Is COP24 One More Big Bust?

Two hundred nations at Katowice COP24 Poland just wrapped up two-weeks of climate meetings. If history is a guide, CO2 emissions will continue to accelerate until COP25 next year in Chile. Still, the delegates did adopt a rule book to put Paris ’15 into action, Ahem!

But, hark! There’s a ray of sunshine peering out from behind the Katowice coal-clouded skyline because big money interests may be altering the landscape for combating global warming.

According to reports out of Katowice1 global investors managing $32T issued a “stark warning” that the world faces financial Armageddon worse than 2008 if carbon emissions are not cut, including a phase-out of coal. Wow!

That sets the stage for proving/disproving the old maxim “money talks.” If it does, there’s a glimmer of hope for Miami’s survival.

Accordingly, some of the world’s deepest pocket investors including pension funds, insurers, and asset fund managers exhibited their most impressive intervention ever by insisting that (1) fossil fuel subsidies must end and (2) substantial taxes must be slapped on carbon.

According to the IMF, current subsidies for fossil fuels amount to $5T per year, which makes fossil fuel subsidies alone equivalent to some of the largest economies in the world. Ipso facto, if $5 trillion/year pivots from fossil fuel subsidies to renewable investments, just imagine the impact. By way of comparison, in 2017 total investment in renewables reached $280B.

Of course, the big money interests would also be feathering their own nests by switching fossil fuel subsidies to renewables as the world economy accelerates with the thrust of a space shuttle blast-off, creating jobs, jobs, and more jobs in the Renewable Global Economy.

Thus, a whole new world opens to massive infrastructure investments, accelerating global wealth creation, and the world turns clean, assuming it’s not too late by the time they get serious, a big assumption, indeed.

In stark contrast to that message from 415 financial institutions, ever since Paris 2015, the US, China, and Japan provided $500B in financing for new coal plants. Oops!

The day after the closing of COP24 Mexico announced plans to spend $3.65B to boost crude oil production 45% by 2025. This is comparable to stabbing COP24 in the eye with a sharp stick. Nothing mentioned about renewable energy.

The following statements by big money interests at Katowice tells an interesting story:

“The long-term nature of the challenge has, in our view, met a zombie-like response by many,” said Chris Newton, of IFM Investors, which manages $80Bn and is one of the 415 groups that signed the Global Investor Statement. ‘This is a recipe for disaster as the impacts of climate change can be sudden, severe and catastrophic.”2

“Investment firm Schroders said there could be $32Tn of global economic losses a year in the long term without rapid action. This permanent economic damage would be almost four times the scale of the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis. Standard and Poor’s rating agency also warned leaders: ‘Climate change has already started to alter the functioning of our world.”((Ibid.))

“Thomas DiNapoli, of the $207bn New York State Common Retirement Fund, another signatory, said taking action on global warming not only avoids damage but could boost jobs and growth. ‘The low-carbon economy presents numerous opportunities and investors who ignore the changing world do so at their own peril.”2

Heretofore, the nations of the world have failed miserably for nearly three decades. At COPs there’s always plenty of pomp and ceremony, cocktail parties, caviar, formal dinners, and millions upon millions of dollars spent staying in fancy hotels but nothing positive on CO2 emissions in 26 years, other than increasing public awareness and adding more scientific studies, all of which increasingly point to rapid deterioration of ecosystems around the world, way beyond prior estimates. This trend negatively surprises the scientific community, but it has not moved nation/states to take action.

Thus, the world is at serious risk of collapsing ecosystems, which can happen with remarkable suddenness and without warning. The telltale signals are already present, as lesser species are already going extinct in all-time record numbers, 1,000-10,000 xs the normal background rate. This current rate of extinction makes the dinosaur-era extinction rate 65M yrs ago look like a walk in the park and should be taken very seriously.

In point of fact, climate change/global warming has worsened considerably ever since the Kyoto protocol (1992), aka Conference of the Parties3 or COP3, which was the first agreement to mandate country-by-country reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (“GHG”). Ever since, GHGs have gone straight up (with one small hiatus), not down.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel usage has remained static at approximately 80% of worldwide energy production for the past 40 years. No change, which is the perfect setup for unmitigated climate disaster.

The most recent readings of CO2 shows Mauna Loa (Hawaii) CO2 @ 408.2 ppm as of November 2018 versus 405.12 ppm in November 2017. According to NASA, in 1992 when Kyoto met, CO2 was 356.42 ppm. Consider: Over the past 40,000 years, up until 200 yrs ago, CO2 was 200-300 ppm, the Holocene Age with its Goldilocks Climate not too hot, not too cold but rapidly coming to an end. Then, what?

The global warming risk indicator: In 1850 human-generated CO2 was 50 million tons/yr. Nowadays, it only takes 12 hours, not a year, to put out that same 50 million tons (USGS analysis). Try that one on for size Mister Global Warming!

Here’s the crux of the issue that makes it nearly impossible to tackle the global warming crisis w/o US help (P.S.- the US delegation at COP24 promoted fossil fuels – honestly, they did.): “Ten percent (10%) of the global population (hint-hint- mostly the US) are responsible for 50% of carbon emissions and twenty percent (20%) of global population are responsible for 70% of all global emissions… tells us that we need to be tailoring our policies towards that small group rather than trying to squeeze the emissions out of the majority of world population who are hardly emitting anything at all… if the 10% reduced their carbon footprint to the level of the average European citizen, that would be equivalent to a 1/3rd cut in global emissions, even if the other 90% did nothing… for example, the average Rwanda citizen emits 0.10-0.50 tons CO2 versus the average American at 30-35 tons.”3

As it happens, the rate of CO2 growth is itself growing, having now reached about 2.3 ppm/yr the highest growth rate in modern times. It is not just a “business as usual” scenario. it is worse than that, as we are moving backwards, becoming more and more unsustainable with every year. This shows unequivocally that the efforts undertaken so far to limit GHGs are woefully inadequate.

Every COP meeting since 1992 has been greeted with higher CO2 emissions than the year before, now accelerating faster than ever in paleoclimate history. That locks-in, guarantees big time troubles down the road, when least expected.

Postscript:

For 25 years, countless people have come to the U.N. climate conferences begging our world leaders to stop emissions, and clearly that has not worked as emissions are continuing to rise. So, I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future. I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.

— Greta Thunberg, 15-year-old Swedish speaker at COP24.

  1. e.g., Damian Carrington’s The Guardian article d/d December 9, 2018: “Tackle Climate or Face Financial Crash, Say World’s Biggest Investors.” []
  2. Ibid. [] []
  3. Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research interview with Democracy Now! at COP24. []
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.