The rise of populist leaders threatens the climate deal struck in the French capital in 2015 and will make UN talks more fraught. It is three years since more than 150 heads of state gathered in Paris to negotiate a climate pact that, for the first time, covered the whole world. The landmark deal – following tortuous talks – was celebrated as a triumph not only for the environment, but also for global co-operation. At the exact same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump was on the campaign trail decrying the deal. Few in Paris took much notice of the long-shot presidential candidate who had not yet secured the Republican nomination. Yet as this year’s UN climate talks kick off on Monday in Poland, Mr Trump and other populist leaders like him have become the single biggest threat to the climate pact. The falling cost of wind and solar power, and the health risks from air pollution caused by burning coal, mean that the transition away from fossil fuels will happen regardless of who is in the White House, he says. “In the end capitalism is working. We do what is in our interest, and stopping climate change and improving the environment today are both things that are in the public and corporate interest.” In the US, an expanding group of cities, states and businesses accounting for roughly half of the American economy have created an informal climate coalition, dubbed We are Still In. This optimistic vision stands in contrast to the climate talks in Poland, where the US will host an event to promote coal on December 10. Mr Trump will deliver a video message. The conference centre where the Katowice summit will take place was built on the site of an old coal mine, and the smog that hangs in the air hints at the heavy industry that still fuels this part of southern Poland. But perhaps the air pollution and the abandoned coal mines are an appropriate reminder of what is at stake, as the global climate agreement faces its toughest test yet.
FT 2nd Dec 2018 read more »
As the UN sits down for its annual climate conference this week, many experts believe we have passed the point of no return. On Sunday morning hundreds of politicians, government officials and scientists will gather in the grandeur of the International Congress Centre in Katowice, Poland. It will be a familiar experience for many. For 24 years the annual UN climate conference has served up a reliable diet of rhetoric, backroom talks and dramatic last-minute deals aimed at halting global warming. But this year’s will be a grimmer affair – by far. As recent reports have made clear, the world may no longer be hovering at the edge of destruction but has probably staggered beyond a crucial point of no return. Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable. We have simply left it too late to hold rising global temperatures to under 1.5C and so prevent a future of drowned coasts, ruined coral reefs, spreading deserts and melted glaciers. Nor will the planet’s woes end in 2100. Although most discussions use the year as a convenient cut-off point for describing Earth’s likely fate, the changes we have already triggered will last well beyond that date, said Svetlana Jevrejeva, at the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool. She has studied sea-level rises that will be triggered by melting ice sheets and expanding warm seawater in a world 3-5C hotter than it was in pre-industrial times, and concludes these could reach 0.74 to 1.8 metres by 2100. This would be enough to deluge Pacific and Indian Ocean island states and displace millions from Miami, Guangzhou, Mumbai and other low-lying cities. The total cost to the planet could top £11trillion. Even then the seas will not stop rising, Jevrejeva added. “They will continue to climb for centuries even after greenhouse-gas levels have been stabilised. We could experience the highest-ever global sea-level rise in the history of human civilisation.” Vast tracts of prime real estate will be destroyed – at a time when land will be needed with unprecedented desperation. Earth’s population stands at seven billion today and is predicted to rise to nine billion by 2050 and settle at over 11 billion by 2100 – when climate change will have wrecked major ecosystems and turned farmlands to dust bowls. Scientists warned more than 30 years ago that such a future lay ahead, but nothing was done to stave it off. Only dramatic measures are now left to those seeking to save our burning planet, and these can have grim political consequences. In France, for example, President Macron’s new levies on fossil fuels, introduced to cut emissions and to fund renewable energy projects, triggered riots. Had only modest changes been enacted a few decades ago there would be no trouble today, say analysts. At present, Thwaites glacier in Antarctica contributes around 4% of observed sea-level rise, but it is widely agreed that this could grow exponentially. Indeed, some glaciologists believe that a complete collapse of the Thwaites glacier over coming centuries is now inevitable – and that would raise global sea level by several metres, drowning coastal ecosystems around the world, damaging coastal investments and displacing millions of people.
Observer 2nd Dec 2018 read more »