UNFCCC

Who's Responsible for Damaging the Climate? And Who Should Pay for It?

Reason's science correspondent sends a third dispatch from the U.N. Climate Change Conference

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WARSAW—On Wednesday, the U.N. climate change conference was all about commitments. The best way the governments of rich countries can show that they are committed to combating global climate change is to hand over wads of cash to poor countries. Besides spending hundreds of billions of dollars, rich countries are expected to keep their promises to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by rapidly phasing out the use of fossil fuels. 

Developing countries insist that rich countries are obligated to do so because the billions of tons of carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere during industrialization caused the current climate crisis. And it is undeniable that the prosperity of developed nations over the past two centuries was fueled by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. 

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Christian Aid's Senior Climate Change Adviser Mohamed Adow insisted that the negotiations at the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP-19) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) result in developed countries agreeing to cut emissions enough to keep mean average temperature under 2 degrees centigrade above the pre-industrial average. 

How deep must these cuts be? Very deep, according to the calculations made by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in its 2013 Emissions Gap Report. The report estimates that, in order to stay on a reasonable emissions pathway that would result in an increase of only 2 degrees centigrade by 2100, world carbon dioxide emissions would have to be reduced to 44 gigatons by 2020. If emissions reduction pledges made during the 2009 Copenhagen conference are met, emissions will rise from 50 gigatons today to 52 to 56 gigatons in 2020, leaving a gap of 8 to 12 gigatons. 

In other words, according to UNEP, emissions will be 12 to 24 percent higher than they need to be to meet the goal of keeping the average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees centigrade. To put that in context, the Obama administration has pledged that U.S. emissions will be 17 percent lower than they were in 2005, but the UNEP report suggests that they need to be 29 to 41 percent lower by 2020.

So what happens to future temperatures if the emissions gap is not closed? Niklas Höhne, Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the renewable energy consultancy Ecofys, and Bill Hare, the CEO of the Climate Analytics think tank in Germany, have figured that out in their Climate Action Tracker report. The report adds up all of the commitments by countries to reduce their carbon emissions and then calculates if it is enough to keep future warming below 2 degrees centigrade. 

Earlier they had calculated that, if all countries met their emissions commitments made at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, the world would likely warm about 3.1 degrees centigrade by 2100. But, at a briefing on Wednesday, the two noted that several rich countries recently had "backtracked" on emissions reduction commitments. 

For example, Japan promised in 2009 to cut its emissions 25 percent by 2020. At the Warsaw conference, Japan now says that its emissions in 2020 will in fact be 3 percent higher than they were in 1990. The increase is the result of switching to fossil fuels to generate electricity after the country took its 50 nuclear reactors offline following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

As a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, Canada had committed to cutting its emissions by 6 percent below their 1990 level. In 2011, when Canada dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol, its emissions were 30 percent higher than in 1990.

The new government in Australia has been especially disparaged at the conference because it is set on repealing the country's unpopular carbon tax. Nevertheless, the Australian government insists that it has a plan that will enable the country to meet its commitment to a 5 percent emissions reduction by 2020. The Climate Action Tracker calculates that Australia will be emitting 12 percent more by 2020. The calculations suggest that the emissions pathway implied by the new reductions increases their estimate of future warming to 3.7 degrees centigrade by 2100.

On Monday, Todd Stern, the U.S. chief climate negotiator, rejected the notion that future greenhouse gas emissions should be allocated based on historical responsibility. Stern pointed to the 2007 modeling and assessment of contributions to climate change (MATCH) study which found that the contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere from the developing countries were nearly equal to those of the developed countries and would, by 2020, exceed the cumulative emissions of developed countries. The new UNEP gap report also notes, "Today developing and developed countries are responsible for roughly equal shares of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions for the period 1850-2010."

When it was noted at a press conference that China is now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China's chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua responded that it is an "understandable fact" that the emissions of a once-poor country like China must grow as it continues industrializing and urbanizing. Xie was appealing to the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis which suggests that, as a country's economy develops, pollution first worsens and later improves as its per capita income rises. 

He pointed out that U.S. per capita carbon emissions rose to 20 tons until annual per capita incomes exceeded $30,000 and has now fallen to 17.5 tons per capita. Since China's per capita income is just $6,000, Xie asserted, "Our carbon dioxide emissions will also increase. This is an objective fact." 

