2C or not 2C: That Is the Question About the Durban Deal

We don’t get to marry Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie.   We’re not going to be as successful as Oprah Winfrey or Steve Jobs.

So we generally grade ourselves on the basis of what we think was plausibly achievable, not what is theoretically possible.

On that basis, the Durban Agreement or Durban Platform (details here) was a pretty big success, committing the entire world — not just rich countries — to develop a roadmap for reductions, along with a serious Green Climate Fund.  It’s worth noting that the alternative was not a binding agreement to stabilize at 2°C ( 3.6°F) warming, but a complete collapse of the international negotiating process.

On the other hand, from the perspective of what is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, the agreement was, sadly, lacking.  As noted earlier, Climate Action Tracker analyzed the impact of the frameworks agreed upon at COP17:

The agreement in Durban to establish a new body to negotiate a global agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) by 2015 represents a major step forward. The Climate Action Tracker scientists stated, however, that the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.

The Climate Action Tracker estimates that global mean warming would reach about 3.5°C by 2100 with the current reduction proposals on the table. They are definitely insufficient to limit temperature increase to 2°C.

Recent science suggests that if you go substantially above the 2C target (450 ppm), it becomes increasingly hard to stop at some intermediate level of warming, like 3.5C (600 ppm of CO2) because of the carbon-cycle feedbacks (see “Nature: Climate Experts Warn Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation!” and links therein).  And you probably lose the Greenland ice sheet, albeit over a long time (see New study of Greenland under “more realistic forcings” concludes “collapse of the ice-sheet was found to occur between 400 and 560 ppm”).  And you likely turn large parts of the arable and habited land of the world — including the U.S. Southwest — into dust-bowls, with devastating consequences for our ability to feed 9 billion people by midcentury.

And let’s remember what the formerly staid International Energy Agency reported last month about delaying action until 2020:

Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

Of course, you can make the argument that no target-based deal was possible because the U.S. simply can’t commit to one, primarily because of the fatal decision by U.S. conservatives to embrace climate science denial and demagogue all climate action.  But that table scrap won’t feed anybody in the year 2040.

That said, we needed to get China onboard an international climate regime to ever have a shot of getting a climate deal that would pass muster in the United States.

I’m very interested in your thoughts on the agreement.

Here’s what Center for American Progress Chair John Podesta and CAP Senior Fellow Andrew Light (who was in Durban) had to say:


John Podesta: “I want to congratulate Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change, and his team on a successful outcome at Durban and applaud the strong interagency process that the administration employed to shape this agreement. The Obama administration saw an excellent opportunity here to push China into an agreement to play by the same rules as everyone else and took it. China is in line to be the world’s biggest cumulative emitter by mid-century and as early as 2035. From the perspective of solving this problem we cannot get to any workable resolution unless we can trust the reductions China takes and have a roadmap to get them to strengthen their ambition.”

Andrew Light, CAP’s Director of International Climate Policy: “The Durban outcome succeeded in accomplishing many things, most importantly advancing the implementing document of the Green Climate Fund so that it will become a reality in the coming year. The new fund will anchor a global compact to advance mitigation and adaptation efforts in response to a warmer world. Equally important, it is designed to become the key instrument for mobilizing private capital to advance sustainable prosperity around the world. From the point of view of getting additional tons of carbon out of the global system during this decade the new roadmap will start a process but cannot result in an additional reduction of emissions until after 2020. In contrast, the Green Climate Fund, in conjunction with other instruments that resulted from last year’s successful Cancun meeting, can soon begin working to advance projects around the world that could get additional emission reductions above and beyond those that countries have already pledged to do themselves. The U.S. Treasury Department and State Department deserve credit for engaging with the global community to produce an inspiring outcome.”

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67 Responses to 2C or not 2C: That Is the Question About the Durban Deal

  1. michel veillard says:

    Really time to clean up the mess
    Extracting bicarbonats out of oceans will renew their carbon sinking ability, and will smooth acidic trend.
    Energy will be provided by oceanic wind farms made out of carbon fiber (CO2 and CH4 recycled!) and the weakening of stormy winds will be a nice side effect
    Transforming ghg so as to climatically neutralize them is worth considering, even if energy consuming (see above!)
    Then recycle them : into concrete, and CO2 for biofuel algae, and carbon fiber to replace concrete and steel (big emitters!)
    Last favor : tie ghg extraction with desalination and you benefit of existing processes and beautiful markets

  2. dick smith says:

    To cut emissions we need plan that will speed up the transition away from carbon energy.

    We need to tax carbon. By now most Americans probably know that 97% of climatologists agree on the nature, cause and extent of global warming. What they might be surprised to know is that there is a similar overwhelming consensus among economists that the smartest way to fix it is to tax carbon.

    And, NASA’s Dr. James Hansen is right that the best way to tax carbon is a fee-and-dividend approach. The fee taxes carbon at the first point of sale (the mine or well-head) or at the border for products from countries without a comparable program.

    It’s time for folks to rally around the “tax carbon” message.

  3. dick smith says:

    To cut emissions we need plan that will speed up the transition away from carbon energy.

    We need to tax carbon. By now most Americans probably know that 97% of climatologists agree on the nature, cause and extent of global warming. What they might be surprised to know is that there is a similar overwhelming consensus among economists that the smartest way to fix it is to tax carbon.

