Global leaders convened in Paris for the United Nations climate summit, where they reached a historic international agreement to act on climate change. Conservative media continue to respond with a series of climate-related myths, but here are the facts.
MYTH: The Public Opposes Global Climate Agreement, U.S. Carbon Reduction Plan
- On the November 30 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney asserted that Obama is "going around the will of the people" by seeking an international agreement on climate change that does not require ratification by Congress. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/30/15]
- When the Obama administration submitted its plan to reduce carbon pollution to the United Nations earlier this year, Varney similarly claimed that the U.S. pledge "is not going to be very popular" and "not going to be well received." [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/31/15]
- On Fox News' Cavuto, Republican strategist Lisa Boothe claimed the Obama administration's pledge to reduce carbon pollution "isn`t what the American people want," citing a Gallup poll suggesting that Americans' overall concern about climate change is low. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 3/31/15]
Polls: Strong Majority Of Americans Support International Climate Change Agreement. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted shortly before the agreement was reached found that 66 percent of Americans think the United States should "join an international treaty requiring America to reduce emissions in an effort to fight global warming." A poll conducted by Benenson Strategy Group for the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists in March found that 72 percent of likely 2016 voters support President Obama "signing an international agreement committing all countries to address climate change by reducing their carbon emissions." And a poll conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication in September and October found that 71 percent of Americans said it was at least somewhat "important" for the world to reach an agreement on climate change in Paris, with 43 percent of respondents saying it was "very" or "extremely" important (percentage of respondents saying it was "important" are rounded up when added together):
Polls Also Show Most Americans Support The EPA's Clean Power Plan, The Cornerstone Of America's Climate Commitment. In August, a bipartisan poll conducted for the League of Conservation Voters by Democratic pollster Hart Research Associates and Republican pollster Chesapeake Beach Consulting found that 60 percent of Americans support the Clean Power Plan, which would address climate change by placing the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The poll's findings echo those from previous polls carried out by the University of Michigan (which found that 67 percent of Americans support the Clean Power Plan),Yale's Project for Climate Change Communication (which found 67 percent of Americans support the plan), Pew Research Center (which found 65 percent support the plan), and The Washington Post-ABC News (which found 70 percent of Americans think the government should reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants). [LCV.org, 8/13/15; University of Michigan, 1/19/15; Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, October 2014; Pew Research Center, 6/2/14; Washington Post-ABC News, 6/2/14]
Global Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds Of People Worldwide Said UN Negotiators Should Do "Whatever It Takes" To Limit Global Warming. The Guardian reported that the Worldwide Views on Climate and Energy consultation, which involved 10,000 citizens from 79 developed and developing countries, found that "[n]early two-thirds of people believe that negotiators at key UN climate talks in December should do 'whatever it takes' to limit global warming to a 2 [degrees Celsius] rise." The Guardian further noted that "78% [of participants] said they are 'very concerned' about the impacts of climate change," and "89% said that climate change should be a national priority in their country" according to the poll, which is "believed to be the most comprehensive survey of global public attitudes to climate change ever conducted." [The Guardian, 6/8/15]
MYTH: U.S. Is Going It Alone On Climate, China And India Aren't Doing Anything
- On the November 30 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Eric Bolling asserted that India "can't get on board" with an international climate agreement because "they're poor." [Fox News, The Five, 11/30/15]
- In a November 16 article headlined "7 Signs the UN Global Warming Talks Are Doomed," the Daily Caller included as one of the "signs" that "India and China Still Won't Get On Board And Any Agreement Is Pointless Without Them." [The Daily Caller, 11/16/15]
- On the March 31 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum bemoaned that the U.S. is voluntarily reducing its emissions at the "upper end of the range" when "no one else has to do it." [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/31/15]
- Discussing the Obama administration's carbon reduction plan during the March 31 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co, host Stuart Varney declared that Congress shouldn't "allow this president to commit America to that kind of emissions cut when China doesn't have to do anything." [Fox Business, Varney & Company, 3/31/15]
- On the March 31 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, republican strategist Lisa Boothe asserted: "What President Obama is essentially doing is saying that we`re going to cut our emissions by 28 percent. Meanwhile, China is going to continue building their energy infrastructure. They`re going to continue their emissions." [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 3/31/15]
188 Out Of 196 Countries Have Submitted Climate Pledges For Paris Summit, And All Nations Ultimately Joined Agreement. Carbon Brief, which has been tracking countries' climate pledges, found that 186 countries accounting for 98.5 percent of global emissions submitted intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations prior to the conference. A couple other countries submitted pledges during the conference itself, bringing the total to 188 countries, and all 196 nations ultimately joined the Paris Agreement. The countries' pledges were incorporated into the agreement, along with a plan for countries to reconvene every five years to strengthen their commitments. [Carbon Brief, accessed 11/24/15; The New York Times, 12/14/15; UN.org, accessed 12/14/15; CNN.com, 12/12/15]
Carbon Brief created a graphic showing the countries that submitted climate pledges -- last updated on December 7 -- and the percentage of emissions covered by the pledges (98.4 percent at the time):
[Carbon Brief, 11/30/15]
Climate Expert: India's Proposed Shift To Renewable Energy Is "Nothing Less Than Gargantuan." In an article rating the climate pledges of ten countries, National Geographic described India's climate pledge as "ambitious," and quoted an expert who said India's proposal to get 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 is "nothing less than gargantuan":
While China and the U.S. get most of the attention, India - where 300 million people still live without electricity - is the globe's third greatest emitter of greenhouse gases, and one of the globe's fastest-growing coal consumers. But it also plans to increase the electricity it can get from renewable energy to about 40 percent by 2030.