On the other hand, Xie stressed that, unlike when the U.S. was developing, China has committed to policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But, it is worth noting that China is horrendously inefficient, emitting five times more carbon dioxide per unit of GDP than the United States. When pressed by reporters about why China isn't doing more to address global warming, Xie simply stated, "According to the convention (UNFCCC) we are not obligated to do anything." 

Xie's position sums up the fundamental conflict between the rich and poor countries at the Warsaw conference. The developed countries will not commit to cutting emissions more and handing over bundles of cash, unless the developing countries commit to doing something about their emissions too. The poor countries think that the rich countries owe them for inflicting the "climate crisis" on them and argue that they must necessarily increase their climate-damaging emissions in order to grow their way out of poverty.

Next: Crunch time approaches. Will the rich countries agree to compensate poor countries for loss and damage from climate change? Will the poor countries agree to do more about climate change than accept money from rich countries? Stay tuned.

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  1. Well, we could always promote manners of energy generation that actually do less harm than others, like Nuclear Power, instead of fantastically unworkable “solutions” like wind and solar. Or we could do some serious examination of whether the current 15+ year pause in warming might mean we are worrying about the wrong trend; if the people who are saying that the dun is entering a long cool phase are right we might want every degree of global warming we can scrape up.

    And while we are at it, we could demand an audit of the books of the loudest “Green” orgs.; demanding money from tac coffers for environmental concerns is big business, and I doubt that it is run by saints.

    1. There’s science and policy. Science states that CO2 harms the planet. Science also states that all animal life desequesters carbon from the environment and introduces it to the atmosphere. By breathing.

      When policy wonks put forward levying carbon taxes on snowy owls, polar bears, I’ll consider it. A permissible alternate is to reintroduce DDT and commit genocide against mosquitogenic warming.

      1. Science states that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. How that greenhouse effect affects the overall climate system of the planet is a different question, and one that science hasn’t validated.

      2. But the only animal extracting carbon from deep in the earth’s crust and releasing it to the atmosphere is humans–thereby introducing more carbon into the cycle and heating the planet.

        1. …”heating the planet.”…

          Except it stopped 15 years ago, but don’t let data affect your religion.

        2. “…thereby introducing more carbon into the cycle and heating the planet”

          simplistic bullshit

        3. worms and gophers

          prairie dogs too !

          cows eat grass and fart, that’s almost the same

  2. The climate is not damaged.

    Lets start with that and see where it leads us.

    1. In the short term, it leads to a lot of dreary Greenpeace pillocks screaming in out faces.

      *sigh*

  3. This whole thing assumes that there are damages to begin with, which is far from being proven. The whole debate about compensation for damages sounds like one of Obama’s standard lines: I will debate you as long as you agree with all my prior assumptions.

    1. It’s far from being understood by you. The science is pretty clear.

      1. Yes, clearly higher CO2 levels are BENEFICIAL to the ecosystem as a whole and humanity in particular.

        Ignorant, self-serving, hysterical nutjobs need to be treated as the ignorant, self-serving hysterical notjobs they are.

      2. Until models based on the theory have been proven to correlate to actual conditions (looking forward, not curve-fitted backward), one cannot assert that the science is clear.

        Our understanding is insufficient. If there were no cost to action, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But, the prescribed solution is immensely costly, in money and in lives. Expensive solutions MUST be based on solid science, and this ain’t anywhere close to that.

        1. he said, “pretty clear”, which, to me, means “not clear”.

          Tony, I though you died. Good to have you back. None of these other fuckers can sustain the farce as well as you.

          1. Tony has been sequestered trying to come up with an O’care band-aid.

      3. Yes, the science and impact are very clear. Unfortunately for you they don’t agree with your religion.

  4. Premise: Human activity must be harming the planet.

    Evidence: The climate isn’t exactly the same from day to day.

    Conclusion: Human activity must be harming the planet.

    Circular logic is circular.

    1. I thought circular logic circles because it’s circular, which is because it circles… man, now I’m confused.

  5. This is where the Admin’s favorite explanation makes perfect sense:

    FYTW

    1. I second this.

      Todd Stern needs to pull out his asshole card and ask people if they can read it and when they get close enough, he should punch them in the face.

      “Hey, Pakistan how’s the Polio situation?!… Mali, got those mosquito nets we sent?… Zimbabwe, Botswana! Glad to see that HIV hasn’t killed you yet.

      Look, I know we’ve made it a little hotter for you guys, but lets be honest, those of you who haven’t cut off each others hands weren’t exactly using them to figure out the thermostat anyway…”

  6. Look, people, the answer to the question is: The White Man.

    Now that that’s settled, the question now is:

    How much money can we bleed out of the motherfucker?