    And, NASA’s Dr. James Hansen is right that the best way to tax carbon is a fee-and-dividend approach. The fee taxes carbon at the first point of sale (the mine or well-head) or at the border for products from countries without a comparable program.

    It’s time for folks to rally around the “tax carbon” message.

  4. dick smith says:

    I forgot to mention–the dividend returns all the fees on a per capita basis, except that the import fees will be distributed to businesses that have to compete with countries that don’t impose similar carbon-reduction programs.

  5. Start Loving says:

    Joe, you are our greatest daily source of info. I’m deeply grateful. As I’ve said before, I totally can’t grasp why you write and act as though the power for climate sane policy is in the hands of Obama, the Dems, the Rethugs, China… when all evidence historical and current is that 100% of the hope lies in the people, centrally we Americans, waking up, and standing up, until, UNTIL we get what we want.

    I don’t hold you responsible for this fact, nor for the fact that central to our deadly, affloholic ‘denial’ as a citizenship, let alone your readership, is that WE WANT NOT TO SEE THAT WE ARE THE ONLY ENEMY, WE ARE THE ONLY, AND THE ENTIRE ANSWER. I only hope you are doing what you are doing, out of some clear, well informed, courageous, if not shared with us, strategy. Diagnosis is 90-99% of the cure, and you, being one of our most promising ‘doctors,’ I pray you are facing the honest and correct diagnosis.

  6. Peter Mizla says:

    This ‘agreement’ amounts to nothing but self congratulatory Goo. It will not stop a 4 degree C rise by 2060.

  7. pete best says:

    Its simple, the technology exists to replace coal in its entirity by 2050 globally. Oil and Gas are much trickier obstacles to overcome but eliminate coal and thats down to a 1 pmm increase per annum due to its large carbon emissions per ton of burned. We only need a binding agree on coal now and oil and gas later when these fuels become too expensive via peak means to be economic, We can always start now on all 3 but coals the key and not not bothering with heavy oils or fracking for gas of course.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    China and the United States suffer from classic species gigantism, and are responsible for around 42% of global emissions. Their missions in Durban combined sabotage and hypocrisy. Other attendees took note. Because of this situation, any international agreement, binding or not, is a non starter, and would be flaunted even if passed.

    China’s and America’s political systems are polar opposites, but effectively identical. China is hostage to its coal fueled export industries, and the political influence of its own coal and power industries.

    American oil and coal companies, along with the banks who finance them and the wealthy who cut the coupons, are in complete command of the political process at the national level. The Republicans work for them, and the Democrats are afraid of them.

    It’s time for frustrated Durban attendees to form alliances based on key countries’ spiritual and environmental leadership.

    A mini climate UN should be formed, composed of Sweden, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Bhutan, and New Zealand. Their mission will be to demonstrate moral and practical leadership, and to economically punish those countries who are intent on driving the world into disaster with economic sanctions. The time has come for sticks. Unenforceable agreements and moral appeals to clearly corrupt national governments are doomed.

    Offending countries should experience both product and tourist boycotts. Test cases would be Canada, Poland, and Australia. Phase 2 would be the major emitters.

    Tourist boycotts alone will produce a result. Media manipulated publics will take note, and find out what the world actually thinks of them.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Interesting. This is the only place I’ve seen Todd Stern, or the U.S. Treasury and State Departments given any credit for this outcome.

    All the other analysis I’ve seen congratulates the EU on going in with a proper plan, getting AOSIS and LDCs on-side, and then holding out the carrot of a meaningful Kyoto 2nd commitment period, against the stick of withdrawing, leaving no KP, until everyone else agreed. Meanwhile, not being in KP to start with, the US had little to offer.

    But the other media I read probably has a strong pro-EU bias. What do you see the US as having added to the process?

  10. Bo Norrman says:

    So we have a “climate deal”. Chamberlain also thought he had a deal in 1938… Sometimes a deal that spreads false hope may be much worse than a collapse that forces action. To cite Churchill “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” This deal will not help. Our only hope now is action, by real people all over the world forcing both governments and corporations to change course. The COP agreement will not save us.

  11. I’m extremely glad that the COP17 talks came to some reasonably positive agreements.

    It is similarly important to recognize, as this posting emphasizes, that the current international pledges, apparently unchanged by these agreements, still represent 1000 years of torture for our world.

    I argue strongly against those who oversimplify by saying the Obama administration is doing nothing, or is useless on climate change.

    But we have to equally recognize that US administration leadership on climate mitigation is terribly inadequate to the situation.

    The John Podesta spin quoted here sounds like hiding behind China. Sure, it is a nice piece of progress to have China signed on to some paper. It is incremental progress we need.

    But the number one thing the US can, should, and must do is lead by our own statements and actions. I have heard nothing from Durban that shows bold US leadership. So let’s not oversimplify, and let’s give credit where do. But at root:

    We, the U.S., are the world’s dominant greenhouse polluter. Hiding behind China (or India or anyone) is pathetic.

  12. “… the new roadmap will start a process but cannot result in an additional reduction of emissions until after 2020.”

    To the extent this is strictly true, and is not redressed in the next couple of years, it seems to represent ultimate failure – not remotely cause for congrats to State or Treasury.

    CAP leadership spinmeistering seems pretty darn disappointing here.

    A more artful resolution of apparent conflict between climate truth and political loyalties is called for. One wonders again to what extent the Democratic elite really gets it.

