Global Politics and Climate Change: At Least We’re Doing Something???

Foreign Policy reported today on the ambitious US-China deal to dramatically reduce each country’s greenhouse gas emissions:

Under the terms of the deal, nine months in the making, the United States promises to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. Previously, the United States had said it would lower emissions by 17 percent, also compared to 2005; the agreement hammered out in Beijing expands that commitment, marking the first time Obama has set emission reduction targets beyond 2020.

Some commentators have pointed out that Congress will never back the new targets given the likely economic impact and the prevalence of climate change skepticism in the US. Many believe that the targets are merely symbolic and not likely to be fulfilled. But perhaps the point is to aim big and hope to achieve more thereby than would be otherwise?

What always comes to my mind as I hear the constant back-and-forth over whether climate change is real or to what extent it is anthropogenic is that this debate is practically moot given another sad reality–even the most drastic measures we can take with present technology are not likely to significantly impact global temperatures. Even if the world economy acted as a single entity and formed the conviction to pay any price short of collectively going Amish, the trend in global temperature inexorably marches on.

When climate change analyst Chris Hope blogged about the negligible projected impact of the US-China emissions targets on global temperature trends, commenters pushed back. Hope replied:

[Update added 12:20 on 12 November 2014]: Some have commented that assuming the rest of the world continues on the A1B business as usual path is unduly pessimistic. So I have repeated the analysis assuming the rest of the OECD matches the US’s actions of a 28% cut by 2025 (with the EU cutting by 40% as before), and the rest of the developing world matches China’s pledge to stop increasing emissions by 2030. The chance of staying below 2degC in 2100 rises to 1.1%, and the mean impacts in 2100 are now about $19 trillion. The underlying message remains the same: These pledges are only the first step on a very long road.

The long road includes technology which is not presently feasible. Perhaps efforts now will lead to the development of technology which can make a difference. But we should not kid ourselves that any heroically sacrificial feat we can accomplish at present is fixing the planet. That ship apparently sailed as soon the world stopped… sailing.


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