One climate expert called that proposal "nothing less than gargantuan." Because India is trying to make most of its investments in clean energy over the next seven years, that could quickly help drive down the cost of renewable technology and "spur a transition toward cleaner sources," wrote climate experts at World Resources Institute. It also plans to replant its forests. Some experts believe India may end up cutting emissions even more than it pledged. [National Geographic, 11/15/15]
India Launched And Will Spearhead Solar Alliance Of 120 Countries. On November 30, The Guardian reported that Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi had announced the formation of "an international solar alliance of over 120 countries with the French president, François Hollande, at the Paris COP21 climate summit," and that the initiative "called the International Agency for Solar Technologies and Applications (Iasta), aims to spread cheap solar technology across the globe with pooled policy knowledge." Additionally, PV Tech reported, "As India will spearhead the Alliance, it marks a move from Modi to bring India forward on the world stage of renewable energy on top of his already highly ambitious targets of 175GW of renewable capacity by 2022." [The Guardian, 11/30/15; PV Tech, 11/30/15]
In September, China Announced World's Largest Cap-And-Trade Program. Climate Central reported:
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced Friday that China will develop a carbon trading system as a way to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions. The announcement, made jointly with U.S. President Barack Obama, comes as both countries prepare to strike a global carbon emissions agreement at the Paris climate negotiations in December. The U.S. and China are the top greenhouse gas emitting nations in the world.
China plans to launch the world's largest emissions trading program in 2017, creating a carbon market for electric power generation, steel, cement and other industries producing most of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. [Climate Central, 9/25/15]
The Washington Post: China Will Need To Make "Huge" Commitment To Zero-Emission Energy Sources To Meet Emissions Reduction Target. The Washington Post reported that in order for China to meet its announced carbon reduction target, a "huge" scale of construction will be required, including adding more zero-emission generating capacity than "all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to the total electricity generating capacity of the United States." The Post also noted that China has already "barred coal-plant construction in some regions." [The Washington Post, 11/11/14]
The Guardian: China "Pledged Bigger Climate Action" Than The U.S. The Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli debunked the claim that China's climate change commitment allows it to maintain a "business-as-usual" approach, noting that curbing "rising carbon emissions as China's economy continues to grow will require substantial effort." By contrast, Nuccitelli noted that the U.S. "will have a relatively easy time" meeting its targeted reduction of 26-28 percent, because it will "only require continuing the current rate at which American carbon pollution is already falling":
China could not meet its climate pledge by maintaining business-as-usual (BAU) and doing "nothing." Quite the opposite; curbing those rising carbon emissions as China's economy continues to grow will require substantial effort. That's why President Xi also pledged that 20% of the country's energy would come from low-carbon sources by 2030.
In comparison, the United States will have a relatively easy time meeting the pledge made by President Obama. US carbon pollution is already about 10-15% below 2005 levels and falling by about 1.5% per year. Achieving the target of 26-28% emissions cuts below 2005 levels by 2025 will only require continuing the current rate at which American carbon pollution is already falling.