    While of course we remain very deeply grateful for CAP support of the essential Climate Progess, which ‘gets it’ every day.

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    Here’s What I Think

    1. The relevance of our (or any) assessment of the COP 17 deal depends on what we decide to do — and DO — starting tomorrow. What I mean is this: we can applaud the deal or not, we can smile for a day or not, but if we are in any way satisfied with the deal, that would be foolish, unwise, and deeply counterproductive. In other words, we — and the world — cannot “live with” this deal! In other words, the aim starting tomorrow should not merely, or even, be to follow this path and implement this deal well. Instead, it should be to PUSH HARD to cause the world, including the U.S., to make commitments and take actions ahead of, and better than, those that would presumably have to await this deal.

    2. Put another way, we should really see this deal as a “nothing”, even if some might choose to celebrate it. Why? Again, because we can’t “live with” it. We have to do better when it comes to actual actions that nature will note — in other words, when it comes to actual reductions and the timing of those reductions. Why? Because nature doesn’t care about our human deals; she only responds to our actual actions. Rhetoric will not eliminate this fact. Our “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” way of talking, when it comes to attempts on our part to assess our own political processes and deals, MAKES NO DIFFERENCE TO NATURE. When we say, as Joe does, “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”, only ONE of those hands matters to nature: the one that has to do with our ACTIONS (not words) and the dynamics of nature that we try, humbly, to understand and predict.

    3. The framing implicit in the comments, “We don’t get to marry … Angelina Jolie … So we generally grade ourselves on the basis of what we think was plausibly achievable”, is an incorrect framing, an unwise framing, and a counterproductive framing when it comes to the real issue at hand. This is not a mere matter of opinion. Indeed, the fact that we don’t see the problem in this framing IS our biggest problem.

    Yes, we humans normally (or at least often) deem an outcome as “successful”, or as “the best we can do”, or as “better than we expected of ourselves”, and so forth, when we outdo what we THINK is “REASONABLE” to expect of ourselves given that we are far-from-perfect beings. In essence, we are satisfied when we beat the expectations that we have of ourselves.

    That sort of satisfaction IS valid, and not foolish, in relation to many sorts of human activities: when we compete with ourselves (“I want to do as well as I can on the math test, and do my best”) or other humans (“I hope Cal beats Stanford in the Big Game”) and so forth.

    But that sort of framing, and the sort of satisfaction that comes with it, has nothing to do with the essence of the real issue we face, because the nature of the climate change problem does not merely involve humans competing with themselves (as individuals) or with each other. The problem of climate change does NOT rest with the notion of me assessing my actions relative to the expectations I might have of myself and my abilities.

    Instead, of course, only my actions — emissions — matter. And the ultimate “judge”, so to speak, is nature. The consequences of our actions will come as climate change, climatic events, the results of those events, the consequences to humans and other species of those events, and so forth. It will matter not whether we “beat” our own expectations of ourselves.

    Thus, give the COP 17 deal whatever grade you will: An F, a D-minus, a C, a B, or even an A+. Have at it! We’re the professors of ourselves! Let’s pat ourselves on the backs. Why not?

    This problem, other versions of it, and relatives of it, are everywhere around us — and they undermine our ability to see clearly and even genuinely try to achieve the degree of progress we need to achieve. The New York Times judges itself to be doing fine, or at least good enough, because it is “doing better than the other major papers” and (I suppose) “doing better than it did last year” and (perhaps) “doing as well as we expect of ourselves” given that the media business is a tough one and blah blah blah (excuses and more excuses). Many people tell themselves to vote for the Dems, no matter how ineffective they’ve been, because of the “lesser of two evils” paradigm, because of the self-imposed frame that nothing else would be possible or reasonable. And then there are CAP and CP. I would argue — (but won’t go into detail here) — that many of the things that CAP and CP could be doing, and SHOULD be doing, are not being done because of several things, and the “assess oneself mainly against the expectations one might have regarding what is reasonable for oneself to do”, is one of them.

    We are using the wrong measuring-stick to assess our actions. The relevant measuring-stick here isn’t “doing better than we might expect ourselves to do.” Instead, a REAL clock is ticking; REAL emissions are occurring; a REAL climate is reacting; and REAL human consequences, and consequences to other species, are at stake.

    The rhetoric “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” is misleading. The comparison to Pitt and Jolie does not represent the correct nature of the climate change problem. The “2C or not 2C” is cute and catchy — and being cute and catchy is often helpful and necessary in communicating to humans, so from that standpoint, I don’t disagree — BUT the whole nature of the actual problem that we face, and the means by which we SHOULD be measuring ourselves, are not made very clear in this post — or at least they’re being playfully played with. In other words, although I’m sure Joe gets it — or at least I hope he gets it — far too many people DON’T actually get it, so we’d better start making it more clear.

    (We will all see how well John Podesta, Stephen, Andrew, Joe, and others “get it” when we read their final assessments of the COP 17 deal, won’t we? The relevant judges are the principles of nature, and the clock. The stakes are real human lives, and the real climate. The relevant standard is NOT how we might choose to grade ourselves relative to what we think is reasonable to expect of ourselves. If our expectations of ourselves are too low to actually result in us facing and adequately addressing climate change, we actually have to CHANGE our expectations of ourselves to such a degree that we will, actually, face and meet the challenge. Anything less would be ‘blindness’ and utter foolishness. There is no real “on the other hand”. And I’m saying these things without even reminding us of what we already know: that we’ve been in this process for many years now.)