    1. Yep. If we can send men to the moon using 60’s technology, why can’t we figure out how to fix this theoretical problem? No instead the best idea is redistribution of wealth. The communist party didnt die…just rebranded itself.

      1. Fucking watermelons!

  7. Will the rich countries agree to compensate poor countries for loss and damage from climate change? Will the poor countries agree to do more about climate change than accept money from rich countries?

    No and no. Just like only a small minority of people in this country are happy to pay more to subsidize health care for the rich, only a tiny fraction of the world’s population will be happy to make themselves poorer to combat climate change (or in the case of the already poor, forgo increasing prosperity).

    That was easy.

    1. Well, that’s why they have to be forced into it by benevolent government.

  8. When pressed by reporters about why China isn’t doing more to address global warming, Xie simply stated, “According to the convention (UNFCCC) we are not obligated to do anything.”

    “And besides, we have nuclear weapons, so shut the fuck up.”

    1. “And even if we were, good luck making us.”

  9. On Monday, Todd Stern, the U.S. chief climate negotiator, rejected the notion that future greenhouse gas emissions should be allocated based on historical responsibility.

    It is now impossible to send a bill for historical wrongs to the government in Nineveh.

  10. “calculated”

    That word keeps coming up again and again. It inevitably implies “models.” And “models” in this context have not had a terribly good track record of prediction of experimental observation.

  11. The new government in Australia has been especially disparaged at the conference because it is set on repealing the country’s unpopular carbon tax. Nevertheless, the Australian government insists that it has a plan that will enable the country to meet its commitment [???] to a 5 percent emissions reduction by 2020.

    Oh, those silly collectivists! I love it when they reifycountry” as a way to obfuscate the fact that the ones being fucked from behind are the individual citizens.

    Countries don’t have commitments, only individuals do. In this case, the commitment is being made by the politicians themselves (who presume to speak for everybody else,) but not the rest of the citizenry.

  12. I still have not been paid compensation for the unspeakable acts those Norsemen committed w/ my female ancestors. Also: Mongols! When will the bullying end?

    1. Reparations are due.

      1. My peeps were from the Slavic area. I claim trademark infringement!

  13. CAPTION:

    “There she was, just a walkin’ down the street, singin’, “Doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo…”

  14. The developing world, though you’ll never hear it, has never had more people and less famine than now. The fact there is a ‘developing’ world instead of a ‘undeveloping-shithole-of-poverty’ world is precisely because of technologies that emit carbon and Evil Developed Countries disseminating such technology and culture.

    1. Are they going to compensate the developed countries for freeloading and coat-tailing on all the technological development those first world countries have produced?

    2. ” has never had more people and less famine than now”

      More people, yes, thanks to ‘green revolution’ and such policies. But less famine? That’s doubtful. The UN food body says that close to a billion, one in eight of the earth’s population, is undernourished. That’s an all time high in history, or pre-history. Never have there been more suffering from under nourishment than there are today.

      I don’t see the rationale behind this kind of celebration of carbon emitting technologies if they add to the numbers of undernourished. Decreasing these numbers would be a different story.

      1. I don’t see the rationale behind this kind of celebration of carbon emitting technologies if they add to the numbers of undernourished. Decreasing these numbers would be a different story.

        Can you show how carbon emitting technologies are adding to the numbers of undernourished?

        The world produces enough food to feed everyone. Therefore, malnourishment isn’t a climate problem.

        1. Don’t bother Brian, mtrueman doesn’t have the intelligence to understand causation vs correlation.

        2. “Can you show how carbon emitting technologies are adding to the numbers of undernourished?”

          I think the unprecedented numbers of undernourished can be put to maldistribution. The world produces enough food to feed everyone. Indeed everyone with food left over. I doubt therefore, that producing more food is the answer to alleviating undernourishment.

          I advise you to take your questions to thezeitgeist. It was him who linked technology to population growth.

          1. “the unprecedented numbers of undernourished”
            That’s bullshit. You’re a bullshiter.

            1. “That’s bullshit.”

              Maybe you’re right. They’re UN figures. If you have stats that you prefer, pass them along and I’ll happily look. Won’t even throw in any gratuitous insults, unless you ask me to.

              “You’re a bullshiter”

              Here you are mistaken. I’m passing these stats along here in good faith. You suspect deceit when there is none present.

      2. “But less famine?”
        Yes, less famine by any measure.