[The Guardian, 11/14/14]
MYTH: Climate Agreement Will Harm The Economy
- Copenhagen Consensus Center director Bjorn Lomborg wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "the agreements coming out of Paris are likely to see countries that have flourished with capitalism willingly compromising their future prosperity in the name of climate change." [The Wall Street Journal, 11/16/15]
- On the March 31 edition of Fox News' Special Report, correspondent Shannon Bream reported: "President Obama is submitting a new environmental proposal to the United Nations committing the U.S. to stringent new greenhouse gas emission restrictions so lofty that critics say it's not even possible to meet them without a significant negative impact on the U.S. economy." Bream cited David Kreutzer from the oil industry-funded Heritage Foundation, who claimed the U.S. climate pledge will be a "significant hit" on manufacturing. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 3/31/15; Media Matters, 7/31/15]
- The Heritage Foundation website Daily Signal posted an article from Heritage's Rachel Bovard claiming an international climate agreement will impose "billions of dollars in costs -- onto the American people." [The Daily Signal, 11/24/15]
New Climate Institute Study: Countries' Climate Pledges Will Result In Huge Economic Benefits. The New Climate Institute analyzed the climate change commitments made by the U.S., European Union and China before the conference, and determined that those countries' climate change pledges would result in 1 million additional jobs by 2030 compared to current policies. The study found that the U.S. climate commitments alone would create 470,000 additional jobs by 2030 and save $160 billion per year due to reduced fossil fuel imports. [New Climate Institute, 3/30/15]
London School Of Economics: Countries Will Benefit Economically From Limiting Global Warming. According to The Guardian, a July study by researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science found that "[t]he economic benefits for a country from tackling climate change easily outweigh the costs," and "[c]ountries stand to gain more than they would lose in economic terms from almost all of the actions needed to meet an agreed global warming limit" of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The paper concluded that "the majority of the emissions reductions needed to decarbonise the global economy can be achieved in ways that are nationally net-beneficial to countries, even leaving aside the climate benefits." [The Guardian, 7/12/15; London School of Economics, 7/13/15]
Institute For Policy Integrity: Global Climate Action Has Already Saved U.S. $200 Billion, Could Provide $2 Trillion Benefit To U.S. By 2030. A recent report by the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law found that global efforts to mitigate climate change have already resulted in economic benefits for the U.S. From the report:
The United States has already likely avoided billions of dollars of direct damage to its economy, public health, environment, and national security, thanks to actions undertaken by foreign jurisdictions, like the European Union, in the fight against climate change. Trillions of dollars more for the United States are at stake in securing commitments for future emissions reductions from foreign countries, like China and India.
As this report calculates, global actions on climate change--particularly by Europe, but also including efforts implemented by the United States and many other countries--have already benefited the United States, to date, by upwards of $200 billion. Based on existing policies to reduce carbon pollution and compared to a business-as-usual baseline, global actions will deliver upwards of another $2 trillion in direct benefits to the United States by the year 2030. [InsideClimate News, 11/5/15; Institute for Policy Integrity, November 2015]
EPA Predicts Clean Power Plan Will Result In Up To $54 Billion In Annual Economic Benefits, Far Outweighing Costs. According to an EPA fact sheet, the Clean Power Plan, which is a key component of the U.S. climate pledge, "has public health and climate benefits worth an estimated $34 billion to $54 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing the costs of $8.4 billion." [EPA.gov, accessed 8/24/15]
Study: Unmitigated Climate Change Could Reduce Per Capita GDP In U.S. By 36 Percent By 2100. A recent study led by researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley found that climate change could "reshape the global economy by reducing average global incomes roughly 23% by 2100 and widening global income inequality." In its coverage of the study, the Associated Press reported that "[t]he authors calculate a warmer U.S. in 2100 will have a gross domestic product per person that's 36 percent lower than it would be if warming stopped about now." [Nature, 10/21/15; Associated Press, 10/21/15]
White House Council of Economic Advisers Report: Failure To Act On Climate Could Cost U.S. At Least $150 Billion More Per Year. The White House Council of Economic Advisors released a report in 2014 detailing the economic costs of failing to act on climate change. Based on "a leading aggregate damage estimate in the climate economics literature," the report found that the nation will suffer at least $150 billion in additional economic damages each year if global temperatures increase by three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, rather than two degrees Celsius:
[A]lthough delaying action can reduce costs in the short run, on net, delaying action to limit the effects of climate change is costly. Because CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, delaying action increases CO2 concentrations. Thus, if a policy delay leads to higher ultimate CO2 concentrations, that delay produces persistent economic damages that arise from higher temperatures and higher CO2 concentrations.
