China, USA, India and the EU respectively. The EU and USA pledges are substantial 40 % and 28 % reductions by 2030 and 2025, and 80 % and 83 % by 2050. In the meantime, China’s emissions peak by 2030 at about current levels and sharply decline thereafter. But their pledges are neither fair nor ambitious enough to seal the deal in Paris.[vii]
However, since the signing of the agreement on December of 2015 there have been several shakeups. For example, the Trump administration playing insisting that it will not only withdraw from the agreement, but also, will not recognize it in any form. Adversely, China and India have amplified their efforts in reaching their goals by introducing new plans and trying to implement alternative energy. Lastly, the EU seems to have been on board from the beginning and leaders, like Macron and Merkel, have recently spoken about the Accord and consider themselves to be fully pledged in meeting their goals and making a difference overall. Therefore, “a cumulative emission approach to assess whether national emission reduction intentions (INDCs) submitted in advance of the Paris meetings are both ‘fair and ambitious’ enough to put the world on a path that would limit global warming to 2 °C, with at least 66 % probability.”[viii]
Relevant Events that occurred around Climate Change in 2017
Unfortunately, after what was said above, regarding pledges being made and nations stepping up to fight climate change, one event that really stood out in 2017 was the Trump administration official announcement, that they are removing themselves out of participation in the Paris Climate Accord. Despite Trump’s very public Rose Garden announcement on the Paris Climate Accord, the official withdrawal is not possible until three years from the date of the Agreement’s entry into force, November 4, 2019. The withdrawal does not take an effect for a year thereafter — the day after the next U.S. presidential election.[ix] The 2020 election may thus serve as a referendum, at least in part, on the decision to withdraw. In the interim, however, the United States remains a party to the Paris Agreement, and its negotiators have continued to be fully engaged. The United States still has an extraordinary center of gravity in the negotiations, but its credibility is badly damaged.[x] Of course, one cannot solely blame the US for not signing on, because current members like Turkey have signed the Accord but have not completely bought into it, which essentially, is another issue on its own.
Moving on, the question remains who’s on board and who is not? It is important to look at facts that neither side can elude in the case of climate change. For instance, according to the Global Carbon Budget estimates, that global carbon emission from fossil fuel would have risen by 2 % by the end of 2017. Furthermore, an estimate of 37 billion tons of CO2 will be emitted from burning fossil fuels, the highest total ever.[xi] The report goes onto say that China has seen a 3.5 % increase in emission which makes it the world’s leading polluter, in contrast, where low rain levels have reduced low-carbon hydroelectric output, and industrial activity has increased. India’s rise in emissions was modest compared to previous years at 2%, whereas, the EU and US are both on track for small falls.[xii] Most importantly when it comes to treatment one of the first steps to take; is to have the major polluters unilaterally involved and engaged to make a change. In order to do this, there needs to be a legal binding document. This is where the Paris Climate Accord comes in. However, one of the drawbacks of the Accord is that it is based on voluntary cuts by nations, and without verifications that pledges have been fulfilled; the trust that underpins the deal could be eroded.[xiii]
Heading into 2017, there were only two nations that had not signed unto the accord being Nicaragua, due to corrupt government, and Syria, being in a state of war. Nonetheless, in the summer of 2017, we saw Nicaragua join in and eventually Syria joining in later in 2017 right before the Bonn COP 23 meeting. In contrast, the US redefined its role as an absentee by not partaking in the Accord. As stated above, the blame cannot be solely placed on the US, because there are still nations that have not ratified the agreement. At this point, 169 countries have ratified the agreement, and the others that haven’t include: Russia, Turkey, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, as well as some smaller nations.[xiv] Signing on the accord is frankly not enough to merit the nation’s role or their commitments to fight climate change. Most nations are signing because it’s what is trending, and the new thing that implies they can play a fair game and be a good sport.
Each country that submits a national pledge, is encouraged to do as much as it can, and only peer pressure and financial incentives might induce them to step up their ambitions. The fossil fuel reliant nations, that have joined the deal, did so because they were given more flexibility, and the option to make weaker commitments rather than comply with rigid requirements that would have collapsed under the pressure.[xv]
One of the government bodies that made some noise in 2017 was the European Council of the European Union. In June, the ECEU showed their commitment after the Trump Administration withdrew from the Accord, by lamenting their commitment, and encouraging help to the developing countries, to achieve their goals and mobilise 100 billion USD per year by 2020 for climate action.[xvi] Moreover, at the same time, the heads of states of governments reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to a swift and full implementation of the Paris Accord on climate change. This includes the climate financial goals, and leading the global transition to clean energy.[xvii] Likewise, in October, the Council reaffirmed the EU’s main goal of reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions, by at least 40% by 2030 in comparison to the 1990 levels. The EU, thereby, would focus on advancing the implementations of the Paris Accord and develop its guidelines to ensure a balanced global climate deal at COP 23.[xviii] For the COP23 UN climate change conference in Bonn, the EU focused on advancing the implementation of the Paris Agreement. It has as well focused on developing a set of guidelines, of all its provisions, to ensure effectiveness of the global climate deal.