    Also, there are other issues. This is like playing bop-a-mole. We (humans) move on to something while forgetting something else. Not only are we falling short of what (in terms of actions) we think is necessary to achieve a change of less than 2 Deg C, but 2 Deg C itself is just an estimate, and the path we’re on — or even the path that we think might result in 2 Deg C — could easily result in much more than 2 Deg C. Not only that, but there is also the very real matter of the relationships among risk and ethical considerations. We SHOULD NOT — and I mean that very literally — be playing with the RISKS involved.

    Indeed, from an ethical standpoint — from a very real ethical standpoint, all things considered — and given the points already mentioned (about the nature of the measuring-stick that’s applicable to climate change), we should not give the COP 17 deal, or the U.S. presently, anything other than an “F”. And I mean that. No joking. The only grade that could be given, other than an “F”, would have to be based on some measuring-stick other than the one applicable to climate change, and would also have to ignore the matter of ethics. If one were to give the COP 17 deal a “C”, or a “B”, or even a “D”, or especially an “A-minus”, it would have to be relative to “what we expect of ourselves” — the wrong measuring-stick — and would have to ignore matters of ethics.

    The only grade, relative to the scale and standards that ultimately really count, for the COP 17 outcome (as I presently understand it, from the discussions here) should be a pie in the face. Yet as I said, what really matters is not the grade: it’s what we DO starting tomorrow, given that we can’t live with this outcome.

    Be Well,


  14. John Tucker says:

    Besides creating a framework for delay and ample ammunition for critics I dont see how this conference accomplished anything. There are too many other issues being advocated for and little focus on actual methods for reducing CO2 and greenhouse gases.

    Again if this conference could had produced something tangible beyond kyoto, like a per capita target – not more finger pointing, excuses for wavers and “development funds” – they could have made a difference now.

    After helping in WW1, WW2 various treaties, establishment of a world body, advances in food production, medical technology, drugs, antibiotics, general technologies – like clean energy, advancing social justice movements the idea that the US or the developed world needs to be “punished” for past carbon emissions is ridiculous.

    Someone needs to put their foot down – play the adult and say enough is enough. This is how much carbon you can play with as a respected and responsible member of the world community and no more.

  15. J Bowers says:

    I have to say I’m becoming more and more impressed with Chris Huhne. He increasingly stands out as a beacon of reason and sanity in one of the most messed up British governments ever.

  16. Y. says:

    “plausibly achievable” is just not good enough. It’s a 7 year delay + who knows how long after that. And the IEA says we can’t stop 2C after 2017.

    I would have said this is a disappointment, except I had no expectations in the first place.

  17. Gail Zawacki says:

    “Recent science suggests that if you go substantially above the 2C target (450 ppm), it becomes increasingly hard to stop at some intermediate level of warming.”

    I don’t understand how this 2C target can be anything but arbitrary, and false. Once the process of climate change has begun from whatever initial forcing – which it obviously has, in the contemporary case from CO2 released by burning fossil fuels – isn’t it only a matter of time before amplifying feedbacks kick in? Not if, but when? Which, again, in the contemporary case they already have started – albedo effect leading to melting glaciers and ice caps, and permafrost melt leading to methane release for example…So that it is, again, only a matter of time before we achieve and then surpass “intermediate” warming?

    And that’s not even counting dying forests no longer functioning as the primary carbon sink!

  18. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The statement by John Podesta seems highly political to me. From what I saw over several hours, I could have sworn that most of the speakers were criticizing and pressuring the USA. And the final last minute change of words that saved it was cooked up by the EU and India, ME

  19. fj says:

    Yes, it seems that it’s starting to sink in how fast we should be moving to stop climate change.

    And, James Hansen’s recent statement that “2% is not enough” is most important.

    And, it’s great the fossil fuel industry has not completely derailed the process; and, it seems the Green Climate Fund is being addressed and must be considered ample encouragement for increasing the pressure for adequate action.

    Nothing is in place yet to move on the crisis in a timely manner which is as absurd as handing someone a parachute after falling off a cliff.

    We must start moving at wartime speed to stop accelerating climate change.

    We must reduce emissions to near zero or better and start restoring the environment.

    The extremely important Green Climate Fund is poor people first and crucial for success.

  20. Joe Romm says:

    Insisting on China and other non-annex 1 countries in the next phase.

  21. Joe Romm says:

    Thanks. Still 41 votes in the senate trump a whole lot of people.

  22. Leif says:

    Not any jobs, only GREEN JOBS can get us out of the dilemma our Nation and the world faces. Black jobs only dig the hole deeper. Science tells us we have perhaps as few as 5 years before the sides start to crumble and the climb out will become fruitless for the masses. The rich believe that their wealth will allow them escape in their gated communities but that, in the end, is fruitless as well. Acidified oceans will not provide fish. Dessicated farmland and will not provide grain. Denuded forests will not provide fowl. Poisoned rivers and even ground water will not provide water. With no workers left to build, harvest, repair, there will be no future for the pampered. They are as doomed as we all are.

    Every day supper tankers bring oil to our shores at great costs to the Nation and great profits to the few. These ships travel the ocean at ~30 ft/g of bunker fuel. Every day the sun provides enough energy to power the Nation and allow us to keep the the value in circulation at home but but that energy goes to waste because there are more immediate profits to the money movers within the status quo.