Based on a leading aggregate damage estimate in the climate economics literature, a delay that results in warming of 3° Celsius above preindustrial levels, instead of 2°, could increase economic damages by approximately 0.9 percent of global output. To put this percentage in perspective, 0.9 percent of estimated 2014 U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is approximately $150 billion. The incremental cost of an additional degree of warming beyond 3° Celsius would be even greater. Moreover, these costs are not onetime, but are rather incurred year after year because of the permanent damage caused by increased climate change resulting from the delay. [Whitehouse.gov, July 2014]
MYTH: Climate Agreement Will Harm Poor People Around The Globe
- Bjorn Lomborg wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that a climate agreement "effectively means telling the world's worst-off people, suffering from tuberculosis, malaria or malnutrition, that what they really need isn't medicine, mosquito nets or micronutrients, but a solar panel." He also claimed, "the truth is that climate aid isn't where rich countries can help the most, and it isn't what the world's poorest want or need." [The Wall Street Journal, 10/21/15]
- Fox News host Dana Perino cited Lomborg's November 16 Journal op-ed to assert: "These world leaders are gambling the world economy on climate change. When you have so many people that are in poverty and starvation, partly because they don't have access to electricity, we should be trying to help them and not decrease our economic output." [Fox News, The Five, 11/17/15]
- In a column for The American Spectator, Marita Noon of the fossil fuel advocacy group Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy criticized Catholic leaders for supporting a global climate agreement that she said would be particularly harmful for "the poor and elderly." Noon asserted: "The bishops want to protect the poor from climate risks, but the risks from poverty are much greater and more immediate than those from climate change, and the global treaty the bishops want would slow, stop, or reverse economic growth, destroy jobs, and raise energy costs, harming everyone--especially the poor and elderly." [The American Spectator, 11/10/15; Sourcewatch.org, accessed 12/1/15]
Climate vs. Poverty Aid Is False Choice; Climate Funds Are Small Portion Of Countries' Foreign Aid. Contrary to Lomborg's claim that climate aid will deprive the world's poor of "medicine, mosquito nets or micronutrients," all of the countries Lomborg mentioned in his op-ed provide significantly more in non-climate foreign aid than what they pledged in climate-related support to developing countries before the conference:
- United States: President Obama pledged $3 billion in aid to the United Nations Green Climate Fund to be provided over several years, including $500 million in fiscal year 2016. But the U.S. plans $33.7 billion in total foreign aid for fiscal year 2016 alone. [National Journal, 6/2/15; Reuters, 9/26/15; ForeignAssistance.gov, accessed 12/1/15]
- United Kingdom: The U.K. is diverting $8.8 billion from its overseas aid budget to climate-related aid over the next five years, or $1.76 billion per year. The U.K. spent a total of 11.4 billion pounds, or $17.56 billion, on foreign aid in 2013 alone. [Bloomberg Business, 9/27/15; The Week, 9/3/15]
- China: In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged 20 billion yen, or approximately $3.1 billion, to help other developing countries combat climate change. At the same time, China pledged $12 billion over the next 15 years to fight poverty. [WhiteHouse.gov, 9/25/15; The New York Times, 9/27/15]
- France: France has pledged $5.6 billion in annual climate-related aid by 2020, up from $3.4 billion this year. France currently contributes over 9.3 billion euros -- or about $9.9 billion dollars -- per year to foreign aid as a whole. [The New York Times, 9/29/15; France Diplomatie, accessed 12/1/15]
U.N. Report: Climate Change Effects Amplified In Poor Societies. The Center for Global Development (CGD) compiled portions of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that clarify the risks disproportionately faced by the poor (emphasis added by CGD):
Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence) [...] Risks are amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in poor-quality housing and exposed areas
Until mid-century, projected climate change will impact human health mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist (very high confidence). Throughout the 21st century, climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health in many regions andespecially in developing countries with low income, as compared to a baseline without climate change (high confidence)
Climate-change impacts are expected to exacerbate poverty in most developing countries and create new poverty pockets in countries with increasing inequality, in both developed and developing countries. In urban and rural areas, wage-labor-dependent poor households that are net buyers of food are expected to be particularly affected due to food price increases, including in regions with high food insecurity and high inequality (particularly in Africa), although the agricultural self-employed could benefit. Insurance programs, social protection measures, and disaster risk management may enhance long-term livelihood resilience among poor and marginalized people, if policies address poverty and multidimensional inequalities [Center for Global Development, 4/1/14]
World Health Organization: Children Living In Poor Countries Among The Most Vulnerable To Health Risks Of Climate Change. The World Health Organization highlighted the ways that climate change will have a disproportionate impact on people -- and children in particular -- in poor and developing countries:
Children -- in particular, children living in poor countries -- are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks and will be exposed longer to the health consequences.
