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Will international climate negotiators take any notice of the IPCC?

 
 
 

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Will international climate negotiators take any notice of the IPCC?

Last Tuesday I went to Victoria University’s annual debrief on the “conference of the parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This annual event usually attracts about ten thousand diplomats, bureaucrats, politicians, and hangers-on. This year's edition, codenamed “COP19”, took place in Warsaw.

The debriefing was convened by New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute Director Dave Frame and featured presentations from Jo Tyndall (MFAT), John Carnegie (Business NZ), Jacob Anderson (New Zealand Youth Delegation), and Adrian Macey (Victoria University Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, formerly New Zealand Ambassador on Climate Change), followed by a panel discussion.

Most of the presentations talked about anything and everything except stabilising man-made global warming. Just when I thought the entire debrief would successfully avoid talking about the central thermodynamic problem, Adrian Macey stepped up to the podium.

And then he totally blew me away.

He actually mentioned a cumulative limit on net carbon dioxide emissions.

He didn’t say the world is going to adopt one. I didn’t expect THAT. He did say climate scientists had made international climate negotiators very uncomfortable by mentioning, in the IPCC’s top-level summary, that fossil carbon emissions permanently warm the climate, and that the only way to stabilise man-made warming is to accept a permanent global limit on net cumulative emissions. I’ll say that again. Adrian Macey reported that climate scientists made international climate negotiators very uncomfortable by telling them how to stabilise man-made climate change. That’s pretty-much equivalent to making a driver uncomfortable by telling them their car has four wheels.

I was gobsmacked.

The IPCC took more than thirty years to get around to mentioning this fundamental result. It is the most clear-cut aspect of climate science. It also happens to completely invalidate pretty-much everything everybody thinks they know about fixing man-made climate change. It especially invalidates the greenie hypothesis known as “contraction and convergence”, which is Marxism in a green caftan.

I decided to be the guy asking awkward questions. Professor Frame gave me first go at question time. “My question,” I said, “is for the whole panel. Building on Adrian’s comment about the cumulative limit, it seems to me that international climate negotiations do not acknowledge the need for a cumulative limit. Do international climate negotiations ignore the science?”

Adrian and Jo went straight on the defensive, trying to justify what they tacitly confirmed: That climate negotiations over the past few decades have completely ignored practical measures to stabilise man-made warming.

So far so predictable. I thought the story would finish there. Scientists overcame massive political resistance within the IPCC to get the long-term effect of carbon dioxide, and the cumulative limit, into the top-level summary of the latest IPCC report. I really didn’t expect international diplomats to start talking about it straight away. I thought they’d gradually work up to it over perhaps a couple of decades worth of tea and scones. In fact, this blog post was originally going to go in a time capsule, to be opened by my grandchildren in 2043.

But then something totally unexpected happened.

The rhetoric shifted. During an email exchange with various participants and observers, a leading bureaucrat started asking questions about the gap between the science and the international negotiations.

I hope that’s the start of an attitude shift. Effective climate policy would open up lots of business opportunities all over the world. But right now we have only hypothesis and rhetoric.

Too many people equate carbon pricing with climate change. Their mental programming goes:
       Climate Policy = “Carbon tax” OR “Emissions trading” OR “Fee and dividend”
The idea that any of these carbon pricing schemes will affect man-made warming is based only on assumption. There is no empirical evidence any of them will work.

Worse, greenies use man-made climate change as an excuse for their car-hating anti-capitalist agenda. That, at least, would be funny if it didn’t pose such a dire threat to the New Zealand economy.

We know that already-invented technology is good enough to satisfy global demand for totally carbon-neutral crude oil, electricity, and other forms of energy. We also know that there is a lot of work to be done, and money to be made, commercialising and deploying carbon-neutral technology such as renewable petrol and diesel. Nothing can happen without a global cumulative limit. Try to make it happen without that, and you'll go broke.

The cumulative limit is not a policy. It is the first, and most important, engineering objective which an effective international climate agreement must achieve. In my view, any agreement that does not include a cumulative limit as a specific, concrete goal (with a deadline), amounts to nothing less than fraud.

It’s great to see the rhetoric coming into line with the science.

 

Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Parametric Modelling Consultant who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your requirements: hello {a} kevincudby.com

 
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