    For over 200 years our citizens have worked for the Capitalistic/Corporate system. The Nation has amassed great wealth, now controlled by the 1%. It is long passed time for the Capitalistic/Corporate system work for the citizens, Nation, humanity, and Earth’s life support systems.

    We ask not for followers for we are leaders ALL. “Keep the company of those that seek the truth, run from those who have found it.” Vaclav Havel.

    We are the 99%.

    or as I prefer:

    We are 100% of the oppressed.

  23. John Tucker says:

    We are not even close to tackling emissions growth here. Our clean energy beyond Gas is so underfunded as to be almost ineffective.
    How do you even know we can provide assistance?

    I guarantee this will end up ion someones pocket or actually increase greenhouse gases via industrial/urban development.

  24. Thanks for the link, FJ. It’s important to keep the perspective that already, substantial and immediate backtracking of emissions levels is needed to get back down to 350ppm.

  25. John Tucker says:

    And I dont even consider Gas close to clean but its the only thing really keeping our emissions at a lower growth.

  26. John Tucker says:

    sorry – that was in response to the fund part j. I agree with the rest totally.

  27. Chad says:

    “primarily because of the fatal decision by U.S. conservatives to embrace climate science denial and demagogue all climate action”

    Joe, I am surprised you attempt to dismiss this issue, when in fact it is the elephant stomping around the room during these negotations. Everyone sitting at that table knows that the Tea Party holds, and will indefinitely hold, a veto over any global climate treaty.

    It’s insane, but it is a fact.

  28. It means that we need to build a huge grassroots movement in the US in the next few years to get Congress to pass a reasonable climate law after 2015.

    Build a grassroots movement, and pray for a large Democratic majority in both houses of Congress.

  29. Rob Jones says:

    Not an altogether bad plan but Australia will not be bothered by a tourist boycott. We already have one and it is because of our high dollar (ironically high because of our coal and iron iron exports).

  30. Tim Laporte says:

    No, we need to pass a climate law – preferably a carbon tax – BEFORE 2015. The reason for this is that the text of the forthcoming treaty will be determined in 2015. This means that we must ALREADY have our carbon policies in the books, or else our lowball approach will interfere with the process of assigning national carbon caps in the 2015 protocol. We will then have 5 years to pass the new treaty, which is a much heavier lift because it requires 2/3 approval by both houses of congress. However, it may be doable since by that point the consequences of climate change will be much more real to everyone.

    Also, I will point out that there is actually a chance that we could succeed in passing a reasonable climate bill before 2015, if we push for a carbon tax to be included in the budget reconciliation that must occur before 2013. If we attach a carbon tax to the budget compromise, Republicans would have to pass it, or else lose the Bush tax cuts and face across the board military spending cuts. I have been pushing for Tar Sands Action to make the case for a nation-wide carbon tax in 2012.

  31. Tim Laporte says:

    Chad, we have until 2020 to pass the new treaty. That is a long time in the world of climate change. After another 9 years of destructive weather, and the IPCC 5th (and maybe 6th) Assessment, the politics surrounding climate change will be, I suspect, much different. I think a treaty will be passable in the US, especially since it now looks like China and India will be included in it. The real question is whether this treaty will be strong enough to protect the climate.

  32. fj says:

    There’s huge waste the way civilization does things and there will be manmade amplifying feedbacks creating rapid emissions reductions once we get our minds around it.

    Amory Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute calls this something like Factor10X design or engineering.

    These advances will be wonderfully disruptive like information and communications technologies (ICTs) and will be major game changers. In fact ICT technology is somewhat behind the rapid drop in solar photovoltaic costs.

    Do pardon my optimism.

  33. John Lemons says:

    I am surprised that you consider the outcome of the Durban conference to be a “pretty big success.”

    1. The agreement(s) will not affect greenhouse gas emissions until after 2020 and, in fact, postpones decisions on further emissions reductions. This is in contrast to, e.g., increasing scientific conclusions that emissions have to peak and then begin substantial declines by 2015 to avoid serious impacts.

    2. How can an agreement that, conservatively, puts us on a trajectory of achieving a 3.5C increase at minimum be considered a success?

    3. Approval of the so–called “green fund” contains no provisions about which countries will contribute specific amounts or where the funds will go and for what purposes.

    4. All of the agreements are nonbonding.

    5. The insistence of developed countries, especially the US, the any binding agreement mandate equal emission reductions ignores the historical contributions of developed countries to the problems, thereby raising serious ethical issues. Should countries in Africa be held to the same emission reductions as the US, despite their comparative lack of contributing to the global climate change problem? The question, as you know, is also relevant to China, India, and Brazil. Yes, at some point they will need to accept fair and equitable emissions reductions. But a strong ethical argument can be made that the developed nations need to go first. As you know, the Kyoto Protocol was based on this idea.

  34. fj says:

    If you’re talking about $100 billion per year for the Green Climate Fund that’s a very small percentage of the world economy especially, when we start dramatically tightening up the way civilization is run; which has been way out of control.

    Joe Stiglitz estimated that Iraq War cost over $4 trillion alone considering externalities.

  35. Joe Romm says:

    I don’t consider it a “pretty big success.” Quite the reverse.