Areas with weak health infrastructure - mostly in developing countries - will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond. [WHO, January 2010]
Stanford's Jacobson: Pollution From Fossil Fuels Responsible For Millions Of Mortalities In Developing Countries. Mark Jacobson, director of Stanford University's Atmosphere and Energy program, told Media Matters:
Fossil fuels and solid biofuels kill 4-7 million people prematurely worldwide each year, primarily in developing countries, and 20% of the mortalities are children under the age of 5 years old. Further, the extreme heat and crop death that occurs such as in Subs-Saharan Africa due to the growth of fossil-fuel emissions and resulting global warming is enhancing heat-stress mortality and famine-related mortality. [Email to Media Matters, 6/25/15, data from World Health Organization, 3/25/14]
World Bank: Impacts From Climate Change Could Reverse Improvements In Poverty Reduction. A 2012 report from the World Bank called "Turn Down The Heat" stated that climate change impacts will have "adverse implications for efforts to reduce poverty," including reversing possible improvements made in malnutrition and health services (emphasis added):
The projected increase in intensity of extreme events in the future would likely have adverse implications for efforts to reduce poverty, particularly in developing countries. Recent projections suggest that the poor are especially sensitive to increases in drought intensity in a 4°C world, especially across Africa, South Asia, and other regions.
Whilst economic growth is projected to significantly reduce childhood stunting, climate change is projected to reverse these gains in a number of regions: substantial increases in stunting due to malnutrition are projected to occur with warming of 2°C to 2.5°C, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and this is likely to get worse at 4°C. Despite significant efforts to improve health services (for example, improved medical care, vaccination development, surveillance programs), significant additional impacts on poverty levels and human health are expected. [World Bank, Turn Down The Heat, November 2012]
MYTH: Climate Agreement Is Meaningless Gesture That Won't Limit Global Warming
- USA Today published an op-ed by prominent climate science denier Marc Morano, who asserted: "The notion that a U.N. agreement to limit emissions will somehow alter the Earth's temperature or storminess is bordering on belief in witchcraft." [USA Today, 12/1/15; Media Matters, 3/8/15]
- In an article headlined "'Undetectable': The Impact A UN Treaty Will Have On Global Warming," The Daily Caller claimed that "what U.N. treaty proponents are loathe to mention is just how little an impact current pledges to cut carbon dioxide emissions will really have on warming." [The Daily Caller, 11/18/15]
- Bjorn Lomborg wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "At best, the emissions cuts pledged in Paris will prevent a total temperature rise by 2100 of only 0.306 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a peer-reviewed study I recently published in Global Policy." [The Wall Street Journal, 11/16/15]
- Lomborg also wrote in Investor's Business Daily: "What would happen if every country taking part in the United Nations climate summit in Paris later this month cut its greenhouse gas emissions as they have pledged? The short -- and long -- answer is: nothing." [Investor's Business Daily, 11/11/15]
- Fox's Stuart Varney asserted that at the U.N. conference, Obama will "commit America to spending an enormous amount of money to help lower the planet's temperature by a miniscule amount." [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/20/15]
Lomborg's Oft-Cited Study Dismissing The Climate Agreement's Impact Has Been Roundly Debunked. Bob Ward, policy and communication director at The London School of Economics' Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, wrote that Lomborg's study contains "bizarrely pessimistic assumptions about future emissions." Climate writer Joe Romm noted that experts at Climate Interactive concluded that Lomborg's study "appears to have no basis in fact," and that his "optimistic" scenarios "are, in fact, deeply pessimistic." And in its "Climate Denier Roundup" for Daily Kos, Climate Hawks summarized the paper's failings:
The biggest failing is that Lomborg basically ignored China's commitment, which reduces future temps--in and of itself--by 0.4°C, or almost an order of magnitude greater than Lomborg's estimate. Bjorn's other missteps include assuming that Europe will reverse its decades-long trend of increasing renewables and efficiency in 2030, ignoring the pledges of developing nations as well as significant emitters like Canada, Australia Japan and Mexico, and finally, underestimating those pledges he does see fit to include.
