Paris carbon reduction agreement

By Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

All 189 nations involved signed onto the Global Climate Reduction Plan. After the failure of the Copenhagen accord and the nearly 20 year history of failed discussions on the need to reduce carbon emissions, this fact alone is portrayed as a major achievement. Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a professor at the University of Paris, indicated the inclusion of the target to limit the global climate temperature to 1.5o Celsius is a major victory for the planet.

Yet the feel good accomplishment has left many interests wondering whether it will lead to an appropriate response resulting in dramatically reduced carbon emissions.

Dr. James Hanson, the most outspoken scientist on the need to reduce carbon emission who testified before Congress in 1988 on the dangers of climate change, expressed his disappointment regarding the recent accord. In an interview published in The Guardian, Hansen went so far as to call the agreement a fraud. What has been agreed to is that the 189 nations who signed the accord will voluntarily decrease their emissions in an attempt to limit the increase in average global temperatures to less than 2o Celsius. They will meet every five years to consider what further limits are needed to avoid the worst adverse impacts of climate change.

Hansen believes that if fossil fuels continue to appear to be the lowest cost fuel in the marketplace, they will continue to be burned. He advocates that only a carbon tax will quickly force emissions down to a level to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. In July, 2015, Hansen and 16 colleagues claimed that the Earth’s huge ice sheets are melting much faster than expected. If their estimates are correct, over half the world’s major cities would be adversely impacted by a sea level rise of up to five meters, flooding London, New York and Miami among others. While the paper has yet to be fully peer reviewed, other scientists have expressed doubts that the sea level rise will be that great.

Another critical response to the agreement is that it contains no mechanism to make it binding on any of the nations signing it. Even if all the countries reach their respective pledged reductions within the projected time frame climateparis.org suggests the actions are far below what is needed.

Within the United States efforts to reduce carbon emissions via the Federal Clean Power Plan continue to produce controversy. As reported in The State Journal-Register, contrasting views were expressed by Terry Jarrett and Howard A. Learner. Jarrett, an attorney in Jefferson, Missouri, indicated that the Clean Power Plan would not prove meaningful in terms of global warming but would result in higher electrical costs for consumers. In response, Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, pointed out that Jarrett’s views were apparently based on a report funded by fossil fuel interests. Learner indicates that Illinois should benefit from cleaner air, job growth and economic growth linked to the Clean Power Plan.

The effort to reduce carbon emissions will continue to spur controversy. It will also impact the rate at which energy efficiency and renewable energy will be implemented. Individuals and communities can reduce their carbon emissions by using these resources.

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