Bonn COP 23
The essential aim of the meeting was to expect each participating nation state to introduce their goals, and their road maps to tackle them in the future. Bonn started out well, as there were two new members at the table: Nicaragua and Syria along with the compelled US representatives. A senior negotiator from a developing country said; that the best result that could be hoped for in Bonn, would be that the participants are able to submit their differing points of views on various steps that have to be taken to implement the Paris Agreement.[xix] Bonn was the ground on which nations came to debate and share ideas, and how they could bring nations together in fighting against climate change.
There was one particular issue that needed a resolve at Bonn, the reintroduction of the pre-2020 agenda into the negotiations, and clearly deciding how this agenda will be addressed over the next three years. The pre 2020 agenda refers to the commitments that the developed countries have made to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, also, to providing finances to those countries to fight climate change by 2020.[xx] In contrast, the common ground was not established, thus arguments had erupted between the developed nations and developing/undeveloped nations. Unfortunately, this still seems to be an issue that the climate change cause cannot come around.[xxi]
Relevant Climate Change Issues to look forward to in 2018
There were several issues that surfaced in 2017, and unfortunately were not laid to rest by the end of the year. However, 2018 might be the year that issues like commitment gets serious. Ideally, we see every nation state developed, developing, or undeveloped understand and work towards the goal set out in the Paris Climate Accord. With global CO2 emissions from human activities, estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2°C let alone 1.5°C.[xxii] Interestingly, the main cause of the expected growth has been the greater use of coal in China, as its economy expanded. The report points out that China’s growth in fossil emissions will rise 3.5 %.[xxiii] Therefore, scientists suggest that a global limitation in the CO2 emissions, before 2020, is needed to bar dangerous global warming this century.[xxiv]
Moreover, 2018 presents an opportunity for countries to step up and show their commitment. When the Trump administration lacked the will to bind by the laws of the Paris Climate Accord and backed out of the agreement, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “deeply disappointed” in the US’ decision to withdraw from the Paris deal, declaring “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change.” … “If the US is going to step back, we’re going to step up,” Canada’s environment minister Catherine McKenna said.[xxv] Canada might not be a top 5-carbon polluter, but because of its history with its premature withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, all these talk by Mr. Trudeau and its administration seem boastful. The reason for this statement is that Mr. Trudeau has, in recent months, approved bitumen pipelines and liquid natural gas projects. This led the Canadian activist in Canada to doubt Mr. Trudeau’s intentions of true leadership, saying that he would have to reject new fossil fuel infrastructure — something that will be a steep and perhaps unrealizable challenge.[xxvi]
More importantly, as stated in the first part of this article, nations like China, Germany, and France have made serious commitments to doing their best in meet their goals. Furthermore, the EU has made it quite certain that it would be moving forward with or without the US. Besides, Mr. Macron has publicly invited US scientists who work on climate change to move to France, and encouraged Mr. Trump several times to remain in the deal. Also, Ms. Merkel put climate change at the center of G20 summits in Hamburg, Germany in 2017.[xxvii]
Geoff Dembicki lays out nine reasons to be optimistic about climate change in 2018, I, on the other hand, will focus on several that I believe not only will be effective in 2018, but also that will carry over well into the future regarding this study. One of the primary matters is that we may have finally seen the flame of popularity of the fossil fuels burn out, as renewables will take its place.[xxviii] This will accelerate as wind and solar energies will become easier and cheaper to attain. In addition, in 2016 two-thirds of new electricity was generated by renewables. Hence, due to a decrease in the use of fossil fuels, oil companies would begin questioning their future, which would create a chain reaction in the usage in the auto industry.[xxix]
Finally, voters are looking for leaders that are dealing and respecting climate change concerns, especially younger voters. This was the case in the UK with the national elections and could continue to be in the upcoming years in Europe.[xxx] Tied to leaders that are taking on climate change, cities have also pledged themselves to the cause, as Jerry Brown the Governor of California has pledged to make do without the help of National Government of the US.
Contradictorily, a report published by DW suggests four important lawsuits on climate change to look forward to in 2018. These include the citizen of The Netherlands demanding their government to be more environment-friendly, acting in accordance to preserve. The others are youth vs. the government of the United States, and Peruvian farmer vs. German Energy Company RWE.[xxxi] However, I consider that the most important one might be ExxonMobil vs. US state attorney in the case of Exxon, which was the first-ever US legal action aimed at holding the oil giant ExxonMobil accountable for its climate change cover-up.[xxxii] The American multinational oil gas corporation is being sued over failing to safeguard Massachusetts communities against pollution, relating to the climate change impacts, and lying to the public about the risks of climate change.[xxxiii] ExxonMobil has denied the claims, and said in a statement that it would fight the lawsuit in court. A verdict is expected in 2018. It is argued that the company was aware of the case of the climate change, however, abstained from sharing the information. It is believed that if ExxonMobil released any reports on the matter, sales would have rock bottomed and a huge market loss would have occurred. Arguably, a lawsuit on Exxon could result in a domino effect on the industry and would possibly include Chevron, PB and Shell in the future.
