Scripta Varia

The Radical Vision of Laudato si'

Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs

I will speak a little bit about COP22, what we should expect and what we need to happen.

The Paris Climate Agreement is, of course, notable and historic, because it is universally adopted. This is the first time since the United Nations (UN) framework convention was signed in 1992 that we have an action plan in which all governments are obligated. That is key. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, was a protocol that applied only to a subset of governments and the United States used that as a main argument for not implementing it. It said: “Why should the US do it if China is not doing it?” However, now, we have a universal Agreement and I believe that makes a significant political and moral difference. It will make it much harder for any country to unilaterally declare that it is not part of this. The essence of the Paris Climate Agreement is to keep global warming “well below” 2°C. The term “well below” is not defined, so we do not know exactly what that means. It could mean 1.8°C, 1.7°C and it also says, of course, to aim to limit the rise of temperature to 1.5°C. We know from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and the voluminous scientific literature that even the 2°C is extremely difficult. “Well below” 2°C is therefore harder, even though we do not know what it means exactly. And 1.5°C is almost unachievable, except with an overshoot. We will hear from the IPPC in 2018 about that.

The right framing of this part of the Paris Agreement is, as I mentioned earlier, is the Carbon Budget, which is the idea that there is a certain amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere and still give a given probability of staying below a certain target. To give you an idea, the mainstream view is to have a 2/3 probability of staying below 2°C, so still 1/3 that you miss it, but 2/3 that you stay below, the Carbon Budget or CO2 Budget is on the order of 9 hundred billion to 1 trillion tons of CO2 cumulative further emission.

The problem is that currently we are emitting nearly 40 billion tons per year, so if you just do the arithmetic it means that it is about 20 to 25 years at the current emission rate left. And, that only gives you a 2/3 chance of success and of a target that is less strict than what has been agreed (a 2°C target). So we are with our backs against the wall. The 1.5°C is almost unachievable, because one common estimate that is referred to is that the remaining carbon budget is about 4 hundred billion tons of emissions. That means 10 years left at the current rate. Now, that means not 10 years at the current rate and then slowly declining, it means 10 years and stop, because you filled the Carbon Budget. The point is that to achieve the Paris Agreement requires concerted global, bold, action. Very bold, much bolder than governments have imagined so far and much bolder than the normal processes will lead to.

Under the Paris Agreement there are several clauses that now need to be implemented. One part is the target to the year 2030, called the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Governments have announced their intended NDCs or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs). If you add up what they have announced, you do not come close to the 2°C limit. We are still way above. So they will file NDCs under the Paris Agreement. Then there is another very important clause, which calls on all governments to make longer-term plans, not to 2030, which is the NCD, but to 2050. This is extremely important; it is Article 4, Paragraph 19, because without looking longer term there is no chance that even the short-term measure will be very desirable. If you take short-term steps to reduce emissions modestly, but in a way that does not allow you to continue to zero, you just lock yourself into a bad situation. This is what the US policy, unfortunately, is right now. The US policy says: “We will go from coal to natural gas and thereby reduce emissions”. But natural gas is a fossil fuel and by creating a natural gas-based economy, we make it impossible to get to a zero emission economy. So we should not go from coal to gas, we should go from coal to wind, coal to solar, coal to hydro. That is not what is in the INDC of the United States right now.

So, there are a few other key parts of the Climate Agreement to take note of. A second theme is adaptation and resilience, the commitment of governments to cooperate, to build, to adapt to climate change already under way and to build resilience. In terms of what is already under way, it is worth noting that this year we are 1.3°C warmer than the Pre-Industrial level. About 0.2°C of that is because of the El Niño, so we are, probably, baseline about 1.1°C warmer. We are already more than half way to 2°C, with rapid increases along the way. So we need adaptation also for the very big disturbances that are taking place.

Then there are two other points to mention – I mentioned losses and damages – which is the idea of compensation for countries that are being hit. Of course, the rich countries responsible for the historic emissions have resisted any clarity on this point and so there is no specific program, but there is a legal commitment to cover losses and damages but it is a very soft commitment. Though, morally speaking, it is a crucial commitment, because this is one of those cases where those who suffer at the poorest, the most vulnerable, the least responsible and the future generation. So it is a pure moral question against the power of the major countries and the major interests at stake.

The final part that needs to be negotiated is the financing, because for twenty-four years since the UN framework convention was agreed, the idea has been that the rich countries would help the poor countries, both to implement a low carbon energy system and to adapt. And, the financing to this date is ill defined, not generous, not forthcoming and it is very much on the agenda. The famous pledge is a hundred billion dollars for the poor countries from the rich countries by 2020. But what constitutes that money, how much it has to be aid- rather than market-based or what is called climate financing, so far has never been delineated. Again, mainly because the United States has said: “We do not want to talk about this”. And, to my amazement they have filibustered for twenty years to avoid any serious discussion of the financing and that is where we are until today. Last year the OECD issued a report, which I found to be rather scurrilous, which said: “Oh, we are already at $62 billion out of the $100 billion financing” and the poor countries said: “What? Where? Huh? We don’t see any money, what are you talking about?” It was a disgraceful report actually; the OECD never specified where, what counts, how they did it, what the definitions were, because that organisation is a rich country club that decides what it wants to say and what it wants to announce. In light of the report, the poor countries were looking around and saying: “Oh, we do not see $62 billion and we do not know what you are talking about”. So, this issue is, again, very non-transparent. The final point I should mention is that the Paris Agreement recognises the crucial role of land and land use and emissions from agriculture, land use and land use change. This is a big deal. Again, the mechanisms for how to implement such an Agreement on a global scale are not in place.

