The Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2023, Issue 40
by E.G. Nadeau, Ph.D., and Luc Nadeau, M.S.
What’s the war referred to in the title of this article?
Winning the war on global warming would require achieving the major goals adopted by 196 countries and regional entities in the Paris Agreement of 2015:
. . . to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels…. To limit global warming to 1.5°C, greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030.
The current status of this “war”
On our present course, we are set to blow by the 1.5°C goal sometime in the early to mid-2030s. As António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, said to a group of world leaders in September 2022, the 1.5ºC goal is “on life support.” The problem is getting worse, not better. Mr. Guterres told the leaders that although emissions must be cut almost in half before 2030 to achieve Paris Agreement goals, they are on track to rise by 14 percent. He added that: “We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.”
A working group comprising dozens of authors from around the world presented an initial report to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2021. The group projected several scenarios for global temperature in 2081–2100. “Compared to 1850–1900, global surface temperature averaged over 2081–2100 [in] the intermediate GHG emissions scenario . . . by 3.3°C [5.9°F] to 5.7°C [10.3°F]. “The last time global surface temperature was sustained at or above 2.5°C higher than 1850–1900 was over 3 million years ago.”
A Synthesis Report, summarizing the results of three working groups during the past several years, was published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on March 20, 2023.
Hoesung Lee, the Chair of IPCC, made the following comment on the report: “[It] underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all.”
Unfortunately, aside from exhortation and a listing of things we should do to combat climate change, the report provides little guidance on how to increase the compliance of countries and companies in reducing GHG emissions.
So, yes. We are losing the climate change war.
A world in denial
As the above information indicates, even with drastic improvements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we are very likely to exceed the 1.5°C goal set in the Paris Agreement in the next few years, and to be well above the 2°C goal by 2050.
And yet, the UN is still exhorting countries and companies to make radical changes in their fossil fuel use by 2030 in order to avoid what is virtually impossible to avoid. Denialism can be defined as: “an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event when [people or organizations refuse] to accept an empirically verifiable reality.”
In this case, the biggest danger with denialism is that it deters us from taking realistic actions to address the problems of climate change.
Toward a realistic climate change strategy
- For starters, we need to recalibrate our goals based on both climate science, and on the behavior of countries, companies, and individuals in the war on global warming to date.
- Then we need to revise the world’s incentives and sanctions related to greenhouse gas emissions.
a. We have learned that “nationally determined contributions—NDCs,” employed as the primary means to reduce a country’s emissions under the Paris Agreement don’t work. While some countries have set ambitious climate change goals and realistic strategies for achieving them, the large majority have not.
Because countries develop their own NDCs, and there is no accountability backing them up, they are an ineffective means to reduce global warming. To be effective, there needs to be careful accounting and meaningful accountability. (More on this below.)
b. Similar problems are true for corporations. Although some countries and regions apply taxes on carbon emissions, or have developed carbon trading schemes to limit emissions, these constraints on corporate behavior have not proved to be enough, especially for fossil fuel producers, distributors, and users, to stem the increase in corporate emissions. (More on this below.)
There is an accountability problem for corporations as well. They are not held to a consistent set of criteria for determining how well they are meeting climate change goals. Many companies in the fossil fuel sector (as well as some countries) have become masters at “greenwashing” (pretending to be environmentally sustainable in the ways they present themselves to the public, but in fact, doing much more climate harm than good).
There are thousands of national and corporate examples of greenwashing. Following are two of them.
- Norway has the highest percentage of electric vehicles of any country on the planet, but it is also the producer of a vast amount of oil – the 13th largest in the world – most of which is exported to other countries. So, Norwegian citizens pride themselves on their environmental responsibility, while, at the same time, significantly adding to the world’s carbon emissions.
- One would think from BP‘s advertising that the company is a champion of clean energy. Recently, despite windfall profits, BP has backed off on activities related to environmental sustainability. Other major oil companies play similar deceptive games, touting their production of high-methane-producing natural” gas, or their development of “carbon capture” techniques dinner either pie-in-the-sky conceptions, prohibitively expensive, or many years down the road.
3. As suggested in the first part of this newsletter, many, and probably most countries and corporations, will not achieve their emission reduction goals for 2030, 2040, or 2050. Under the current voluntary NDC program and the lack of accountability for corporations, there will be minimal consequences for countries and corporations that fall short of their goals. It doesn’t have to be that way. Listed below are several recommendations for revising sanctions and incentives – perhaps beginning in 2030 (or even earlier).
a. An international coalition of countries that are on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals – European Union members and a scattering of other countries around the world – could develop a set of tariffs and import taxes based on the carbon emissions of the countries and corporations with which they trade. Like a value-added tax, these sanctions could be adjusted to different levels of emissions by country, corporation, and product. The financial penalty could also be ratcheted up over time for countries and corporations that persist in emitting high levels of greenhouse gases.
b. For many developing countries, the major problem is lack of money to change their energy economies. In these cases, major increases in financial incentives for emission-reducing activities are required – (e.g., solar and wind installations, increased energy efficiency in transport and buildings, and for mitigation of events caused by global warming such as droughts, floods, and other natural disasters). There are already several multi-governmental and private non-profit, climate-related assistance programs, but they are grossly under-funded. The New York Times editorial board recently urged the World Bank to increase its climate-related investments in developing countries.
4. To be successful, all of the above activities need to have clear, measurable objectives and corrective actions based on evaluations of the research results.
It’s way past time to get serious about a concerted effort to make progress on reducing global warming, but it’s not too late. A key recent finding is that if we do exceed the Paris Agreement’s 2°C goal, the earth can still recover. However, the more we exceed that goal, the more damage we will do to the environment and ourselves before there will be a reduction in the earth’s temperature.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently published an article about slowing and reversing global warming.
If all human emissions of heat-trapping gases were to stop today, Earth’s temperature would continue to rise for a few decades as ocean currents bring excess heat stored in the deep ocean back to the surface. Once this excess heat radiated out to space, Earth’s temperature would stabilize. Experts think the additional warming from this “hidden” heat is unlikely to exceed 0.9° Fahrenheit (0.5°Celsius). With no further human influence, natural processes would begin to slowly remove the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and global temperatures would gradually begin to decline.
However, “human emissions of heat-trapping gases” are not going to stop anytime soon. As this article indicates, they are likely to continue to increase during most of the 21st century and cause increasing catastrophic incidents along the way.
So, the time to stop the denialism and greenwashing – and begin generous climate aid and rigorous sanctions – is now.