So while real academics point to the fact that Paris would cut projected warming by a full degree C, on the conservative side, and by nearly half, if countries continue to reduce emissions after 2030, Lomborg offers this clearly deficient analysis. [London School of Economics, accessed 11/24/15; ThinkProgress, 11/9/15; Daily Kos, 11/11/15]
Studies Show Agreement Based On Countries' Commitments Can Avert Approximately One Degree Celsius Of Warming. The nonprofit Climate Interactive projected that if all countries' existing carbon reduction pledges are "fully implemented, with no further action," global temperatures will rise 3.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, which is 1 degree less than the 4.5 degrees Celsius of projected warming that would occur under "business as usual." The Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of four research organizations, projected that the pledges submitted to the UN as of October 1 would limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, assuming "a similar level of effort will be undertaken by countries post-2030 as applies in the period 2020-2030." That would be 0.9 degrees Celsius below the amount of warming that Climate Action Tracker projects to occur under current policies, and 1.4 to 2.1 degrees Celsius below the amount of warming the group predicts would occur in the absence of any global warming policies. In October, Bloomberg Business published a chart summarizing the range of projections, which also included the International Energy Agency's (IEA) projection that -- in Bloomberg's words -- "temperatures were likely to rise by 2.6 degrees Celsius by 2100, and by 3.5 degrees Celsius a century later":
Organizations Project Nations Can Build On Paris Agreement To Beat 2 Degree Celsius Target. The Paris Agreement committed countries to addressing the "significant gap" between their current pledges and "aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels," while also "pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels." The Climate Action Tracker found that the additional actions beyond Paris necessary to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius are "technically and economically feasible." And Climate Interactive, which noted that the agreement includes "the commitment to review national pledges every five years, starting in 2018," determined that global warming could be limited to 1.8 degrees Celsius "[i]f nations offer deeper, earlier emissions cuts at that time and continue progress." [UNFCCC.int, 12/12/15; ClimateActionTracker.org, accessed 12/3/15; Climate Interactive, 12/14/15]
UNFCCC Exec. Secretary: Paris Agreement Will "Chart The Course Towards" 2 Degree Celsius Goal. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told reporters ahead of the agreement in Paris that it is not intended to "miraculously solve climate change" or single-handedly limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but instead is meant to "chart the course towards that long-term destination":
"The idea is that the Paris agreement will put us not on an emissions trajectory for 2 degrees, but on an institutional trajectory that allows us to try to meet that goal," Alex Hanafi, climate strategist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Climate Central in February.
U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres agrees.
"It is a fundamental misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the complexity of what we're dealing with to even imagine that an agreement in Paris would in and of itself, at the turn of a dime, miraculously solve climate change," she said in February. "What Paris does is to chart the course toward that long-term destination."
Figueres also said last December that the U.N. knows that "the sum total of efforts (in Paris) will not be able to put us on the path for two degrees," but said the world "will get there over time." [ThinkProgress, 9/4/15]
Princeton Climate Scientist: "Not Too Late" To Reach 2 Degree Celsius Target. Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientists at Princeton University, told The Huffington Post that "[i]t's not too late to make a two-degree target," adding that when countries begin to implement their emissions reductions, they may "find it easier and cheaper than they thought, and then maybe they will do more and more of it at an accelerating pace":
"It's not too late to make a two-degree target, but it's getting late fast," Oppenheimer said. "If we twiddle our thumbs for another 10 years, it will be almost impossible to make it without some Hail Mary pass with technology that may or may not work out." (Scientists are investigating an assortment of extreme measures, such as sucking massive amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.)
"The importance of these INDCs is for governments to have plans that they can take home [from Paris] and begin to implement," Oppenheimer continued. "And, as they start, hopefully they'll find it easier and cheaper than they thought, and then maybe they will do more and more of it at an accelerating pace." [The Huffington Post, 11/16/15]
MYTH: Agreement Will "Punish" The U.S.