So let me summarize and then talk about COP22. This a very important Agreement, with all of its weaknesses and flaws, because it is universal, because, the goals are strong even if the means are not clear and not even settled. I think we have to defend the Paris Agreement and then defend its implementation in a moral, principled and effective manner, which means being very clear to every government and say: “You must now move to implement this”. I believe the Agreement is even strong enough – I hate to say it in this way and in this place – but I think it is even strong enough to resist Donald Trump, if that horrible eventuality came.

Because, unlike Kyoto, if the United States walked out it would be walking out against 195 other signatories. It would have no claim other than: “We have abandoned the rest of the world”. And, I believe the rest of the world would say: “No, you do not”.

One of the aims right now is to have the Agreement put into force before the next President comes. There is a very good chance of this now. More than 60 countries have ratified the Agreement and it goes into force when two conditions are met: more than 55 countries ratifying and those countries representing 55% or more of the global emissions. We are not there yet on the share of emissions, but we are there on the number of countries. However, we are already at 47% or 48% of emissions so there is a very good chance this will go into force before the end of this year.

That does not mean that the United States does not act in a renegade way if this strange occurrence would happen, which is, unfortunately, truly possible. But it does mean that the world would not fall apart and say: “Oh this is over”. I think there would be a united front, actually, from the rest of the world saying: “No, you cannot leave, the Agreement says you are here for five years, we will sit down and talk, we will discuss”. And, I believe things will not fall apart actually.

Now, practically speaking, I have a theory, which I have expressed this morning, but I will repeat it here and then I will come to a conclusion. To my mind, of course, vested interests are a big issue here, but even more is the complexity of the challenge. I believe the most important problem we face is that this is requiring a transformation of the world energy system in a period of roughly 30 to 40 years. This is the deepest change ever conceptualised for the world economy, in an organised way. No one has ever made an idea that the whole world agrees on, to transform a fundamental sector. And the energy sector is fundamental to the functioning of the economy. And so to make this transformation, you also want to ensure that your economies will not collapse in the middle of this transformation. In other words, that you can really make the operation, do the surgery and come out stronger in the end.

My analysis, which comports with the analysis of many students of this, is that it is feasible and I mentioned this morning some of the particular pathways to this. Basically, every fossil fuel power plant that ends is replaced by a near-zero carbon energy source going forward and, by around 2030, all buildings and vehicles will be electric, rather than fossil-fuel based. That technology is within reach, in fact, major companies are already planning for it. But, governments have not analysed this, they do not have long-term plans and they face very powerful resistance from powerful actors like the oil industry and some countries live on oil, of course. This is their basic means of livelihood. So we need serious analytics as much as anything else. To that end, with the organisation that I lead for the UN, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the host government of Morocco, I am going to be co-hosting a three-day conference, from 14 to 16 November at the COP, called the Low-Emissions Solutions Conference. The concept is that it is not negotiations, there is no outcome document, it is engineers in the room. So the idea is to have – for the first time ever at a COP by the way – even though it is the 22nd such meeting, a room of up to a thousand specialists on what actually to do. Not to negotiate, not to bind their governments, but only to discuss the technical pathways to actually achieving success. So if you are interested in participating there and you will be at COP, let me know, I can get you a ticket. Quite seriously, it is a first ever meeting at COP where it is not just speeches of how important this is and it is not negotiating legal terms. It is actually asking the practical questions: “What is the state of technology in various areas and how can national governments make these plans”. It is heavily focused on the energy sector. We also need a similar analytical effort on land use, which is crucial. And I will be hosting a meeting of global scientists on 20 October 2016 at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis outside of Vienna to bring together land use specialists and biodiversity specialists to model how we can implement the land use component of this treaty. Again, very few governments have land use strategies that are linked to the Paris Climate Agreement.

I will end here by saying that, of course, there is vested interest and there is the short-termism of politics that Stefano Zamagni mentioned. By the way, the fact that the world’s safety and survival depends on politicians whose interest is getting re-elected, shows how poorly designed our political institutions are, because I think one of the least interesting questions on the whole planet is whether any individual politician wins re-election. It is something we care almost nothing about, but what we do care about is that they implement serious long-term strategies. So we have a deep misalignment of institutions and need right now. That, I think, is a quite serious problem.

I propose to take this issue outside of the political cycle by urging governments to create longer-term institutions that can implement this without having to face the year-to-year electoral cycle. We need to disassociate the short-term electoral cycle with the long-term transformation pathway. To do that, governments need to understand the technological, economic and financial substance of the challenge in a way that they have not so far. That is why we need to put the moral pressure on the key actors, we need to tell the public repeatedly that this is a matter of survival, but there is a bright future ahead by doing the right things. This is not disaster; this is actually the way to a better future for the world and we need to work on the analytical side, so that governments can actually have long-term strategies and plans to implement what they have agreed to do.

Thank you. 

Related

"Laudato si'" and the Path to COP22 in Marrakech

Proceedings of the Joint Consultation 28 September 2016 Scripta Varia 128 Vatican City, 2016 E-Pub... Read more