    But your point #2 is not inherently correct. It only reflects what’s on the table to date. You fail to realize that one of the reasons we are on the 3.5C trajectory is that China has made no commitment restrain emissions growth at all. Same for India.

    So your point #5 is also flawed. I’ve argued longer than most that the rich countries needed to go first. Most did in Kyoto. The U.S. position is indeed immoral and untenable, as I’ve said endlessly. But so is the position that China is somehow a country like, say, Kenya.

  36. Merrelyn Emery says:

    There is a fair and accurate, from what I saw of the process, summary of what happened in Durban by Martin Lukacs – “Canada, the Grave Digger of Kyoto”- in the Huff Post under Green. Lukacs is an independent journalist, ME

  37. nosoyyo says:

    The science says we need action now, and at the absolute latest by 2017. Emissions, including US emissions, went up in 2010. A promise that we’ll decide in the future about action in 2020 is, therefore, based on the science: failure. It’s not being unrealistic to call it like it is — as a matter of fact there’s a term around here for ignoring the science for political reasons. While I predicted that CAP would applaud Obama’s team, even I wasn’t cynical enough to expect words like “successful” and “congratulate” for a delay of any action for 8+ years. I don’t see the justification in the science. Even the 2 deg C warming was already politically motivated — Hansen isn’t alone in saying that 2 deg/450 ppm is too much, but most thought it was politically impossible for 350, so let’s say 450.

    I think Joe’s right that politically, we (humans) weren’t going to have success (not to mention overwhelming success like the metaphors given) in Durban. But look in a thesaurus for the opposite of success.

    Yes, China needs to get on board the first half of this century. But talking about China’s future emissions while ignoring our current ones (and ignoring the fact that we’ve exported a lot of our emissions to them) is again, remiss. And ignoring the plight of other developing countries (having a one-track system puts them with China) is also wrong, in my opinion.

    And, most environmentalists around the world who have no connection with the US Democratic Party would call Copenhagen the biggest failure in recent years, and would lay the blame at the US/Obama’s door. And not because of the tea party, but because of the back deals etc. The Democrats had huge majorities. (and 2009 was the first year in US history that every bill needed 60 votes — that had as much to do with the Dems as the Republicans — there was no change in law or Senate rules). At some point we have to say Obama has been a failure on climate not because he has bad messaging, but rather it’s not a priority to him/ the Democrats, who also get big $$ for the energy sector. Certainly Republicans would have even worse policies. But it’s sort of like the choices at Durban: despair and abject despair.

    As an aside, I’m not sure how different groups are able to make predictions like “this agreement means 3.5 deg of warming,” when there are no numbers attached to the agreement. Aren’t we still on a BAU path until there’s actual emissions numbers and action attached that aren’t U?

  38. Jeff Huggins says:

    My earlier comment (number 12 on my screen, presently) is being held up in moderation. Is there a chance that it will pass moderation sometime soon? Thanks.

  39. Leif says:

    Another point that need to be brought to the forefront at every conceivable opportunity is the huge added costs of delay. For every dollar spent on renewable energy or conservation today, it will take ~$4 to achieve the same results in as little as 5 years. Money that should be paying dividends to the American people, not enriching the rich, the ecocidal fossil industry and third world dictators.

  40. Peter Mizla says:

    If we wait until 2020 to take action, we have to cut all greenhouse gas emissions by 9 percent per year to limit warming to 2 degrees.

    A very difficult goal. I cannot see those kind of drastic reductions happening-

  41. Joe Romm says:

    You really need shorter comments. I’ll post it, but even if the comment held together, few people are going to read a comment that long.

  42. Joe Romm says:

    I think you misread this post, and, frankly, Climate Progress. I’m going to post this, but frankly this comment is just way too long even if it held together, which I don'[t think it does.

    Fundamentally, the issue is that the international process is nearly pointless until the U.S. can act to slash emissions and China will agree to act to reverse its growth. I don’t think CP could possibly have been clearer on that point over the years. Thus, Durban could never possibly have been a success from that perspective. Saying so for the umpteenth time and not saying anything else is not terribly informative.

    In the context of what Durban could reasonably have been expected to achieve, it accomplished a lot, including getting China onboard a serious process going forward, which is a necessary but most certainly not sufficient condition.

  43. Bill Walker says:

    If we’re grading the students in a remedial-level class on the curve, then I suppose this agreement gets a B, but it’s clearly an F when graded against what’s actually needed.

    It really sounds here like we’ve got an agreement to form a committee to create a framework to study the future possibility of a treaty. In other words, a recipe for endless (and fatal) delay.

  44. Jeff Huggins says:

    If “the U.S. position is indeed immoral and untenable, as [you’ve] said endlessly”, what is CAP going to DO about that?

    THAT is the question, if we want to use Hamlet as a basis for conversation.

    Responsibility comes with understanding, and I’d also suggest that it comes with having a platform. That’s why Obama himself is failing greatly, and The New York Times, and (I would say) CAP, relative to what they all should be doing.

    The words ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ are used by many people who don’t mean them at all — who don’t mind not adhering to them — but they are also used with misunderstanding by those who do want to do the right things, but who treat these as words that are actually lighter than the matters they involve. Put in terms of a question, if you really believe that “the U.S. position is indeed immoral and untenable”, as you (correctly) say, then what do you see as the things that CAP SHOULD be doing given its position in Washington, its connections with the present Administration, its platforms and audiences, its access to the key scientific organizations, and so forth? Surely, if the US’s position is really immoral and untenable, and given the immense stakes to all humankind, there are many things that CAP could and SHOULD be doing that it’s not presently doing. Correct? Then, what are they? (I’ve already suggested a few, but they barely cover the tip of the iceberg.)