- On November 1, the right-wing website World Net Daily published an article alleging that "participating nations have prepared a treaty that would create an 'International Tribunal of Climate Justice' giving Third World countries the power to haul the U.S. into a global court with enforcement powers." [World Net Daily, 11/1/15]
- In a November 2 column, editor-in-chief emeritus of The Washington Times Wesley Pruden wrote, "The wise men of the world, the leaders of governments and a clutch of double-dome prelates and other academics, have prepared a treaty to create an International Tribunal of Climate Justice, with enforcement powers, to enable the deadbeat countries of the third world to nibble at the sovereignty of their betters, and to hail [sic] the United States into kangaroo courts to take up American violations of 'climate justice,' 'climate finance,' 'climate debt' and 'technology transfers.'" [The Washington Times, 11/2/15]
- On the November 2 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh read at length from the World Net Daily article and asserted that the move to establish the Tribunal was evidence of "yet another technique, opportunity for [the] United Nations to fleece the United States after proclaiming the United States guilty of immorality and injustice." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/2/15]
UN Climate Chief: Member States Said Deal Should Be "More Collaborative Than Punitive." Prior to the Paris Agreement, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said the "overwhelming view" among member states was that the agreement "has to be much more collaborative than punitive." Reuters further noted that Figueres believes it "can serve countries' economic self-interests" to cut emissions, and added that the negotiations included "carrots for participation by developing nations":
Critics say that simply shaming outliers will not ensure compliance and that, unless there are costs for non-compliance, any country can share in the global benefits of reduced temperature rises while leaving the hard work of emissions cuts to others.
But Figueres, the U.N. climate chief, believes that cuts in greenhouse gases can serve countries' economic self-interests. China, for instance, can improve the health of millions by shifting from coal-fired power plants that cause air pollution.
And sharp falls in the costs of solar and wind power also mean that greener technologies can help, rather than hinder, economic growth, benefits that were not so evident under [the 1997] Kyoto [Protocol], she said.
The Paris accord also holds out carrots for participation by developing nations, including a new mechanism to fund loss and damage from hurricanes, droughts or rising sea levels. [Reuters, 10/12/15]
The New York Times: Individual Countries' Plans Are Voluntary. After the agreement was reached, The New York Times reported: "[T]he individual countries' plans are voluntary, but the legal requirements that they publicly monitor, verify and report what they are doing, as well as publicly put forth updated plans, are designed to create a 'name-and-shame' system of global peer pressure, in hopes that countries will not want to be seen as international laggards." [The New York Times, 12/13/15]
Slate: Paris Agreement "Won't Punish Countries That Shirk Their Climate Commitments," But It Will "Incentivize Action." Slate reported:
The big criticism of the landmark Paris climate deal is its lack of enforcement mechanisms. If India keeps burning coal like crazy, it won't face fines or sanctions. Nobody is going to invade Nigeria if it fails to lower emissions. What the critics don't understand, however, is that this is a feature, not a bug. How else would you get 195 countries to sign off on it?
But that doesn't mean that the Paris Agreement, announced Saturday, is worthless. Because the process it lays out--in which individual countries make emissions commitments and then reconvene every five years to measure progress and rich countries pledge $100 billion in aid to poorer countries--taps into a few forces that can be almost as powerful as the threat of punishment. These include: peer pressure, the desire to save face, the profit motive, and the dynamics of capitalism. [Slate, 12/14/15]
MYTH: China Lied About Coal Emissions And Therefore Can't Be Trusted To Uphold Climate Pledge
- After the Chinese government revised its coal emissions data to show that the country had been burning 17 percent more coal than previously thought, New York Times columnist David Brooks cited China's revisions as purported proof that a UN climate deal would be "perfectly designed to ensure cheating." Brooks claimed that China was "forced to admit" it was burning more coal "than it had previously disclosed," and added that "the cheating will create a cycle of resentment that will dissolve any sense of common purpose." [The New York Times, 12/1/15]
- On the November 7 edition of Fox News' Forbes on Fox, host David Asman claimed that China is "cheating" and "cooking the books on coal," and asked his panelists if the news about China's coal usage is "more proof it's time to stop making phony deals on climate change." Five of the six panelists criticized the idea of making a climate deal with China. Elizabeth MacDonald went even further, claiming that China's coal use is even more than reported: "It's probably double or quadruple that. We don't even know." [Fox News, Forbes on Fox, 11/7/15]
- On the November 4 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Dana Perino asserted that China "has been lying about its output of carbon emissions" for the "last several years," adding: "Next week, I think, President Obama goes to Paris to have this consultation about a big climate change summit, and it's based on lies." [Fox News, The Five, 11/4/15]
- On the November 4 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney declared: "I've got a news alert for you. Here we go. China's been lying to us." Fox correspondent Elizabeth MacDonald asserted that "[t]here's probably more cheating going on," and correspondent Ashley Webster claimed that China is "[a]bsolutely not" going to abide by its carbon reduction commitments. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/4/15]
TIME: Revisions Unsurprising To Energy Experts Who Say "China Has Slowly Become Better At Measuring And Reporting Energy Use." TIME reported that experts said the revisions were not "underhanded plotting," but rather occured because China has "slowly become better at measuring and reporting energy use and carbon dioxide pollution in recent years":
[E]xperts say the real reason China underreported the amount of coal it's burning is probably more a matter of bureaucratic inefficiency than underhanded plotting.
