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Post by thelivyjr »

Often overlooked in the 2013 IPCC report was a statement about the world's permissible "carbon budget."

Two landmark articles published in 2009 had taken a new approach to global warming.

Avoiding the complexities of calculating one or another "pathway" of greenhouse emissions over the decades, the authors simply asked how much warming would arise from a given total amount of fossil fuel carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

It turned out that regardless of the pathway, the world was liable to pass beyond the 2°C limit for "dangerous" climate change if more than another trillion tons of fossil fuels were burned after the year 2000.

Since more than a quarter of that had already been burned, "less than half the proven economically recoverable oil, gas and coal reserves can still be emitted up to 2050 to achieve such a goal."

Diplomats shied away from the politically unthinkable problem of dividing up the remaining emissions (notably how to treat developed nations, which had already emitted far more than their equitable share).

Everyone agreed that a strong Kyoto-style comprehensive treaty was out of reach, and the future would have to rely on nations spurring and shaming each other into local pledges.

Some observers advised that it was time to give up the chaotic and time-consuming FCCC process altogether and settle for whatever could be negotiated among smaller groups of parties.

The European Union took the lead.

In October 2014, after complex negotiations, the EU's national leaders issued a joint pledge that by 2030 they would cut their combined greenhouse emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels, and would get at least 27% of their energy from renewable sources.

Further hopes were raised in November by a diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and China, nations that together were producing nearly half the world's greenhouse gases.

Groundwork had been laid the previous year by a pact to restrict their hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas.

Now the American President, Barack Obama, promised that his nation would reduce carbon emissions at least 26% below 2005 levels by 2025; China promised that its CO2 emissions would peak by 2030 and that the fraction of its energy produced by low-carbon sources would climb to 20% by then.

Both goals were achievable if the nations' current policies were continued and pursued aggressively.

However, it was far from clear whether the US political and legal system would allow Obama to follow through on his promise.

In December 2014, national representatives debated fiercely for two weeks in Lima, Peru, preparatory to a major conference scheduled for the following year.

In the end they could only agree to present national plans for voluntary cuts.

It was the first time that all nations, notably including the developing ones, had agreed to make any sort of cuts.

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Post by thelivyjr »

At the long-awaited Paris meeting in December 2015 the diplomacy went smoothly for once, lubricated with excellent French diplomacy and cuisine.

195 nations concurred in an agreement, if only because not much was demanded of anyone.

Typical of the process was an argument over a statement that nations "shall" set their own goals for cutting emissions.

The word implied a legally binding treaty, which the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate would have rejected.

A last-minute demand by the U.S. changed the offending word to "should."

Thus the agreement allowed each nation to limit emissions as it chose, and left them to monitor their own compliance.

The Paris Agreement included a solemn declaration that the world would strive to limit the global rise to 1.5°C.

Asked to study the implications, the IPCC duly reported in 2018 that 1.5° would be far less harmful than 2° in many ways.

But global temperature in 2015 was 1.0° above the pre-industrial level, and another half degree was locked in as a delayed effect from the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.

Everybody knew that even if all nation met their pledged targets — which was hadrdly likely — the targets were so modest that temperatures would probably mount 3° or more.

Only a gargantuan program to suck carbon out of the atmosphere could prevent that, and few imagined such a program was economically or technologically feasible.

The diplomats' 1.5° target was unrealistic to the point of fantasy.

Yet if most of the national targets were met, the world could avoid the utterly catastrophic warming that would come in the absence of any restriction of emissions.

And the nations agreed to reconvene every five years with new plans, presumably ratcheting to tougher goals in each round.

Euphoric delegates called it a historic occasion.

As multilateral negotiations inched ahead, many pinned their hopes on unilateral actions that would be plainly beneficial in themselves.

For example, nations could cut back the half-trillion dollars of direct subsidies that encouraged the use of fossil fuels.

And it would cost relatively little to augment the lamentably small funds spent for research into more benign energy sources.

Below the level of national policy, more and more individual governmental and corporate entities, particularly in the United States and Western Europe, were beginning on their own to seek efficient ways to limit their emissions.

Looking back over this long history, we can see a clear trajectory towards greater cooperation and frank, rationally-based advice and negotiation.

In scope and potential consequence, nothing remotely like the IPCC had ever existed before, nor anything like the huge and ambitious Kyoto and Paris conferences.

In the teeth of opposition from the fossil-fuels industry — the strongest concentration of economic power the world had ever seen — and based on nothing but statements by a few thousand scientists, all the world's governments had made significant promises to alter fundamental practices.

The founders of the International Meteorological Organization, farsighted though they were, could scarcely have imagined it.

If the trajectory were extended a few decades ahead, by which time the harm of global warming would be dreadfully obvious to everyone, much that now seemed out of the question might be negotiated belatedly into action.

"Climatology, even by the standards of science, has been distinguished by a remarkable degree of interdisciplinary and international cooperation."

"As the world continues to grapple with the profound issues posed by the CO2 buildup, it could seek few better models of international cooperation than what we have already achieved."

— E.E. David, Jr. (President, Exxon Research & EngineeringCo.), 1982
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