    That is one way to put the matter that I’ve been posing, the problem I’ve been complaining about. There is a too-large *disconnect* between the implications of the scientific situation (that you folks understand deeply) and the ethical dimension of the issue (that you understand at least partly), and the political assessments. CAP understands the science, and it claims to understand the ethics, but CAP’s actions, and the use of its platforms, falls short of what it (and we all) should be doing in light of the science and ethics. That’s a concrete way to put it. That much should be clear to anyone who does understand both the science of the matter and the ethics of the matter. And what’s holding things up? What’s causing CAP to do less than it could be doing? Of course, time and resources are some things, but “political considerations” are, I would argue, the main things. That’s my thought. Enough said.



  45. Buzz Belleville says:

    Agree Dick, a revenue-neutral carbon tax is what I’d call it.

    But I’d go one step further on the international front, and call for nations that do place a price on carbon to begin imposing tariffs on imports from nations that do not.

    It’s high time the EUs of the world stop screwing themselves by pricing carbon in their own countries while trying to compete with that who do not. Such a system would be the political push we’d need to get a domestic tax enacted, as we could either watch other nations collect revenue from our goods or we could collect the revenue ourselves. And the reverse is true too as, once we do enact a carbon-tax policy in this nation, we’d be able under international law to impose tariffs on goods from China, which would be a political selling point in this nation and would allow us to exert considerable pressure on China to start putting a price on carbon in their own countyr.

    Time for a paradigm shift, both domestically and internationally. What we’re doing now isn’t working.

  46. Lou Grinzo says:


    And let us not forget that when the you-know-what hits the fan after being fueled by our short- to mid-term inaction, there will be Very Big Profit to be had (especially in an age of increasing privatization) from building sea walls around US cities, building desalination plants, re-building hurricane-destroyed infrastructure, etc. And who could object to the huge expenditures, given that it’s an emergency, and all that?

    This is the other side to the issue so few people talk about. Big businesses gain now by not having to face CC and nasty little details like being held accountable for their carbon emissions, and many of them gain again once things go sideways from all those lucrative contracts.

    Too bad all that filthy lucre will come at the expense of a staggering amount of human suffering. But hey — it’s not personal, it’s just business.

  47. Buzz Belleville says:

    While it is better than nothing in that, as the article points out, it keeps folks at the table, we need to be honest that this accomplishes nothing else. The GOP will never sign off on the Green Climate Fund, though that’s obviously justified morally and legally. But regardless, that doesn’t do anything to curb emissions.

    What is stopping the developed nations that have placed a price on carbon — the EU, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. — from starting to impose tariffs on nations (the U.S. and China, namely) that do not? If Obama were smart, he’d even support it in backdoor deals, because it would give the Dems the cover they need, and the GOP the pressure they need, to finally put a price on carbon here. We could either watch these other nations collect revenue from our imports, or we can collect revenue from taxing carbon (and I’d return it all to the American people).

    This just seems like a no-brainer to me. We’re never going to get mandatory caps on a global level. But we can get a global price on carbon. That has to be the focus of future post-Kyoto negotiations. The rest is just window-dressing.

    What we’re doing now, both globally and domestically, just is not working.

  48. Joe Romm says:

    How do I dismiss this? I have written as much on this as almost any one.

  49. Joan Savage says:

    The outputs of the Durban conference (and I’m still looking for a primary source of text) don’t reveal much integration of variables that have emerged. It feels like there are some big loose ends. Perhaps access to full text will settle that feeling one way or another.

    We have reached a point where deforestation policy should include all losses of forest: not only tree cutting or swidden agriculture, but also insect, drought, flood, fire and permafrost melt that are adding carbon emissions. Adding and retaining carbon storage is not an option; it is a necessity.

    Channeling up to $100 billion a year of as yet uncommitted funds to poorer nations is worrisome as I have yet to see examples of what projects are eligible. Much of foreign aid in previous decades went into the pockets of corrupt governments or for developments like hydro dams that served mining interests and sacrificed agriculture. Where’s the quality control on these projects? Who is designing them- people who will live intimately with the consequences, or some think tank development-oriented person far away?

    Leaving development of market based global carbon market to a summit in Qatar at the end of 2012 allows market manipulation to occur beforehand.

    Also, I’m not seeing policy development on response to severe weather.
    That is to say, it looks like some big loose ends.

  50. Joan Savage says:

    It would also be handy to develop some international definitions and policy on climate refugees and internally displaced persons.

  51. nosoyyo says:

    I’ve said before, I think The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein is very relevant in this regard, as well as important historically. Corporate interests have taken advantage of shock that occurred, and also manufactured “shock” for their own gain in numerous instances that she details. And this will be the biggest shock of all for them to try to exploit. But of course the feedback and runaway warming would be too much for even their ends in the long term — but lots of dirty profits in the meantime. If we don’t stop them.

