The COP21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change starts next Monday, 30 November and runs until 11 December, at a conference centre attached to Le Bourget Airport on the outskirts of Paris. It’s expected that about 40,000 people will attend. The website has a FAQ section that asks the question of how much all this will cost, but fails to answer it; one estimate puts the cost at over $1 Billion. The carbon footprint will of course be enormous – the official website gives no information on that question either, though an amusing article at Forbes comes up with an estimate of 10,000 tons of CO2. But what is the point of all this? Is it anything more than a pointless virtue-signalling farce?
Bjorn Lomborg has a new paper Impact of Current Climate Proposals published in open-access format in a journal called Global Policy. He analyses the impact of the various “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) that have been proposed for the upcoming Paris COP21 meeting, using a standard climate model (called “MAGICC”, which seems rather appropriate). Now of course many of us here would question the validity of such models. Given that the IPCC only claims to know the climate sensitivity to within a factor of three, do such model predictions have any meaning at all? But the point of Lomborg’s paper is that even if one accepts the model predictions, it shows that combined effect of all the INDCs will be minimal.
Virtue-signalling and finger-wagging
The main function of the conference seems to be for the self-righteous hypocrites flying in to Le Bourget to indulge in a spot of virtue-signalling, expressing their commitment to “save the planet”. Yes, amazingly, that tired old cliché is still being used by headline writers at the Guardian, along with “last chance”, used by churnalists at The Conversation. Despite the failure of previous planet-saving conferences, see this hilarious “last chance to save the planet” compilation, many of those attending really do seem to have fooled themselves into thinking that the future of humanity and the entire planet depends on the vague unrealistic aspirations of the INDCs and whatever other woolly proclamations arise from this particular meeting.
A list of the INDCs submitted can be found here or here. Most of them include statements of intent to reduce carbon emissions by xx% by 20xx, atoning for their previous sins by promising to be good in the future. The religious nature of the process is illustrated by an article Brazil: Redeemer of a Paris climate deal?
The INDCs allow politicians to bask in their own declared virtue; see for example this piece of self-praise from the White House (“Building on the strong progress made under President Obama”… “shows President Obama is committed to leading on the international stage”).
On the other hand, countries that make less virtuous proposals are criticised: apparently Japan’s INDC is “inadequate” while Australia disappoints with a weak climate pledge. In most case the countries criticised in this way are the evil, capitalist western countries that are of course directly responsible for all the world’s problems.
One group of climate activists, “Climate Action Tracker” have appointed themselves as chief finger-waggers, rating most INDCs as either “Inadequate” or “Medium”. According to their graphic, only Bhutan is a role model – not a country one associates with significant carbon dioxide emissions.
Many of the INDCs, often those from big emitters, are so vague as to be virtually meaningless, or have catches attached to them. For example, China, responsible for more CO2 than any other country, only says that it intends its emissions to peak around 2030. India, another big emitter, says that it is going to reduce emission intensity – in other words, a reduction in the proportion of its energy use that comes from fossil fuels. Some countries only offer a reduction per unit of GDP, while others say that any reduction is dependent on receiving billions of dollars in cash.
One academic originally from Pakistan, now at Boston, says that many INDCs are a joke or a farce:
One of the farcical aspects of the process is the question of whether any agreement that may or may not be reached at the COP21 conference will be legally binding. John Kerry declared a couple of weeks ago that it would not be a legally binding treaty. But then the next day, an EU spokesperson declared that it would. This confusion over what would seem to be a fairly basic point is discussed by Reiner Grundmann at Klimazwiebel. There is also a comically muddled piece at Carbon brief, including the helpful clarifying statement from one expert that “It’s always confusing because the binding treaty could have nothing binding in it.”