      3. Technology doesn’t add to the number of undernourished people.

        Sex between heterosexuals adds to the number of people, undernourished or not.

        Gays should be immune from any future carbon reparationz.

        1. “Technology doesn’t add to the number of undernourished people.”

          I am not claiming it does. Mass produced medicine like vaccines and mechanized farming have arguably played their part in the population increase over the past 100 years. On the other hand, mass education, birth control, family planning and urbanization – all technological developments from the same period – all seem to suppress population growth.

          I agree people add undernourished people. I think those who believe there is some technological fix for this in the offing are bound to be disappointed.

  15. This is a population problem. Too many people on the planet. So I say we stop supporting third world countries that have populations they cant afford. No more medical, financial, military, or technological assistance at all. The less we help them breed, the less the demand of goods and services. Less demand on goods and services = less pollution.

    Problem solved.

    1. space junk|11.21.13 @ 12:09PM|#
      This is a population problem. Too many people on the planet”

      Sarc or stupidity?

      1. Based on everything following that statement, my money’s on stupidity. I’m hoping I just need another recalibration though.

      2. Somewhat sarcastic and yet serious at the same time.

        The way I see it is that these poorer nations have benefited from the industrialization of the 1st world countries. So if they want reparations and demand to take money from us, they can lighten the load on the use of resources in general by reducing their populations. They cant tell us to pay them and then continue to take our assistance while complaining about it.

        This is nothing more than wealth redistribution at the governmental levels. I cant stand the U.N.!

        1. space junk|11.21.13 @ 1:16PM|#
          “Somewhat sarcastic and yet serious at the same time.”

          Got it.
          We do get Population Bomb bleevers here from time to time; they are dead serious that we need to reduce the population by some huge amount and, I presume, return to the level of prosperity extant when the population was that size.

    2. Why do they have to take the hit?

      First worlders are FAR more consuming of resources and energy than third worlders.

      Why is it that Malthusians never line up to be among those who don’t get to live any more?

      1. “First worlders are FAR more consuming of resources and energy than third worlders.”

        Consumption creates jobs. If first worlders weren’t consuming, developing countries have no place to sell their labor.

  16. I guess the fact that their models aren’t working is irrelevant to the confidence level they have in their models. I also guess they actually think nations like China, Russia and India are going to hamstring their economies by cutting carbon AND pay out lots of money, just because.

    Delusions. Worse – morally monstrous delusions. These carbon cuts will keep billions in poverty and shorten the lives of millions. All for an unvalidated theory.

    If AGW turns out to be real and a problem, carbon emissions cuts aren’t going to solve it. The solution will be technological. It’ll also be cheaper, both economically and from a human perspective.

    1. “These carbon cuts will keep billions in poverty and shorten the lives of millions. All for an unvalidated theory.”

      This is what’s curious about the issue; the folks backing the carbon cuts are willing to make sure many people die prematurely in order to (in theory) keep others from dying prematurely.
      It’s this contradiction that convinces me that it is about control rather than any concern about human welfare.

      1. Everybody panic, the alarmists are coming!

        1. Tony|11.21.13 @ 12:51PM|#
          “Everybody panic, the alarmists are coming!”
          Everybody laugh! The idjit is here!

  17. All those people gathering, year after year–every single one duped by a giant conspiracy to make Al Gore money. So sad.

    1. There are a lot of people with a vested interest in promoting this fear. Sometimes it is money, often it is power. Then there are the useless idiots like you that help make them rich and keep them in power. Good work though. Seems to be pretty effective, so far.

      1. But of course, most of the time its just scientists, doing science, and then presenting scientific findings. You know, science. But go ahead, and welcome to your conspiracy. The Kennedy thread is waiting for you.

        1. Really?

          When funding, tenure, publishing, peer respect, awards, and reputation are at stake?

          As they are with such a hot-button topic?

          1. Really.

            So then detail for me all the other times that science fell prey to the same type of extortion. Funding, tenure, peers…they have all been with us forever. But you think it suddenly has changed around just this issue? This is the time that science decided not to act scientifically?

            Tell me why, when Bush was President and Republicans controlled BOTH houses, science was telling us the same exact thing about AGW? Guess they were not too worried about funding back then, were they? Or tell us who this nefarious individual is that constantly provides all the funding for science and demands genuflecting to AGW.

            What a conspiracy theory.

        2. Jackand Ace|11.21.13 @ 4:32PM|#
          “But of course, most of the time its just scientists, doing science, and then presenting scientific findings.”

