It was one of those are unusually positive weeks in the climate change business. Regular readers of this digest will know the ‘good weeks’ are few and far between. Why was it good? The Paris deal was signed by the key players in New York and climate change moved to centre stage in the Australian federal election. But what would be without a jaw dropper somewhere?
So let’s start with a story in the Washington Post about an event in New York to sign a deal made in Paris (love dropping the names…).: “The historic agreement on climate change marked a major milestone on Friday with a record 175 countries signing on to it on opening day. But world leaders made clear more action is needed, and quickly, to fight a relentless rise in global temperatures. With the planet heating up to record levels, sea levels rising and glaciers melting, the pressure to have the Paris Agreement enter into force and to have every country turn its words into deeds was palpable at the U.N. signing ceremony. The agreement will enter into force once 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions have formally joined it, a process initially expected to take until 2020. But following a host of announcements at the signing event, observers now think it could happen later this year. China, the world’s top carbon emitter, announced it would “finalize domestic procedures” to ratify the agreement before the G-20 summit in China in September. The United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, reiterated its intention to ratify this year, as did Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of Mexico and Australia.”
The Conversation has this take on the implications of the agreement: “The New York event will be an important barometer of political momentum leading into the implementation phase – one that requires domestic climate policies to be drawn up, as well as further international negotiations. The signing ceremony in New York sets in motion the formal, legal processes required for the Paris Agreement to “enter into force”, so that it can become legally binding under international law.
Although the agreement was adopted on December 12 2015 in Paris, it has not yet entered into force. This will happen automatically 30 days after it has both been ratified by at least 55 countries, and by countries representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Both conditions of this threshold have to be met before the agreement is legally binding. So, contrary to some concerns after Paris, the world does not have to wait until 2020 for the agreement to enter into force. It could happen as early as this year.”
The Guardian had this take on New York: “Nor does the Paris deal go far enough. It was only a step on a long, hard road. The targets that each country set themselves do not go nearly far enough. Now the gap between reality and the ambition of holding global warming below 2C needs addressing. In Churchillian rhetoric, this is not the end, nor the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.”
In Australia, The Conversation, said Australia’s signing of the agreement could prove tricky politically: “This is a major problem because without agreement across political lines, Australia could be signing a treaty with which it cannot comply. Australia is the world’s 13th-largest greenhouse emitter and the highest per capita emitter in the OECD. Now, because of the abolition of the carbon price, its emissions are rising for the first time in a decade. Australia looks set to overshoot even its modest target of reducing emissions by 26-28% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. And as commitments under the Paris Agreement will become stricter over time, with the deal requiring countries to ramp up their climate pledges every five years, Australia will be in an increasingly difficult and embarrassing position of having made promises it cannot keep. This may set the scene for dithering by the Turnbull government, in much the same way as the Howard government held out against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol for a decade before finally proposing a climate policy when electorally it was already too late. We know that to make a meaningful contribution to combating climate change, Australia needs a credible path to net zero emissions by 2050. To do this the Turnbull government must match its international commitments with effective laws and policies at home. Legislating Australia’s climate targets, setting a national cap on emissions, and pricing carbon pollution are vital if Australia’s signature on the Paris Agreement is to mean anything at all.”
Staying in Australia, the Opposition Australian Labor Party (house minority party in US terms) this week released its climate change policy for the 2 July 2016 election. This author (Andrew Woodward) is the endorsed an endorsed Labor candidate for the election. The Labor Policy announcement set the political agenda this week, with Renew Economy reporting: “Labor has sought to outflank the Coalition government by committing to a zero net carbon pollution target by 2050, proposing two separate “low-cost” emission trading schemes, and reinforcing its interim commitments to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, and reaching 50 per cent renewable energy by the same date. The proposal was hailed by most environmental groups, although nearly all noted that in a week of the Paris climate deal signing, more temperature records, and worsening impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, the party could have gone a lot further, and a lot quicker.
The Greens did just that, with Senator Richard di Natale reinforcing his party’s commitment to cut emissions by 80 per cent and reach 90 per cent renewables by 2030 – a target that is not far short of studies produced by Beyond Zero Emissions and the Institute for Sustainable Futures in recent weeks. But the Labor strategy is intent on differentiating itself from the Coalition, and to bait a trap for prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has been forced to inherit and defend the policies of his predecessor, Tony Abbott, that he often ridiculed as “reckless” and a fig leaf for action. And Turnbull duly obliged, accusing Labor of producing a “jobs-destroying” policy – even though, on the estimates of the Climate Change Authority and others, it is exactly what Australia has signed up for in the Paris agreement.”
In other Australian political climate change related news this week:
So let’s end on a jaw dropper from NASA that surfaced this week in the Insurance Journal: “Think sea level rise will be moderate and something we can all plan for? Think again. Sea levels could rise by much more than originally anticipated, and much faster, according to new data being collected by scientists studying the melting West Antarctic ice sheet – a massive sheet the size of Mexico. That revelation was made by an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday at the annual RIMS conference for risk management and insurance professionals in San Diego, Calif. The conference is being attended by more than 10,000 people, according to organizers. It was day No. 3 of the conference, which ends Wednesday. Margaret Davidson, NOAA’s senior advisor for coastal inundation and resilience science and services, and Michael Angelina, executive director of the Academy of Risk Management and Insurance, offered their take on climate change data in a conference session titled “Environmental Intelligence: Quantifying the Risks of Climate Change.” Davidson said recent data that has been collected but has yet to be made official indicates sea levels could rise by roughly 3 meters or 9 feet by 2050-2060, far higher and quicker than current projections. Until now most projections have warned of seal level rise of up to 4 feet by 2100. These new findings will likely be released in the latest sets of reports on climate change due out in the next few years. “The latest field data out of West Antarctic is kind of an OMG thing,” she said. OMG indeed.
Disclaimer: Andrew Woodward is the endorsed Australian Labor Party Candidate for Warringah but contributes this column as a Climate Reality Leader and as such its content is strictly politically non-partisan.
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This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm