Climate Change - The UN Is Failing Humanity

1. After 25 years of trying and failing to get an effective global agreement to tackle climate change, in late 2015 representatives from 195 national governments went to Paris for a UN Climate Summit. They promised the people of the world that they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions (which are already causing global warming) to permanently safe levels to avoid dangerous climate change. That Climate Summit ended with a new Agreement in which those countries pledged to reduce their emissions. But will this Agreement restrict global warming to a minimal and safe level ? Sadly, the answer is a very definite ‘No’.

2. The UN’s Paris Climate Summit made a promise to the people of the world and immediately
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betrayed it with an agreement that is far too weak to achieve the main objective. The UN’s Summit failed humanity on this. A former Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said : “The pledges are not going to get even close…If you governments of the world are really serious, you’re going to have to do way, way more.” The coming climate catastrophe is the biggest (irreversible) threat we humans have ever faced. So, the big question for us humans now is : Are we really sane and rational, or are we a self-destructive failure destined to disappear down the evolutionary plughole quite soon ? There is more here on what global warming and climate change are, their causes, how they are developing, and their consequences.

3. A year after the Paris Summit, in November 2016, the parties to that very weak Agreement met again in Marrakech to confirm (or not) that their countries had ratified the Agreement and to review the current position. Only 109 out of 195 countries had so far ratified it. Unfortunately, there is also now a new 'big shadow' hanging over the world's (already weak) attempts to tackle climate change. Its called 'Donald Trump', the US President. As expected, he has (in June 2017) withdrawn the USA from the Paris Agreement (Read more on this in paragraphs 21-4 below).


What was actually agreed at the UN Paris Summit in December 2015?

4. All of the nations promised to make reductions to their greenhouse gas (for example CO2) emissions - provided it was all voluntary and on timescales of their own choosing. The content of
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CO2 in our atmosphere causes heat to be retained in the atmosphere and also absorbed into our oceans. In Paris the nations agreed to reduce emissions to try and limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and if possible to make extra efforts to restrict the temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. Unfortunately, the reductions they promised to make are too small, are all voluntary, will get started very slowly, and none of them are legally binding.

5. In 2015 the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reported that even before the Climate Summit began the global temperature had already risen to 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) above the pre-industrial level. Only a few months later, in 2016 the WMO reported that the global temperature had now risen to 1.2 degrees C (2.1 degrees F). If that does not sound like very much then bear in mind that this means the global temperature in 2016 is now higher than it has been for at least 115,000 years (when sea level was 6-9 metres higher than now). We know the melting of the global ice caps is already well underway, and glaciers on all the continents are melting into the sea. Several metres (at least) of sea level rise is in the pipeline. This is just the beginning of an unstoppable process.

6. According to climate scientists and reports during 2016, it is already certain that the commitments agreed to in Paris are not remotely up to the task of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. This is a result of the past twenty five years of inaction and delayed action against climate change by the UN
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and by governments. They have spent (and still spend) too much time listening to the Exxons, Chevrons, Shells, and BPs – some of the climate criminals of this world. In late 2016 two separate reports warned that our planet will probably pass the 1.5 degrees C mark within the next decade. According to current greenhouse gas emissions projections some climate scientists believe that our only planet is now locked into reaching a 2 million-year temperature record. Global warming is the inevitable precursor to rising sea levels, loss of land, of habitats, species and much else. However, with so little action so far, we have already entered the era of runaway global warming. The sea level will go on rising more rapidly, damaging coastal areas, cities, ports and economies, with all other aspects of climate change threatening civilisation in ways we have yet barely imagined. For more on this see paragraphs 26-9 below.

7. In pre-industrial times CO2 comprised about 280ppm (parts per million) of our atmosphere. The CO2 level has risen and 2016 was the first year in which it exceeded 400ppm throughout the whole year. Even in the unlikely event that all nations fulfil their Paris pledges, CO2 in the atmosphere will increase to 675 ppm by the end of this century. And how much higher will CO2 levels rise if nations do not fulfil their Paris pledges ? That is anybody’s guess. This is a massive alarm bell / early warning of where we, and where our children and grandchildren are all now heading. You are entitled to think that the UN and governments should be acting decisively, radically and urgently in all our interests but they are not. Dangerous temperature rise has been underway for many years and much more is inevitable – but how much is coming ?


What Effect Will This Have on Global Warming ?

8. Alarmingly, even if all the Paris pledges are fully met the global temperature is estimated to increase by 2.7 degrees C (4.8 degrees F) – this is significantly more than the 2 degrees
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C upper limit the Paris Summit claimed as its aim.
By the way, the 2 degrees C was adopted as it was estimated to give us a 50/50 chance of survival. Think about that for a moment : a 50/50 chance. So, even if the Paris pledges are all fully met we will then have a lot less than a 50/50 chance. For comparison, the actual 1.2 degrees C of global warming measured by 2016 has already been enough to start the effects of climate change we have seen so far, from Arctic ice melting and sea level rising, to extreme weather events, desertification, the permafrost melting and releasing more highly dangerous methane (read more about ‘Methane Burps’ in paragraphs 25-6 here).

9. Because over 400ppm of CO2 is already in our atmosphere in 2017 and the proportion of CO2 in our atmosphere will go on increasing each year, we know that global warming will continue unstoppably for many decades, centuries or possibly millennia to come. This global warming is already 'in the pipeline', we cannot stop it. In short, the Paris agreement authorises the continued - and even increased - destruction of the earth's climate. We humans have gambled our way into a dangerously uncertain future. The greenhouse gas reductions proposed in Paris are not nearly big enough and will not be achieved soon enough.

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10. If, as expected, countries do not meet their Paris pledges but simply continue with the economies and the policies they currently have then climate scientists calculate that the global temperature will rise even more - to an estimated 3.6 degrees C (6.4 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels.

11. Even worse, if countries do not act at all then the global temperature will rise by an estimated 4.5 degrees C (8 degrees F). All of this is already way beyond human control and a future of great imponderable horrors is now in front of ourselves and our children and grandchildren. Guy McPherson, Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona said : "...here's the bottom line : On a planet 4 degrees C hotter than baseline, all we can prepare for is human extinction." He also quoted Professor of Climatology Mark Maslin : "We are already planning for a 4 degrees C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that." If you have read about the methane already being released from the melting arctic permafrost (see paragraphs 25 & 26 here on ‘Methane Burps’) then you will understand how things could get that bad, or worse, very suddenly.

12. If all of that is not worrying enough then consider this : Under the Paris Agreement countries do not need to even start making reductions until 2020. So much for the “urgency” which all the nations referred to in their Agreement. Some of the biggest countries (such as the world’s biggest CO2 emitter China) will not even start reducing its emissions until 2025-30. Any reductions that countries may make are to be reported by each country, not independently verified. All of this means that the Paris Agreement gives no guarantee that it will prevent any amount of CO2 from being put into the atmosphere anytime soon. Many climate scientists think the world is now heading into irreversible catastrophe. Without an urgent and radical change it may already be too late to save our climate system, ourselves and our descendants.

13. Despite all this, the UN's Paris Summit public relations machine and the world’s mainstream media were pumping out jubilant press releases at the end of the Summit. This was probably due to their relief at having actually made an Agreement, rather than any justifiable faith that it would solve the main problem. However, this
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UN climate summit (particularly the big powerful nations and corporations) left Paris having betrayed smaller nations, poor nations and island nations, and it betrayed its promise to humanity as a whole. The UN, governments and corporations should be making radical system changes now but they are not. The key is that they (and our) economies are based on burning fossil fuels across energy production, transport, and many other diverse economic activities. So, we have to make numerous changes throughout our economies (and rapidly) to shift to a de-carbonised economy and a climate-friendly way of life. Unwillingness to do that means that humanity is now staring in the face of a massive global catastrophe – entirely of our own making. What message does this send to the billions of children and young people in today’s world whose futures are being destroyed, and those to whom this is being done before they are even born ?


