Bit by bit, governments are manoeuvring to avert catastrophic carnageby Josh Lowe / December 1, 2015 / Leave a comment
Getting governments from across the world to agree on anything is no easy task. This month, the world’s leaders and energy ministers are descending on Paris in the hopes of hashing out a plan to prevent global warming above two degrees centigrade at the Cop21 climate summit. One question, then, has rarely been more crucial: can such diverse parties ever come together in a deal which works for all, or are the summit’s organisers trying to herd a horde of proverbial felines?
It was against this backdrop that the British Academy held their final energy debate, which fell a week before the summit began. “Future energy provision: How can the world understand, anticipate and collaborate?” Saw experts examining the politics and economics behind global climate negotiations. They were cautiously positive about what can still be achieved.
Lord Stern, President of the British Academy and Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE), gave a guardedly optimistic address spelling out the scale and urgency of the problem—“my five grandchildren would see the big [effects of climate change] if we were negligent,” he said—but also expressing hope that at least a partial solution was approaching. He said that pressure from religious leaders like Pope Francis, and from popular divestment campaigns like “keep it in the ground,” as well as growing political understanding of the benefits of curbing emissions, meant that the appetite for a deal could be stronger than ever. China and the US, he noted, seem to be on the same page, a marked change since the 2009 summit in Copenhagen.
Jeremy Oppenheim, a director at McKinsey and co, delved into the economics behind the issue. Global action on climate change, he said, needs to happen soon—he estimates we need to reach peak global emissions within about five years if warming is not to spiral to dangerous levels. With Ethiopia currently using less than a tenth as much energy per capita as the US, energy demand is only going to increase in the coming decades, so Oppenheim argued that making sure energy is supplied by sustainable means is key. He argued that the share of global energy generated by zero carbon sources must increase by one per cent each year, and at the same time energy productivity must improve by two per cent. Only by meeting these ambitious but achievable targets can we avert catastrophe.
Ed Davey, a former Energy and Climate Change Secretary, praised Britain’s leading contribution on climate change in recent decades—particularly through our championing of “climate diplomacy” in nations like China. But he claimed that the Conservative government’s policies risk damaging our reputation: “we’re having politicians who ought to know better, who ought to see the economic logic, they ought to see the science, and they’re going backwards,” he said. “If we do not act and show leadership in our policies, that undermines the global effort.”
“After the second world war, after two world wars and a great depression, then the blood was on the carpet and in the field, this time round we’re having to anticipate [it],” was how Lord Stern summed up the issue. Bit by bit, governments are manoeuvring to avert catastrophic carnage. Whether they are able to move sufficiently fast, we’ll know soon enough.