          Yeah, that’s the reason all those scientists are pointing out that the temp gradient is much more gradual than predicted and in fact the rise has stopped entirely for 15 years. I noticed all that.
          You’re an idjit.

    2. Not for Al.

  18. The best way the governments of rich countries can show that they are committed to combating global climate change is to hand over wads of cash to poor countries.

    And, this is why government is not the answer for environmental problems.

    So, when free market people are asked how they would deal with pollution, one response is for public resources to be purchased by private owners, for polluters to pay damages when they pollute other’s property, for insurance solutions to provide protection against pollution, etc.

    At this point, government fan boys throw their hands in the air, and wail about the evil, rich corporations just buying everything up and polluting it, or polluting everyone’s property and paying damages (because they’re just that rich), or buying out insurance, etc. In other words, polluters will just buy there way into being able to pollute. People shouldn’t have to pay to avoid pollution, they say. Government should just tell polluters to go fuck off, guaranteeing everyone cleanness everywhere.

    OK, so what’s the government solution? Carbon taxes and wealth transfers to the third world. In other words, polluters buying their way to being able to pollute, guaranteeing absolutely nothing.

    Again, what the government is supposed to be doing is just a theoretical, masturbatory exercise. You have to ignore reality to buy into this bullshit.

    1. It’s just too hard to make people pay for the damage they cause to other people and other people’s property! Might as well let them keep getting away with it. I mean whatcha gonna do?

      Principles shminciples.

      1. There you go, arguing into your own hand, again.

      2. Tony|11.21.13 @ 12:55PM|#
        “It’s just too hard to make people pay for the damage they cause to other people and other people’s property!”

        So do you call 911 when the strawman is badly injured?
        Or just laugh at the imbecile who did so?

      3. So start paying up dude.

      4. When will your beloved government officials start paying for the damage to our economy and the lives lost? When will socialists be brought to account for the massive and irreversible damage to humanity?

  19. Even business is recognizing the trend on carbon and its not good. PricewaterhouseCoopers does a carbon budget each year, and in order to stay at a 2 degree C rise the world would need to reach a level of decarbonization that it has not achieved in 50 years.

    http://www.pwc.co.uk/sustainab…..ndex.jhtml

    “We’ve calculated that to maintain economic growth without exceeding two degrees of warming, the G20 needs to reduce its carbon intensity at 6% per year. But the 5 year trend shows we’ve only averaged 0.7% decarbonisation annually. Even doubling the current 0.7% rate of decarbonisation puts us on a path consistent with the most extreme scenario presented by the IPCC, and potential warming of around 4oC by 2100.

    On current trends we will use up this century’s carbon budget by 2034. Put simply, we are busting the carbon budget.”

    PwC is one of the worlds largest tax, audit and consulting firm, with many Fortune 500 clients, and this is what they are advising them.

    1. I’ll bet someone as brain-dead as you thinks that means something.

    2. PWC did excellent work for Enron.

      1. Good try. PwC had nothing to do with Enron. It was Arthur Andersen.

  20. Google is paying 75$/hour! Just work for few hours & spend more time with friends and family. On sunday I bought themselves a Alfa Romeo from having made $5637 this month. its the best-job Ive ever had.It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out http://www.Buzz95.com

  21. What climate crisis ?

  22. Simple. People who believe someone should pay “for Damaging the Climate” should pay.

  23. The problem is that CO2 has little to do with the warming and that the estimates provided by the models have been way off. The worst thing that we can do for the environment is destroy capital by following the prescriptions of Luddites and rent seeking mountebanks.

  24. Water vapor makes up 95% of all so-called greenhouse gases and is much more effective than CO2. CO2 makes up something like 0.04% of which most of it is natural, i.e., not human caused. Gee, if we reduced CO2 levels enough, we can starve plants and, therefore, end life on Earth. It’s a cycle and the Sun is the main driver of the cycle. Right now, when we should have peak sunspot activity, it’s the lowest it’s been in a very long time. Fewer sunspots means less energy reaching the Earth. Buy a parka and some snowshoes, it’s quite likely that you’re going to need them.

  25. We need to put an emissions tax on any intestinal flatulence based on the decibel level of the of the escaping gasses! Monitoring stations could be created that would contain high amp microphones that would pinpoint any abrupt animal discharges of methane gas. NSA could oversee the technical operations and Homeland Defense could then arrest the miscreants and round up the animals. Studies have shown that most of the methane flatulence comes from Washington DC! We need to tax the government first until they cannot print anymore money and then every living thing that breaks wind.

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