  52. EDpeak says:

    China is certainly not Kenya, in total emissions. We cannot ignore China’s total emissions if we wish to save Earth, but we cannot ignore the per-capita numbers if we wish for fairness, or for that matter, political viability. Will it be contraction and convergence, as opposed to, say, “a baby born in the US magically has the right to more per capita pollution than a baby born in China”?

    Also, whether 3.5C or 2C there is some fuzziness around numbers.

    For example for 2C I’ve seen journals state that [such and such] would keep us “Withing 2C” when the science might say, in fact, “give us a 50% chance of staying under 2C”

    For a liveable planet it should be 95% to stay under X degrees C before we quote “X degrees”..would be good for CP to always give such numerical qualifications in future.

  53. Mike Roddy says:

    You’re right, Joan. Avoided deforestation is a critical goal for climate negotiators, but this process has historically been corrupted with bad data and phony offsets. The main reason is fraudulent carbon accounting, originating from the timber industry plantation owners who seek to profit.

  54. B+ : getting China to agree to binding climate cuts at some point in the next decade. China is now an official climate beast any way you slice it — per capita, annual or total-all-time.

    F : for total failure to do anything meaningful to price emissions in the next decade. In fact it even gives nations like Canada, Japan and Russia an excuse to drop out of carbon pricing and cuts completely for many years to come without looking like they are bailing on climate change action.

  55. Buzz Belleville says:

    The thing is Mr. Saxifrage, we don’t even need a post-Kyoto agreement for some of these nations to begin imposing tariffs on imported carbon. I don’t understand why this isn’t happening. Can it really just be diplomatic and economic deference to the U.S.?

  56. Bo Norrman says:

    A long comment can be precise such as Jeffs and short comments such as yours blaming China can be verbose….

  57. Bo Norrman says:

    Re Chinas emissions: Several papers have shown that a substantial part of these emissions stem from goods produced and exported to USA and EU. Doesn’t that put a part of the responsibility back on us? Are we ready to decrease consumption to save the climate?

  58. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Massive geo-engineering will probably create unknown problems, or, more likely, known problems that will be ignored in a new rush to the pig trough. We really need to get away from the ‘subdue the earth’ mentality, and learn to live in harmony with the planet, not constantly strive to bend her to our Will. We must repair our souls and cleanse our minds before we can hope to succeed.

  59. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    He’s the front-man, the ‘fag’ sent out by the Tory head-boys to promise pudding for sweets, while the real power in the coalition, the Tories, run the most anti-environmental regime ever. Like all the Lib-Dems he has no power, and does a nice turn at strutting and fretting when the Tories stab him in the back, but he’ll not resign, because, like Cable and Clegg, he enjoys the trappings of office too much.

  60. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    But that was money invested in controlling global hydrocarbons, money well spent as far as the 1%, the Kochtopus and Dick Cheney are concerned. The 100 billion will never materialise either, and carbon indulgences, ie ‘offsets’ are already a gigantic rort. Capitalism doesn’t work to save planets or species-it works to maximise profit, and that is that.

  61. Alex Smith says:

    “Climate Down in Durban” Radio Ecoshock has reaction from Indian author and journalist Praful Badwai and Janet Redman, from the Institute for Policy Studies.

    Sadly, both find the Durban agreement an empty sham that was better left as a failed conference. In Badwai’s words, these lack of commitments will leave most of the world “fried”.

    The 1 hour program also has clips of NASA’s James Hansen at the AGU in San Francisco, Dec 6th, and an interview with Dr. Michael Raupach of CISRO Australia (he’s part of the Global Carbon Project that just published the figures of our astonishing carbon outburst in 2010).

    Download/listen at:


  62. Dallas Dunlap says:

    Realistically, governments aren’t going to take realistic action quickly enough. What is needed is for environmentalist individuals and groups to get together ourselves. That means coming up with ideas and funding to dramatically reduce energy use first in homes..where coal generated eledtricty comes into play..and then in transportation.
    This has to be done at the individual or local government level or it won’t get done.

  63. Elizabeth says:

    That was the EU position. And because they had something to offer, and got a lot of non-annex-I onside first, they got it. The US has been trying to insist on it for years, without effect, because they offered nothing in return.

  64. Elizabeth says:

    (I think / hope you mean China agreeing to reverse its growth *in* *emissions*. Reversing its growth would put 10s of millions back into dollar-a-day poverty.)

  65. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    And since we are STILL a democracy, that brings it right back to, “WE ARE THE ONLY, AND THE ENTIRE ANSWER”. Currently, thee are too many Bubbas, Cooters and Skeeters, and not enough Joe Romms, Dennis Tomlinsons, and Mulga Mumblebrains.

  66. Solar Jim says:

    Too see or not to see (myth, hubris, and error).

    The multi-decade discussion process, resulting in some words on paper which may not change fundamental drivers of human behavior acting under a dominant paradigm of Global Growth Capitalism, will be overwhelmed due to linear conceptions acting against presently accelerating emissions and advancing planetary conditions for fundamental exponential response (such as a super-volcano due to lightened tectonic load).

    Our condition seems to be one of existential discontinuity. That is, Mother Earth has never defined petroleum etc. as “energy.” She defines substance as matter, including the matter of carbonic acid. Yet oxidizing lithosphere carbon is an economic good, under militant capitalism is it not?

    Whether Communistic Capitalism or Capitalistic Communism, take your choice on the exponential road to existential discontinuity. Every other human social construct ,or indeed life form, is unfortunately along for the ride.