Global efforts to combat climate change (Part II)

(Trump’s departure) doesn’t change the bigger picture: the moral, political, and economic incentives all seem to be aligning in favor of staying with the Paris agreement… It would be a morally criminal act for the world not to do its part.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi

 

By the end of the century, the global temperature is likely to rise by more than two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This prediction is based on two different studies published last Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. If this mark is surpassed, the likely consequences are: a further rise in sea levels thereby threatening coastal cities such as Miami and New York; mass extinctions of plant and animal species; super droughts; increased wildfires; intense hurricanes; decreased crops and fresh water; and further melting of the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Rising temperatures and shifts in weather patterns would lead to reduced air quality, food and water contamination, more infections carried by mosquitoes and ticks, and stress on mental health, according to a recent report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.

The World Health Organization estimates that: 12.6 million people die globally due to pollution, extreme weather and climate-related disease; and climate change between 2030 and 2050 will cause 250,000 additional global deaths. Another recent study indicated that by the end of the century, it would be fatal to go outside in some parts of the world because of soaring temperatures and high levels of humidity. The study identified northern India, Bangladesh and southern Pakistan, the home of 1.5 billion people, as the most vulnerable to these extreme weather conditions.

Scientists and climate change experts have advocated a significant shift away from the use of dirty fossil fuels from crude oil and coal production to clean renewable energy; increased financial incentives to avoid greenhouse gas emissions; and increased funding for research in new technologies to mitigate the impact of climate change. According to Al Gore, the good news is the cost of generating energy from solar, wind and other sources as well as the cost of storing the energy overnight in batteries have decreased dramatically, resulting in lower energy costs compared with those relating to the use of fossil fuels. The United Nations Environment Programme has stated that world greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are now about 54 billion tons a year and should be cut to 42 billion by 2030 to get on track and stay below 2 degrees Celsius.

Last week, we briefly touched on the efforts by China, France, Germany and Sweden to address the issue of climate change and global warming following the signing of the Paris Accord by 195 countries as of 4 August 2017. We stated that China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for 20.09% of total global emissions, followed by the United States (17.89%), Russia (7.53%) and India (4.10%). Together, these four countries alone account for 50% of the total global emissions, as shown at Table I.

Despite being at the top of the list of polluters, China is taking significant steps to cut back on the use of fossil fuels and to switch to renewable energy, mainly from solar energy and windfarms. It has set as a target the production of 20% of clean energy by 2030. According to the most recent annual report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, more than 2.5 million people work in the solar power sector alone in China, compared with 260,000 people in the United States. Both countries are the producers of large amounts of coal. While in the United States coal miners now have an incentive to go back to work, China is cutting back on coal production and is restricting the construction of new coal power plants. It has also set as a target the production of 20% of clean energy by 2030.

 

United States

Under former President Obama, the United States had agreed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 25% of 2005 levels by 2025. However, on 1 June 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, citing climate change as a hoax perpetuated by China and that if it did not do so, the U.S. economy would be adversely affected. On Friday last, the Trump Administration made good its intention by formally notifying the United Nations of its decision to withdraw from the Agreement. Countries, however, cannot withdraw from new international agreements, including the Paris Agreement, until three years after they go into effect. The Paris Agreement went into effect on 4 November 2016 but the process takes another year. Therefore, the U.S. withdrawal will take effect on 4 November 2020, one day after the next presidential election. Notwithstanding this, several of the Mayors and Governors of U.S. cities and States have given a commitment to honour the Agreement.

A statement issued by the State Department indicated that the United States would continue to participate in international meetings and negotiations on current and future climate change deals and that the President was “open to re-engaging in the Paris agreement if the United States can identify terms that are more favorable to it, its business, its workers, its people and its taxpayers”. However, according to a joint statement issued by the leaders of Italy, France and Germany in June 2017, the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 is irreversible. The leaders expressed their firm belief that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies and that its implementation offers substantial economic opportunities for prosperity and growth in their individual countries and on a global scale. They therefore reaffirm their strongest commitment to swiftly implement the Agreement, including its climate finance goals, and encourage all their partners to speed up their action to combat climate change.

 

Russia

At the time of signing the Agreement, Russia stated that it attaches great significance to the Agreement; there is no alternative to the Agreement; and “it goes without saying that the effectiveness of this convention is likely to be reduced without its key participants”. However, its commitments are modest. Russia is insisting on full compensation for its Siberian forests that help to absorb carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, it has decided to delay the ratification of the Agreement for at least two years.

 

India

India is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. At first, it was reluctant to be a party to the Paris Accord, citing the requirement to meet the needs of 1.25 billion people, 300 million of whom are without access to energy. However, through the efforts of Al Gore and others, India signed and ratified the Accord, with the following declaration: “The Government of India declares its understanding that, as per its national laws; keeping in view its development agenda, particularly the eradication of poverty and provision of basic needs for all its citizens, coupled with its commitment to following the low carbon path to progress, and on the assumption of unencumbered availability of cleaner sources of energy and technologies and financial resources from around the world; and based on a fair and ambitious assessment of global commitment to combating climate change, it is ratifying the Paris Agreement.”

Under the Paris Agreement, developed countries would provide financial assistance to developing countries to assist in the transition to renewable energy. At the signing of the Agreement, Prime Minister Modi made it clear that India is dependent on such assistance.

Although most of India’s energy needs are currently derived from coal production, it is aiming for a target of 40% renewable energy by 2030, including 100 gigawatts of installed solar energy capacity by 2022. As of May 2017, there has been a record drop in the cost of solar power to Rs. 2.44/kwh. India also recently became the fourth largest producer of wind energy in the world and has announced plans to cancel 14 gigawatts derived from coal plants. In addition, an 18% tax is proposed to be levied on electric cars, compared with 28% on conventional cars. These measures are likely to attract significant investments, job creation and export earnings. India is also proposing to sell only electric cars by 2030.

 

Japan

Japan ratified the Paris Agreement November 2016. It has agreed to cut national greenhouse gas emissions to 26% below 2013 levels by 2030 by switching to more efficient power generation and promoting energy-saving light bulbs, among other measures. It also aims to achieve an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. According to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “Japan aims to play a leading role in crafting arrangements that raises transparency in each country’s emission cuts to help accomplish the spirit of the Paris agreement”. Many climate change experts and scientists, however, believe that these measures are not enough. Japan has also been criticized for its plans to open scores of new coal-fired power plants at home and for exporting the technology abroad.

 

Germany

Germany has published a 30-year climate change strategy, including: the cutting of greenhouse gases by 80-95% by 2050; and significantly lowering car emissions with e-cars contributing to this goal. As of 2015, Germany increased the power production of renewable energy by 30%. On an overall basis, the European Union countries have pledged to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030.

To be continued –

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