Why Did the Paris Summit Fail Humanity?

14. In Paris all of the governments, even the US, agreed that "climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet" and that "deep reductions in global emissions will be required." At the end of the Summit, in the final Agreement, the nations recognised that their current policies are aggravating
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the “irreversible threat” and they acknowledged the inadequacy of their efforts to halt the threat.

15. Before the Paris Summit even began many of the big governments had already been peddling the agenda of the fossil fuel corporations (oil, gas and coal) for decades. In the years and months leading up to Paris the US government's internal climate change deliberations were dominated by the 85% of participants who were representatives of fossil fuel corporations, rather than from public bodies, renewable energies or alternatives. During the Paris Summit, US negotiators were adamant that the agreement must not include any binding restrictions on emissions. US Secretary of State John Kerry told fellow negotiators that he "wished that we could include specific dates and figures for emissions cuts and financial aid" to developing countries, but "this could trigger a review by the US Senate that could scuttle the entire agreement." When US lawyers discovered a phrase declaring that wealthier countries "shall" set economy-wide targets for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, Kerry said, "We cannot do this and we will not do this. And either it changes or President Obama and the United States will not be able to support this agreement."

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16. So, the US forced the Summit to reduce its ambitions for cutting global emissions. The world's efforts were reduced by the US to the lowest common denominator. Sadly, this suited several other large emitters of CO2 (such as China, India, South Africa and others) who were at that time also unwilling to enter into any legally binding Agreement. After this weak global climate deal was done, US President Barack Obama told millions of TV viewers that it provided the "best chance we have to save the one planet we have". He also claimed "American leadership" in clinching the deal. Some ‘leadership’. Some ‘deal’. Since then, President Trump has pulled the USA out of the Paris Agreement (see more in paragraphs 21-4 below).

17. We believe that the world will look back on the US-shaped Paris Climate Summit as a key point when the UN's climate action failed the people of the world. Its worth remembering that the United States has a history of NOT supporting global efforts to tackle climate change. For example, after signing up to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 President George W Bush then pulled out and left the world without an action plan to avoid climate change. Since then we have carried on burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow - as a result there may indeed be no 'tomorrow' for human civilisation. So, this Paris Agreement appeared to be the world's new (although far too weak) global agreement to limit global warming and its climate change consequences. But, as we now know, with the arrival of the new US President Trump (see paragraphs 21-4 below) even these weak actions have been sabotaged by his new US Administration, before the world even starts reducing emissions. But we must remember : the Paris Agreement was already too weak, the UN was at fault, long before Trump was elected.

18. Since the Paris Summit ended (and before Trump was elected) numerous climate scientists and others around the world pointed out the breathtaking gap between the Paris Agreement’s weak voluntary commitments and the actual CO2
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reductions we urgently need to make to prevent this global catastrophe. Renowned climate scientist James Hansen warned that the Paris Agreement will not solve climate change. Asad Rehman, from Friends of the Earth International : “What matters most is action now, rather than later.” Tamar Lawrence-Smith of Corporate Accountability International : “The true test begins now. How will governments live up to their obligations and do their fair share ?” In late 2016 Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, the author of a 2006 report for the British government which helped make climate change a global priority, warned that the global economy is set to “self-destruct” if the world continues burning fossil fuels.

19. In addition to the weakness of the Paris Agreement, a woeful version of “urgency” seems to apply in global climate politics. Nearly a year after the Paris Summit ended, the inadequate Agreement they made was, by November 2016, eventually signed by 193 countries but ratified by only 109 countries. Sir Robert Watson, former Chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said : “The pledges are not going to get even close…If you governments of the world are really serious, you’re going to have to do way, way more.” As 2016 progressed there were
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a rash of new reports, all suggesting that key global warming thresholds will be reached much more rapidly than previously thought. So, the world needs to stop wishful tinkering and make REAL and RADICAL systemic change - urgently.

20. Meanwhile, around the world many governments continue to license and promote new fossil fuel projects for their corporate friends, when they should now be keeping all fossil fuels in the ground. These same governments continue to use armed or militarized police to intimidate, arrest and often brutalize responsible people who are trying to protect the planet. These 'police' forces do this, for example, by unleashing water cannons, attack dogs, concussion grenades, pepper sprays, rubber bullets, and by many other violent methods. The brave people currently trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (e.g. at Standing Rock) and the Keystone XL pipelines in the USA are great examples, and there have been many more, all around the world, over the past few decades. For example, indigenous activists in Morocco have spent the past five years running a protest camp in defiance of an international mining operation on their territory. The Amazigh people from Imider, Morocco, marched in protest at the COP climate Summit in Marrakech and declared their international solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in the USA. These people are the real heroes, in contrast with irresponsible governments, corporations and Bad Leaders like Trump in the USA. This is just one indication that some governments cannot be trusted to uphold the rights of their own citizens, much less be trusted to save the world from the coming climate crisis.


Has Trump's Arrival as US President Destroyed the Paris Agreement ?

21. The first follow-up to the weak Paris Agreement was held at the climate Summit in Marrakech in November 2016 (as mentioned in paragraph 3 above). In the same month, Donald Trump was elected as the new US president from January 2017. He had said he would (a) pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, (b) scrap all payments to UN global warming projects, and (c) scrap the 'Clean Power Plan' of President Obama - this was seen as the USA's main tool for cutting its emissions. Trump had called climate change ‘a hoax’ and said that the US (the world’s second biggest emitter of CO2) would pull the USA out of the Agreement it made in Paris. Since coming into office in January 2017 he has pulled the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. He has also appointed hundreds of corporate executives to the most senior positions, including climate change deniers to fill his cabinet, many others as his advisers and throughout his administration. He has 'corporatised' the government of the USA, to suit himself and his corporate allies and wealthy friends. He has turned the USA into a 'Rogue' state (more here). He is severely damaging the world's attempts to counter global warming, the greatest threat the human race has ever faced. The US Constitution looks like it will (mostly) allow him to get away with this. Well before Trump was elected his Republican party were already being labelled 'the most dangerous organisation ever to exist' (just think of their ideology on, e.g. : climate change, militarisation, their rising spending on arms, their massive arms supplies to other countries, all the guns swilling around within the US, international trade, corporations funding and distorting US politics and elections, its racism, sexism, islamophobia, its foreign policies and dark dealings in many areas of the world, its blind adherence to Disaster Capitalism, etc) Since coming into power Trump's dealings with NATO, Syria, Russia, North Korea, Europe and China, and his clearly deranged 'performances', on Twitter, on TV and in meetings with many of the world's leaders have increased anxiety across the world. With the arrival of Trump's corporate-crammed, fossil-fuelled Republican administration we are seeing a new rising tide of climate denial from him and his climate-criminal allies and enablers. They are being recognised globally as the most dangerous US administration ever to exist. Unfortunately, nobody can be sure what will happen under the Trump administration - watch this space.

22. The arrival of Trump has also caused great anxiety among the parties to the Paris Agreement (and all around the world across a number of other issues). When the Parties to the Paris Agreement met in Marrakech in November 2016 the Head of this new Conference of Parties (COP), Fijian Prime Minister
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Frank Bainimarama, said : "...I again appeal to the President-elect of the US Donald Trump to show leadership on this issue by abandoning his position that man-made climate change is a hoax...On the contrary, the global scientific consensus is that it is very real and we must act more decisively to avoid catastrophe." He also made a direct call to the American people to come to their aid in the face of rising seas, driven by global warming : "We in the Pacific, in common with the whole world, look to America for the leadership and engagement and assistance on climate change just as we looked to America in the dark days of World War Two."

23. So, on the biggest threat ever to face humanity, the UN has appealed to Trump (the sexist, fear-mongering, misogynistic, racist, glaringly unqualified, temperamentally unfit, tax-abusing, sexual predator, reality show celebrity and charlatan, the idiot psychopath with no political or public service experience) to be reasonable - and asked him to base his decisions on the mass of actual scientific evidence ! Apart from that, the UN appears to have thought of no other strategy to save the world from climate catastrophe. There will be another COP in 2017 and many of the Parties seem to be talking about displaying 'unity' - which is good because they (and we all) will need it. COP then aims to finalise the rules of the Paris Agreement by 2018 (you may ask : where is the urgency ?). But all of that will take place in the context of Trump's US administration, the crowned kings of Disaster Capitalism and Climate Criminality.

24. If there is some hope to counter Trump's negativity it is that many States, Counties, Cities, Towns and communities within the USA have said that they are determined to fulfil their part of the USA's Paris Climate commitments. These make up several hundred positive responses (more on this positive development here), in stark contradiction with Trump's negativity. When announcing his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement Trump said that he would withdraw from the 195-nation agreement because he "was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris." Bill Peduto (the Mayor of Pittsburgh), suddenly finding himself in the global spotlight, quickly responded with : "Trump's "misguided decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement does not reflect the values of our city." He said the former steelmaking capital would not only "heed the guidelines of the Paris agreement" but also strive to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2035. Also, several other national leaders around the world have made statements about their own countries doing more, or achieving their commitments more quickly. Just a couple of examples : (1) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed his country will go "above and beyond" the 2015 Paris Agreement on combating climate change; (2) The Eu and China have said that Trump's decision "is a big mistake". All this is helpful and will encourage others to step up and do more.


We Are Now In the Era of Consequences

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25. We repeat the question we asked above : What message does this failure of the UN (and of Trump) send to the billions of children and young people in today’s world whose futures are being destroyed ? And what does it mean for those to whom this is being done before they are even born ? They are being forced to inherit a climate system and a future where our common human inheritance has been taken from them and their world made impossible.

26. We are already losing the land ice sheets, including the biggest in the northern hemisphere, on Greenland. This ice has been melting away into the oceans at the rate of 287 billion metric tonnes each year in recent years (source : NASA). Due to the CO2 we have already pumped into our atmosphere it appears certain that these Arctic land ice sheets will disappear into the rivers and sea, probably within the next few decades (read more here).

27. This alone will result in a global sea level rise of around six metres (20 feet). This will flood : Many of the world's capital cities and biggest cities, thousands of towns, ports, harbours, many nuclear power
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stations, thousands of island populations, many of the world's prime food-growing regions, many of the world's biggest industrial farms. It will force homelessness on billions of people, create hundreds of millions of 'climate refugees' (including in 'developed' countries), massive global food shortages, and migrations of refugees on a scale never before seen in human history, mostly towards big towns and cities. There is more here on this, and the much bigger southern polar ice cap in Antarctica.

28. These are only a few examples which will contribute to widespread governmental and system breakdowns. These big problems will cascade down to a multitude of consequences that are likely to overwhelm human civilisation in its current form. Many climate scientists consider these problems could get well underway in the next 40-50 years, more quickly in many low-lying parts of the world which will go under the sea earlier and in regions subject to extreme weather, declining food availability and floods, to name only a few of the problems. To those who say that the costs of shifting rapidly to a de-carbonised economy and a climate-friendly way of life is too costly we say : The costs of NOT doing so are far greater. There really should be no choice.

29. This planet can easily survive without humans (it has done for most of its existence). We know that humans have evolved on this planet within a relatively short time span and within a very narrow range of environmental conditions. Those conditions, our own species and countless other species are now at grave risk of being destroyed – by us.

Note : There is more here on what global warming and climate change are, their causes, how they are developing, and their consequences.