Pragmatics and the Paris Pacts

Efforts toward a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, hence to forestall climate change, will come to a climax in Paris a few weeks from now. Groping Toward Paris, an essay to this blog from February 2015, outlined what is at issue. This post replays Groping Toward Paris and adds several comments of a pragmatic nature, representing my own personal views. – C.H.


Groping Toward Paris (from 7 February 2015) 

A Climate Climax

UN FlagOn 30 November 2015, delegates from about 200 nations will convene in Paris, including many Heads of State and Heads of Government. Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet for 12 days in an attempt to finalize two closely related international agreements:

(1) Conclude a comprehensive agreement on reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sufficiently to hold global temperature increase below 2oC, compared to pre-industrial levels.

2) Establish a $100 billion Green Climate Fund to assist less developed nations to develop economically while coping with effects of climate change. [1]

About the CO2 Emissions Reduction Agreement

Parties to this agreement, especially the economically developed nations that emit the majority of the world’s CO2, are expected to propose national emissions reduction goals sometime this Spring. Those proposals, of course, will remain open to negotiation until a final agreement is concluded. There is an expectation that achieving national goals will be (somehow or another) legally binding. A working level meeting of delegates this week (8 – 13 February 2015) in Geneva is expected to produce a draft agreement, providing a framework for negotiations.

To date, the U.S. has proposed to reduce CO2 emissions levels by 26% – 28% by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. China has proposed to reach a peak in emissions levels by 2030, with reductions thereafter. The European Union has proposed national guidelines of 40% reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. [2]

About the Green Climate Fund

The fund is intended to help less economically developed nations develop sustainably, while coping with effects of climate change. The expectation is that the fund will have $100 billion at its disposal, of which about $10 billion has been promised. The fund is to be administered and distributed under the direction of a Board established by the UNFCCC. [3]

What About It?

The entire matter of climate change is contentious and, unfortunately, highly politicized. In the U.S., any number of credible surveys [4] indicate that belief that human activities seriously threaten the global climate correlates highly with political views. People who profess views associated with the political left tend to regard climate change as a dire and immediate threat to humanity. Those who profess views associated with the political right tend to discount the matter as error or hysteria, if not outright fraud. Further, those polls indicate something less than half of Americans polled believe that human activities seriously threaten the global climate. On top of that, a clear minority of those polled regard climate change as an urgent public issue.

On a global scale, less economically developed nations tend to regard climate change as caused by past actions in the more economically developed nations. Since the developed nations caused the problem, in their view, they should solve it. Further, nations that rely on export of fossil fuels – especially petroleum – for a significant part of their national GDP are understandably less than enthusiastic about an international pact that is clearly detrimental to their economies. In addition to the Middle Eastern nations, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Angola come quickly to mind.

What’s Next?

Diametrically opposed views on climate change are likely to precipitate lots of global political maneuvering and media bombast. In this country, the President and the Congress are, in my view, unlikely to find any meaningful common ground. Globally, nations are likely to watch each other, each waiting for others to make the serious concessions.

In the end, I do think that some sort of agreement will be reached. I doubt that such an agreement will even promise – let alone deliver – the emissions reductions projected as necessary to hold global warming to 2oC, which is the stated objective of the entire UNFCCC process.

What should a smaller manufacturer do? Continue to act in a pragmatic manner. Continue to reduce materials requirements. Continue to improve energy utilization efficiencies. Continue to produce the innovative products, processes and business models that make a business competitive in this globalized economy. In the end, American (and global) manufacturing doesn’t really need a government – driven international agreement. Manufacturing firms need to recognize and address, jointly and severally, the Sustainability of their own businesses.


Comments Added 31 October 2015

>> Events since Groping Toward Paris was published early last February have proceeded pretty much as outlined. The media has relentlessly expounded on the urgency of taking actions to prevent climate change. Much – but not all – of the ceaseless climate change reporting is drivel at best, P. T. Barnum-esque at worst. And I expect that the media’s shrillness and intensity will increase even further during November.

>> The prospect of climate change is not nonsense – or fraud, as some contend. The basic physics behind concern about greenhouse gases is sound. However, the computer model projections of specific effects within specified time spans are tenuous. Earth’s climate is an extraordinarily complex system. It is an immense task to model all of components of such a system – the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns – as well as getting all of the relationships, dependencies, sequences and initial values right.

As Niels Bohr put it, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”.[5]

>> Given that significant global climate change may occur within this century, it is useful to consider what priority pre-emptive actions should have. As those of us who are over 15 years old have experienced, a whole lot of bad stuff can happen in a century. As examples, how should the pre-emptive actions concerning climate change be prioritized compared to: (1) Global economic depression, like or worse than the one that occurred in the 1930’s or the one that almost occurred in 2008? (2) Global war, like the two that happened within the last century, this time with 21st century weapons? (3) Global epidemic, like several in the 20th century and like the recent Ebola scare could have become? (Several more possible calamities, each comparable to climate change in its potential consequences and its probability of occurrence, come quickly to mind. These three are enough to make the point.)

>> The pacts to be finalized in Paris are to replace the Kyoto Accords. Most nations eventually signed the Kyoto Accords. The U.S. did not. Most nations did not even come close to reducing their CO2 emissions. The U.S. did significantly reduce its CO2 emissions. Nations are sovereign entities – they do as their interests and internal pragmatics dictate from time to time, sincere intentions to the contrary notwithstanding.

In my view, the level of human generated CO2 in the global atmosphere at the end of this century will be determined by the interests and internal concerns of about 200 nations, conditioned by everything else that happens over the next 85 years.

Each of us is entitled to their own views.

Chuck & Joan in ParisThoughtful comments are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

UN flag image: © Friziofriziofrizio | Dreamstime.comUn United Nations Flag Photo


[1] Learn more on these issues at the UNFCCC website: http://unfccc.int/2860.php

[2] For more detail, see: http://www.rtcc.org/2015/01/30/pressure-on-to-finish-draft-paris-climate-deal-in-february/

[3] For more on the Green Fund, see: www.gcfund.org

[4] Example polls from the Pew Trust and from the Gallup organization: http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/section-7-global-warming-environment-and-energy/http://www.gallup.com/poll/167843/climate-change-not-top-worry.aspx, and  http://www.people-press.org/2015/01/15/publics-policy-priorities-reflect-changing-conditions-at-home-and-abroad/

[5]  http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/nielsbohr130288.html