Copenhagen – the breaking point

Der Spiegel has obtained audio of the heads of state negotiating in the final hours of COP15. Its fascinating stuff. The headline reads, How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit. This point was actually raised back in December by Mark Lynas at the Guardian (there’s a nice discussion and event timeline at Inside-Out China). On the surface the video supports the view that China and India were the material obstacle to agreement on a -50% by 2050 target. However, I think it’s still hard to make attributions about motive. We don’t know, for example, whether China is opposed because it anticipates raising emissions to levels that would make 50% cuts physically impossible, or because it sees the discussion of cuts as fundamentally linked to the unaddressed question of responsibility, as hinted by He Yafei near the end of the video. Was the absence of Wen Jiabao obstruction or a defensive tactic?  We have even less information about India, merely that it objected to “prejudging options,” whatever that means.

What the headline omits is the observation in the final pages of the article, that the de facto US position may not have been so different from China’s:

Part 3: Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back

But then Obama stabbed the Europeans in the back, saying that it would be best to shelve the concrete reduction targets for the time being. “We will try to give some opportunities for its resolution outside of this multilateral setting … And I am saying that, confident that, I think China still is as desirous of an agreement, as we are.”

‘Other Business to Attend To’

At the end of his little speech, which lasted 3 minutes and 42 seconds, Obama even downplayed the importance of the climate conference, saying “Nicolas, we are not staying until tomorrow. I’m just letting you know. Because all of us obviously have extraordinarily important other business to attend to.”

Some in the room felt queasy. Exactly which side was Obama on? He couldn’t score any domestic political points with the climate issue. The general consensus was that he was unwilling to make any legally binding commitments, because they would be used against him in the US Congress. Was he merely interested in leaving Copenhagen looking like an assertive statesman?

It was now clear that Obama and the Chinese were in fact in the same boat, and that the Europeans were about to drown.

This article and video almost makes up for Spiegel’s terrible coverage of the climate email debacle.

Related analysis of developed-developing emissions trajectories:

You can’t fix emissions inequity with more emissions

The AWG-LCA draft agreement

The AOSIS draft agreement

Danish text – emissions trajectories

Another look at inadequate Copenhagen pledges

Joeri Rogelj and others argue that Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry in a Nature Opinion,

Current national emissions targets can’t limit global warming to 2 °C, calculate Joeri Rogelj, Malte Meinshausen and colleagues — they might even lock the world into exceeding 3 °C warming.

  • Nations will probably meet only the lower ends of their emissions pledges in the absence of a binding international agreement
  • Nations can bank an estimated 12 gigatonnes of Co2 equivalents surplus allowances for use after 2012
  • Land-use rules are likely to result in further allowance increases of 0.5 GtCO2-eq per year
  • Global emissions in 2020 could thus be up to 20% higher than today
  • Current pledges mean a greater than 50% chance that warming will exceed 3°C by 2100
  • If nations agree to halve emissions by 2050, there is still a 50% chance that warming will exceed 2°C and will almost certainly exceed 1.5°C

Via Nature’s Climate Feedback, Copenhagen Accord – missing the mark.

Confidential memo: off track

The headline today is that emissions pledges don’t match needs. A leaked UNFCC secretariat memo indicates that current commitments hit 3C.* A ClimateInteractive reference is scrawled in the margins. It’s interesting that this is regarded with surprise, as we said it in March, Rogelj et al. said it in Nature in June, and it was intuitively evident before that. Climatescoreboard, climateactiontracker, and others are now monitoring the possible outcome in near-real-time. Our dream, over beers in Copenhagen on Thanksgiving in 2008, was to provide fast feedback to inject some reality into negotiations. It’s working!

* Update: As Joe Romm points out, the Guardian and other coverage is just wrong. The secretariat analysis covers current commitments prior to COP15, not possible deals. The various drafts circulating (as you can see in analysis here this week) yield a wide range of outcomes, including 1.5C. There’s no way to nail down the final outcome until the contested bracketed text in the drafts is finalized.

Update 2: We at ClimateInteractive are doing lots of evaluation of draft language using C-ROADS and a simpler emissions model that I developed, but we’re not going to report on the outcome until there’s a definitive text. Some of the insights from that analysis are reported in posts here this week, but obviously it’s all hypothetical at this point.

You can't fix emissions inequity with more emissions

A lot of the draft agreements floating around reference a principle of equity in cumulative emissions budgets. For example, the latest AWG-LCA draft,

A long-term aspirational and ambitious global goal for emission reductions, as part of the shared vision for long-term cooperative action, should be based on the best available scientific knowledge and supported by medium-term goals for emission reductions, taking into account historical responsibilities and an equitable share in the atmospheric space;

That’s a nice sentiment, but the goals expressed here are not compatible. If you take “aspirational and ambitious” to mean 55oppm – much less stringent then a 1.5 or 2C target – we’re already halfway or more through civilization’s cumulative emissions budget. Most of the historic emissions occurred in the 20th century. The rest will happen this century. The problem is, there are a lot more people around this century than last. Therefore, this century’s remaining emissions budget just isn’t big enough to make up for historic inequity in emissions, even if you allocate it all to the developing world.