According to popular science, just about 22000 years ago the global temperature was sitting just under -4°C. Today, we are sitting roughly around 0°C, with a worst-case scenario of a rise in temperature of up to 4°C, which, According to scientist, means having some serious consequences. I’m not throwing out the science done here but I am raising one notion. If humans have survived serious colder conditions and have made it this far, wouldn’t it be hard not to count on the same evolution humans have made, in technological fronts and how this can be utilized as survival mechanisms now and in the future. In other words, the global temperature might hit 4°C by 2100, but how could we ignore the fact that matters would be done differently then, and that humans, as they always do, would find mechanisms to survive the very nature they create. I guess what I’m trying to say can be found in the famous words of Darwin: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change’. I believe the technology will help, but humans are inherently equipped to survive.
Yagmur BAHRAM & Dahlia HAMID
[i] David Suziki, “Suzuki Understanding Climate Change Means Reading Beyond Headlines”, Huffington Post, August, 02, 2017. <http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/david-suzuki/understanding-climate-change_b_14636502.html>.
[ii] Jesse Medlong, “What to Expect at the COP23 Climate Summit in Bonn”, Pacific Council on International Policy, November, 10, 2017. <https://www.pacificcouncil.org/newsroom/what-expect-cop23-climate-summit-bonn>.
[iii] Penny Hooper, “Commentary: Climate accord withdrawal is decried”, Tideland News, (August, 23, 2017). <http://www.carolinacoastonline.com/tideland_news/opinions/article_9374a546-87fa-11e7-aff4-3770a6eaf4dc.html>.
[vi] One of the primary issues of previous environmental agreements like the Kyoto Protocol was that it did not set out realistic ambition to cut down Greenhouse emission, thus ultimately leading to nations like Canada from pulling out or nations like China and US not even signing the agreement. The Paris Agreement more or less has made the state the ‘judge, jury and executioner’.
[vii] Green C., “A ‘fair and ambitious’ climate agreement is not nearly enough: Paris 2015 take heed!”, Environmental Research Letter, 10 (2015), p. 1.
[viii] Green, p. 1.
[xi] Damian Carrington, “Fossil fuel burning set to hit record high in 2017, scientists warn”, The Guardian, (November, 13 2017). <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/13/fossil-fuel-burning-set-to-hit-record-high-in-2017-scientists-warn>.
[xiv] Rebecca Leber, “Stop Repeating the US Is the “Only Country not in the Paris Agreement”, Mother Jones, (November, 10. 2017). <http://www.climatedesk.org/politics/2017/11/10/stop-repeating-the-us-is-the-only-country-not-in-the-paris-agreement>.
[xvi] European Council of the European Union, “Paris Agreement on Climate Change”, (December, 2017). <http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/climate-change/timeline/>.
[xvii] European Council of the European Union.
[xviii] European Council of the European Union.
[xix] Nitin Sethi and Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, “Bonn climate talks: In second week, ministers will try to break impasse on pre-2020 agenda”, Scroll.in, (November, 13. 2017). <https://scroll.in/article/857607/bonn-climate-talks-in-second-week-ministers-will-try-to-break-impasse-on-pre-2020-agenda>.
[xx] Sethi and Shrivastava.
[xxi] Sethi and Shrivastava.
[xxii] N.A., “Record high CO2 emissions puts pressure on Paris Agreement targets”, Biofuels International, (November, 13. 2017). <https://biofuels-news.com/display_news/13117/record_high_co2_emissions_puts_pressure_on_paris_agreement_targets/>.
[xxiii] N.A, Biofuels International.
[xxiv] N.A, Biofuels International.
[xxv] Lisa Friedman, “As U.S. sheds role as climate change leader, who will fill the void?”, TODAY, (November, 13. 2017). <http://www.todayonline.com/world/americas/us-sheds-role-climate-change-leader-who-will-fill-void>.
[xxviii] Geoff Dembicki, “Nine Reasons to Be Optimistic About Climate Change in 2018”, VICE, (December. 28, 2017). <https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3k5k8y/nine-reasons-to-be-optimistic-about-climate-change-in-2018>.
[xxxi] Anne-Sophie Brandlin, “Four Climate Change Lawsuits to Watch in 2018”, DW, (January, 9th 2018). <http://www.dw.com/en/four-climate-change-lawsuits-to-watch-in-2018/a-42066735>.