Here I look at some stories around the edges of COP26. My pluses and minuses on COP26 itself are:
- More visibility of the problems and a shrinking cadre of outright deniers.
- The China – USA effort to continue talks behind the scenes (which I think is the most important element in any possible solution)
- The more enthusiastic actions by corporations (see Note 1) and 2nd level governments (states, provinces and cities)
- Too little, too late
- Backpedaling on coal and forests
- The increasing polarization inside the USA (which threatens any progress made at COP26 and in the China-USA discussions)
- We still do not have an inclusive view of the problems facing the biosphere. Sure, climate change by itself is an overwhelming subject. One could argue that including biodiversity, pollution and population in the discussion may weaken the focus on GHG emissions. In my opinion however, inclusion would sharpen the need for urgent action on this and all the other fronts.
I guess we went into COP26 with low expectations and left with much the same.
COP26 was widely reported and analyzed. A little further down in this blog entry are some of the articles, positive and negative, that caught my eye. But we also need to worry about the middle ground. There we have all the distractions that stop the biosphere crisis getting the priority it needs, ranging from huge topics like big power competition (China of course) all the way to consumption and entertainment trivia (The best apple pie, the worst Diana interpretation).
But there is something in the middle that causes me to worry. It’s the type of story that is not outright denial (although there is still enough of that), not even a call for inaction, but a wedge that can, and will be, used to justify inaction. Some examples are in COP26: The truth behind the new climate change denial. Another is this:
The text below is from an article in The Atlantic, with direct quotes from Brian O’Neill, one of the lead architects of the IPCC’s “Shared Socioeconomic Pathways,” or SSPs. [Square brackets indicate my insertions]
[Under SSP1, keeping global warming under 1.5℃], the global economy still expands but humanity “shifts toward a broader emphasis on human well-being, even at the expense of somewhat slower economic growth over the longer term.”
[Under SSP2, which most commentators see as the most likely result based on COP26] “social, economic, and technological trends do not shift markedly from historical patterns.”
So what does this SSP 2 world feel like? It depends … on who you are. … all the paths, even the hottest ones, show improvements in human well-being on average. IPCC scientists expect that average [!!] life expectancy will continue to rise, that poverty and hunger rates will continue to decline, and that average incomes will go up in every single plausible future, simply because they always have. … Climate change will ruin individual lives and kill individual people, and it may even drag down rates of improvement in human well-being, but on average , he said, “we’re generally in the climate-change field not talking about futures that are worse than today.”
But all the current physical impacts of climate change—drought, extreme heat, fire, storms, sea-level rise—would get significantly worse by 2100 under SSP 2. And say goodbye to coral reefs. “At 2.5 ℃ , it’s probably a world in which we don’t have them,” O’Neill said. “They don’t exist.” The Arctic? “My guess is that we would have a permanently ice-free Arctic in the summer. And so we would have all of the ecological consequences that would come along with that.”
But the world we are heading toward may be one in which the average human is living longer and making more money than ever, but some vulnerable humans and many nonhumans are collateral damage.
[Note the word “average” is used 5 times in the quotations above]
I find this a highly disturbing article. Most important, and the article acknowledges, this is totally unjust to the “collaterally damaged”. In addition there are some major flaws in the argument:
- There is no accounting for the value of biodiversity; no coral reefs, no Arctic ice. More drought, fire and storm. They don’t count, apparently.
- The IPCC report itself has some projection on the number of people expected to be in geographies outside the “human climate niche” – i.e. people who will likely become climate refugees (more in Note 2). By 2050 those numbers range from 1 Billion to nearly 4 Billion. Billions of climate refugees and “we’re generally in the climate-change field not talking about futures that are worse than today.” Really?
I may be reading things out of context, but “…not talking about futures that are worse than today”, in a journal with the reputation of the Atlantic, will be used by some to justify inaction. Why is this published without a strong refutation?
And while I’m bashing the media, at a more trivial level; if we want to get our stories out we do need to make them easy to understand.
Here is the heading and subheading from an article in the Guardian:
‘Luxury carbon consumption’ of top 1% threatens 1.5C global heating limit. Richest 1% will account for 16% of total emissions by 2030, while poorest 50% will release one tonne of CO2 a year.
The use of mixed dimensions (% of emissions compared to emissions per capita) makes no sense.
Why not use the excellent graphics, and the numbers, from the original study? – below:
We need simple “stories”, be they written, verbal, pictorial or in any other form of communication. They need to reach an audience outside our bubble. They need to be concise, while backed up by solid data. It’s an obvious statement, but so hard to achieve. When even media outlets like the Guardian and the Atlantic struggle to create these stories it lends support to my contention that we need to focus more effort, more brain power on the creation of these stories. (My next blog will, hopefully, look at this in a bit more detail)
STORIES AROUND COP26
Here are extracts that I thought most telling. [As usual my additions are in square brackets]
“The handwaving and complexity obscure a simple truth: nation states must stop funding dirty industries”
“Even nations that claim to be leading the transition mean to keep drilling. In the US, Joe Biden promised to pause all new leases for oil and gas on public lands and in offshore waters. His government was sued by 14 Republican states. Though climate campaigners argue that Biden has many other tools for preventing such leases from being issued, he immediately folded, and his government has now begun the process of auctioning drilling rights in Alaskan waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s just the kind of weakness the Republicans were hoping to exploit”
“Germany [wearing the mantle of ecological righteousness] has promised to phase out coal production by 2038 (far too late, by the way). Yet it is still developing new deposits.”
[The Australian government approved three more coal projects shortly after being told they had a duty of care to the children of the world. Predictably, the Australian government appealed against the “duty of care” judgement. Stripping away the legal niceties that means the current Australian government, and their supporters, do not care about the future of their children – or any children for that matter. No wonder young people around the world are so vocal on this subject]
“A day after COP26 organizers celebrated a major pledge to protect the world’s forests, one of the most important signatories said it didn’t actually sign up to end deforestation by the end of the decade. Indonesia, the top producer of palm oil, said it only agreed to keep its forest cover steady over the period — meaning trees could still be cut down and replaced. Brazil, another key member, said it would only target “illegal” deforestation.”
“Indonesia also signed up to a pledge aimed at ending coal use, but a closer look at the terms shows it will be able to continue building coal plants at home. The [organizers] highlighted Poland as one of the major signatories of that same deal, but Warsaw said it won’t phase out coal until the 2040s — the same timescale it was already planning — casting doubt on how much value the new accord adds.”
At Cop26 the wealthy countries cast themselves as saviours, yet their efforts are hopelessly inadequate and will prolong the injustice
Bottom line: Stories will make the difference. Creating simple stories for a complex subject is hard.
One example of corporations taking steps in the face of political skepticism is Ford and their plan to build electric vehicle factories in Tennessee and Kentucky. The irony of siting these plants in states represented by staunch deniers is the subject of this article: Why Are Republicans Now Loving the Sweet Sound of Electric Vehicles?
“If even dug-in science deniers … can come around on climate issues when they are convinced that doing so would benefit their constituents in visible and measurable ways, then it’s conceivable that an environmentally sound future is possible even in regions now tightly tethered to fossil fuels. It’s even conceivable that renewable energy could cease to be a political issue and become simply a common-sense strategy for a country that doesn’t want to run the planet into the ground…”
The table below (from Wikipedia, but based on IPCC) shows 2050 projections of the number of people expected to live “outside the human climate niche” under various SSP and temperature rise combinations – i.e. Human individuals who will most likely become climate refugees to escape death.