For example, here’s a scenario in which the developed world stops emitting almost immediately – essentially abandoning its GHG-intensive capital stock – while the developing world pursues a trajectory consistent with a global 50% cut by 2050. Per capita emissions convergence and reversal happens right away:

per capita emissions

Continue reading “You can't fix emissions inequity with more emissions”

The AOSIS draft agreement

Two more draft agreements have been released, from AOSIS and the AWG-LCA headed by Michael Zammit Cutajar. I’ve summarized the mitigation targets in the four drafts floating around as a Google spreadsheet, here.

The AOSIS draft is, understandably, very aggressive in its global vision. It seeks 350ppm or better, to limit temperature rise to 1.5C vs. preindustrial. To get there, it seeks a global emissions peak by 2015 and an 85% cut from 1990 levels by 2050. Developed countries are to cut 45% below 1990 by 2020. Deforestation is to be halved by 2020 and halted by 2030. The document gets wishy washy when it comes to other developing country actions though: it talks about NAMAs and “significant deviations from baselines by 2020,” but no specific commitments. In my mind, if you’ve specified targets for the world and for developed countries, you’ve implicitly specified the developing countries’ trajectory, so you might as well say what it is and create commitments to ensure that it is achieved. The burden of those commitments (to the extent that it is a burden, and not a hidden opportunity) may not rest on the developing countries, but someone has to be responsible, or it may not happen.

I ran some rough simulations of the AOSIS targets to see what they really imply for developing countries. Here’s the global 2015 peak and 85% cut from 1990 in 2050:

AOSIS global emissions

Here’s the developing cut of 45% from 1990 by 2020. The draft doesn’t specify further cuts, but I’ve assumed that the developed countries keep reducing at the same rate (over 7%/yr) afterwards, hitting about -95% from 1990 by 2050:

AOSIS developed emissions

What does that leave for the developing countries?

AOSIS developing emissions

In short, “significant deviations from baselines” has to be the understatement of the century if the AOSIS global target is to be achieved, in spite of the deep cuts in developed country emissions. Developing emissions peak by around 2020 and have fallen by roughly 75% vs 1990 in 2050. This is not a matter of fairness (fairness is about the distribution of costs and benefits). It’s a matter of physics. Global emissions can’t go down rapidly unless both its major components shrink. (Notice also in the graph above that “potential” emissions exceed BAU until 2020; this is because developed country cuts are initially so rapid. Presumably developing country emissions would not actually rise above BAU, which means that the surplus could be used to delay the peak, but only by a year or two.)

Afterthought: as before, this is based on C-ROADS data and projections, with BAU similar to SRES A1FI, though the results are hardly sensitive to the specifics. Thanks to Stephanie & Allison at SI for tracking down the drafts.

The "Copenhagen Accord"

Hard on the heels of the leaked “Danish text” comes the emerging economy response, the “Copenhagen Accord.” Press coverage indicates that it’s a call for -40% of 1990 by 2020 in the developed world, but the actual text (linked at the end of the article at has no such details.

Mermaid & power plants

The Copenhagen Accord is notable mainly for what it lacks: there are no global goals, and no explicit developing country targets. However, it does affirm the Framework Convention, “to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” I’m actually not a strong proponent of hard country commitments for 2050, because they are politically so dubious, and will most likely have to be changed anyway. However, I think it’s quite important to at least agree on an objective in general terms. By failing to state a global goal, does this document redefine “dangerous interference” to include whatever emissions trajectory we happen to get, or does it assume that uncoordinated developed country actions (including support of mitigation in the developing world) will be enough to avoid it?

Similarly, page 1 recognizes “that the right to development and equitable opportunity of development are inalienable basic human rights of all nations, and social economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.” I think that human rights are for humans, not nations, but apart from that quibble, this is a good principle. However, I fear that the underlying mental model behind this statement is less admirable. Does it mean, for example, that the authors think a 650ppm future is OK, as long as their GDP goes up? To assume that on-market growth can more than compensate for climate impacts is a risky proposition, especially for the poorest countries. Alternately, does it mean that the authors think the supported mitigation actions, financial and technology transfers, and other mechanisms outlined in the text will be enough to permit development without contradiction of the “dangerous interference” objective? If so, the agreement needs to be a lot more specific about how this will work.

This document, and to a lesser extent the Danish text, really reinforces my perception that modelers and other quantitative folks are living on a different planet from those who craft these drafts. The Copenhagen Accord buries a short page worth of principles in 11 pages of obscure jargon. I had to read it several times to even determine whether it suggested concrete targets. Why not just get to the point? The legalese can come later. Sure, some details are important, like who has jurisdiction over financial flows, but list those as principles rather than enumerating every minor point. Needless detail is more than a time-waster; it actually gets in the way of identifying creative solutions by imposing spurious constraints.

Mercifully, the official draft just released by Michael Zammit Cutajar is reportedly only 6 pages.