One simple chart explains climate failure from Kyoto to Warsaw
The United Nations' 19th annual climate change meeting is coming soon to Warsaw, Poland. Expectations are high that this conference -- like the other 18 that preceded it -- will fail to do anything meaningful to slow humanity's head long rush towards a full-blown climate crisis.
In my opinion, everything you really need to know about the effectiveness of the United Nations' multi-decade efforts to stop climate change can be seen in my chart above. It shows the unrelenting rise in CO2 in the atmosphere along with the annual UN Conference of Parties (COP) climate meetings for each year.
In fact, the focus appears to be shifting from cutting back on climate pollution to exploring how to adapt to the coming calamities. As a bonus failure, the "we-love-coal" host nation of Poland is apparently planning to give the coal industry an insider platform at the talks. Meanwhile, Australia, the world's top coal dealer, isn't even pretending to care anymore.
If you're wondering what lies in wait for us with CO2 levels this high, consider that the new International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says that the last time CO2 was this high – 800,000 years ago -- oceans were 100 feet higher and the surface temperature was 11 F warmer than today. What could go wrong?
Not only is the CO2 rise unrelenting, but it is actually accelerating. The last decade smashed all records for increases in climate pollution levels. Last year was the third largest increase of CO2 in recorded history. Here is a chart of how much new CO2 is added each year since 1960.
Of course, the pollution from burning coal, oil and natural gas isn't just creating a crisis in our atmosphere. About a third of our CO2 emissions get absorbed into the oceans where they are rapidly changing the basic chemistry and pH. Everything from corals to shellfish to large parts of the plankton is expected to struggle to survive this. Similar acidification events in the earth's past have caused widespread extinction across the global oceans.
Here's a chart that shows what we've done so far to the oceans' pH and where we are heading with our multi-decade "do nothing about it" policies.
These one-way charts show clearly that the governments of the world separately, and together via their UN-led process, have completely failed to halt the relentless increase in fossil fuel pollution that is driving us off the "climate cliff." Along the way we, as voting citizens, have failed to require climate progress.
Meanwhile the storm clouds of climate changes gather and darken. Record smashing extreme heat events, deluges, flooding, storms, droughts, crop losses, sea level rises, wave heights, wind speeds, forest and coral reef die-offs, wildfires, species extinction, permafrost meltdown, ice loss and ocean acidification are all growing ever worse. Often the dramatic changes are emerging much faster than even worst case projections of a few years ago.
As one of the world's leading climate scientists, James Hansen of NASA, says:
"Ladies and gentlemen, your governments are lying through their teeth. You may wish to use softer language, but the truth is that they know that their planned approach will not come anywhere near achieving the intended global objectives. Moreover, they are now taking actions that, if we do not stop them, will lock in guaranteed failure..."
"The problem is that our governments, under the heavy thumb of special interests, are ... pursuing policies to get every last drop of fossil fuel"
Sure enough, top global institutions that specialize in energy forecasts --the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, the International Monetary Fund, the OCED, the United Nations, the Global Carbon Project, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- have all recently warned that we are on a dirty energy path leading to a climate "catastrophe" of 4.0 C to 6.2 C of global warming during the lives of our children. Even the oil company BP says our kids will most likely face a 4.0 C warming disaster.
The amazing thing is that the solution to the crisis is known and simple: put a big fat price on climate pollution.
It really is that simple. Economists repeatedly show this is the cheapest and most effective way to solve the crisis. The OECD just released a report on this last week. And a new study out shows that our BC Carbon Tax was implemented quickly and has already resulted in big cuts in CO2 without harming the economy. The OECD highlighted this as one of the best examples in the world of what needs to happen.
The G20 nations that create 90% of the climate pollution could quickly and simply put a price on carbon pollution within months if they really wanted to solve the crisis.
Over and over economists show that the ongoing delay in putting an effective price on carbon will be far more costly than just doing it now. But as the world continues to demonstrate, delay is the only thing that has happened in the last two decades of "trying".
We aren't going to make it to safety with the low level of ambition and effort we have applied to this crisis so far.
“It may seem impossible to imagine that technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”
-- Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe