The Bigger Picture

What’s wrong with the Paris Agreement?

Even if the main goal agreed in Paris is to limit global warming to ‘well below 2°C’ (rather than the ambition of 1.5 °C), we in the GlosCAN Steering Group agree with most observers that, as things stand, the chances of meeting that goal are slim.
The main shortcomings of the Paris Agreement seem to us to be as follows:

  • The Paris Agreement depends on individual countries delivering on their own voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their territories.
    The Agreement does not cover emissions from international transport (shipping and aviation).
  • Even if all countries deliver on their commitments, the most likely outcome would be a temperature rise well above 2 °C by 2100, and continuing to rise.
  • The Agreement has no enforcement mechanism but relies on a periodic ‘global stock-take’ process, with ‘naming and shaming’ of countries failing to deliver their commitments.
  • The Agreement implies a radical shift away from fossil fuel use but contains no mechanism to limit the production of fossil fuels.
  • The Agreement is not due to take effect until 2020.


What is needed internationally?

Our Green Party MEP, Molly Scott Cato, recently commissioned a short report,   ‘Controlling Carbon’ by Professor Victor Anderson. In the Preface she wrote: ‘As a Green economist, I believe that what we need most urgently is a lever that can be used to exert pressure on the global economy to move beyond the era of fossil fuels’. While we are not all supporters of the Green Party, we in the GlosCAN Steering Group thoroughly agree with her diagnosis.
Professor Anderson’s report summarises and explores the merits of various possible economic ‘levers’, namely:

  •    The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (known as a ‘cap and trade’ scheme);
  •    The ‘international Stern Report’ approach;
  •    Carbon Tax;
  •    The ‘Hansen proposal’ (known as ‘Fee and Dividend’), advocated by the US-based Citizens’ Climate Lobby
  •    The ‘Feasta proposal’ (known as ‘Cap and Share’ or ‘Cap and Dividend’), advocated by the CapGlobalCarbon initiative.
  •    The ‘Carbon Quotas’ proposal (also known as personal carbon rationing), and the related ‘Tradeable Emissions Quotas’ proposal.

We in the GlosCAN Steering Group want our Supporters to be aware that there are more tools in the international ‘toolbox’ for tackling climate change that have not yet been properly evaluated or tried.

CapGlobalCarbon have produced some lively resources for promoting their ideas, which we think at least deserve serious consideration, even though they only deal with fossil fuels and not other sources of greenhouse gases. See animation.


The UK Picture

  • The UK was instrumental in setting up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the early 1990s.
  • The UK has produced world-leading climate science for decades.
  • The UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act was the world’s first legislation designed to limit climate change.
  • Although there are dissenters, the Climate Change Act retains cross-party support at Westminster (in contrast to the polarised position in the United States, Australia and some other countries).
  • The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions had peaked before 1990 and have continued to fall at a rate that makes the Climate Change Act targets seem achievable.
  • However, if emissions from manufactured and imported goods are included, the UK’s current emissions are little changed from 1990.
  • In March 2016, the Government announced that it would amend the Climate Change Act to require a long-term goal of achieving ‘net zero emissions’ at some time between 2050 and 2100, to be defined by the independent Committee on Climate Change.
  • The independent Committee on Climate Change has warned that the UK is currently not on track to meet medium-term emissions reductions targets for around 2030, even without factoring in emissions from imported goods.
  • In short, the UK is not on track to deliver on its rather weak commitment made under the December 2015 Paris Agreement.

The goal of ‘net zero emissions’ in the second half of this century is in the Paris Agreement as a global goal that is essential if the global temperature is to be stabilised below 2 °C of warming. ‘Net zero emissions’ is a very challenging goal, but not an impossible one. We know of two reputable studies that explore what it might mean for the UK:

  • The late Professor David McKay’s ‘Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air’ (available as a book and free on-line) explores different scenarios, some using nuclear energy and some not. He does not make any judgement on which would be preferable.
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ study develops a scenario where the UK’s current level of economic activity is sustained using only indigenous renewable sources, with no nuclear. It involves a complete transformation of the country’s landscape and a major change in eating habits to a healthier, low-meat, diet, but the numbers add up.

We in GlosCAN think that these scenarios indicate the logical outcome of current Government policy in the decades to come, and that, through education and the media, these ideas should be moving away from the climate activist fringe into the mainstream of national thinking about the future.