The numbers came as little surprise to energy experts who said that China has slowly become better at measuring and reporting energy use and carbon dioxide pollution in recent years, as the country has renewed its commitment to addressing climate change.
Experts attributed much of the previously unreported coal consumption to broadly scattered plants and factories that the national government may have difficulty regulating.
"This has been coming for awhile," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The Chinese would be the first to acknowledge that they need to continue to invest in their monitoring and transparency regime domestically to get a better handle on emissions."
China has ramped up its efforts against global warming in recent years, including by promising to introduce measures to ensure transparency. The country has collaborated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve its measurement and reporting techniques since as early as 2009.
Other measures have sought to decrease reliance on coal and other energy sources that produce high levels of carbon pollution. [TIME, 11/4/15]
Experts: "The Good News Is China Is Not Hiding From This," It's "Heartening" China Corrected The Data. Multiple experts have explained that the "revisions are not a sign of Chinese obfuscation," according to Mashable. Kelly Sims Gallagher, who directs the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University's Fletcher School, said to Mashable: "Obviously it is not good news that China's coal consumption was much higher than previously thought, but it is heartening that China corrected the data and reported it transparently." And Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Barbara Finamore told The Huffington Post that "[t]he good news is China is not hiding from this. They're working hard to improve the ability to monitor coal use and carbon pollution, so that's where these figures are coming from." [Mashable, 11/4/15; Huffington Post, 11/5/15]
World Resources Institute (WRI) Expert: Most Studies Published This Year Already Take Revised Data Into Account, China Still Likely To Meet And Exceed Energy Targets. Mashable reported:
Ranping Song, developing countries climate action manager for the World Resources Institute, said because the revisions began occurring late last winter, they are not likely to endanger the Paris talks -- which are increasingly seen as among the most promising climate talks to date.
"Most of the studies published since the beginning of the year already take into account this data," Song said. "I don't think this will have any impact on the negotiations side just because it's already been understood and discussed."
For example, a study released by the U.N. on October 30, which found that the Paris Summit commitments to-date would get the world about halfway to its 2-degree target, included the revised Chinese data, Song said.
Song's research, along with that of his WRI colleagues, shows that China is likely to meet and exceed its targets on the energy intensity of its economy and other measures through at least the end of this year.
"I think this is a capacity issue rather than a deliberate intention to manipulate data," Song said. He notes that China is a large developing country with less sophisticated emissions accounting systems compared to industrialized nations like the U.S. and European Union.
"I don't believe that this undermines China's credibility, it showcases its commitment," he said. [Mashable, 11/4/15]
Science Magazine: "Several Experts" Agree With WRI That Higher Coal Consumption Rate Already Known And Has Been Factored Into Upcoming Talks. Science magazine reported that other experts agreed with WRI's Song:
A front page story in The New York Times (NYT) on 3 November proclaimed that Chinese officials had suddenly, though quietly, announced that the country was burning up to 17% more coal a year than was previously disclosed. The story also suggested that the higher estimate posed difficulties for the upcoming United Nations summit in Paris on greenhouse gas emissions. But several experts say the higher rate of coal consumption has been known for months and has already been factored into the negotiations.
"The WRI commentary is correct," says Josep Canadell, an earth system scientist at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Canberra who is also executive director of the Global Carbon Project, which tracks greenhouse gas pollution.
I don't think [the revised data] will affect the climate negotiations," says Sha Fu, an environmental economist at China's National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation in Beijing who is a member of the Chinese delegation to the talks.
Fu notes that the statistics bureau released further details on the revisions in May before finalizing data on energy use since 2000 in the energy chapter of the China Statistical Yearbook 2014 published in late August. The release of the yearbook apparently led to the NYT article. [Science, 11/5/15]
This item has been updated to incorporate the agreement that was reached on December 12.
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