Right now, the global climate is a patient that has no plausible chance of survival if left untreated. The climate is not merely in “critical” condition — with vital signs that are “unstable and not within normal limits.” It is getting wildly inadequate care.
The big international Paris climate talks in December are crucial to saving the patient. But, by design, they can at best slow the bleeding and get the patient upgraded to serious condition: “Vital signs may be unstable and not within normal limits. Patient is acutely ill. Indicators are questionable.” The patient is still very unlikely to survive without further aggressive treatment.
The widespread confusion on this point — some of which is intentional — leaves us with silly headlines from otherwise serious news organizations like Reuters: “U.N. climate deal in Paris may be graveyard for 2C goal.” I explained back in February that “Of Course Paris Climate Talks Won’t Keep Warming Below The Dangerous 2°C Limit.”
Paris is focused on stanching the bleeding with a tourniquet. The goal has always been to get firm global commitments from the big emitters to meet serious targets in the 2025-2030 timeframe so we can get off our current emissions pathway — a pathway that would blow past 4°C (7°F) warming, ruin a livable climate for centuries and make feeding 9 billion people post-2050 an unimaginably difficult task.
Avoiding the 2°C limit remains an essential goal. Indeed, the best science now makes clear we must say as far below 2°C as is humanly possible — a point the world’s top climatologists bluntly explained in May.
But for Paris to single-handedly achieve that goal, every major country would have to commit to specific and ever-deeper post-2030 carbon dioxide cuts all the way to zero emissions in the next half century or so (and possibly negative emissions after that). Such an outcome was never on the table.
As European Union climate chief Miguel Arias Canete has explained: “2C is an objective. If we have an ongoing process you cannot say it is a failure if the mitigation commitments do not reach 2C.”
Now it is entirely possible we won’t keep warming below 2°C. After ignoring scientific warnings for the last quarter century, the world is running out of time and many of our political leaders still don’t grasp the dire nature of the situation. To quote Winston Churchill once more, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
I am certainly more hopeful than I have been since I started blogging nine years ago — thanks to the Pope’s moral clarity, the stunning clean energy revolution, the game-changing U.S.-China deal and China’s desire to beat its climate, coal, and clean energy targets (see here).
We are still a long, long way from being able to upgrade the climate to “fair” condition: “Vital signs are stable and within normal limits. Patient is conscious, but may be uncomfortable. Indicators are favorable.” But at least we may avoid handing a climate to the next generation that is DOA.