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An Arc to the Future via COP21

Yesterday, NEI and the Christian Science Monitor sponsored a public meeting to offer a preview of the upcoming COP21 conference. It proved to be exceptionally edifying because the speakers cut straight through the rhetoric surrounding the conference to discuss what is most likely to be accomplished rather than what might be wished for.

cop21_11Let’s set the table for new comers. The COP21 conference intends to bring together as many as 195 world leaders to sign an agreement to reduce carbon dioxide/greenhouse gas emissions consistent with limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. 

The Paris accord, if it is finalized and the signatory countries hold to their plans, will not accomplish this. According to Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the agreement already hammered out limits temperature rise to 2.7 to 3 degrees Celsius. That sounds like a minor difference, but it is not – the impacts on world population would be severe. But Figueres says that focusing on that misses the point. (my transcript – buyer beware)

If you define successful as assuming that the Paris meeting will solve climate change, then the answer is No. I have been say for at least a year that that is possible. You cannot turn an economic development model that we have been using for 150 years and that turn it around in one or even 23 years.

She offered three goals for the Paris conference. First, she said, it will act as the “receptacle” for national climate plans. Second, it will signal that countries are willing to step off what she called the “business-as-usual path.” While the plans as submitted may only limit temperature rise to an aggregate 2.7 or 3 degrees Celsius, she said they draw an “arc into the future,” with a better outcome achieved through further, more stringent accords and advances in technology.

Third, it will reflect increasing political will to act on climate change. That’s the short-term – this gives a better idea of the long-term.

This transformation is underway, it is unstoppable, and what we need to do here is ensure we can increase the pace because it is urgent that we get to a 2 degree pathway and measure ourselves transparently along the way.

Figures said that if Paris represents the staring point and 2 degrees the end point, what happens in-between is the journey. So – let the journey begin – in Paris – next month.

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We know that nuclear energy will have an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. China, India and many other countries are looking seriously at nuclear energy – and renewable energy sources, too – to bring down their emissions. I mention China and India because they are huge, rapidly developing nations, reasonable proxies for the issues that have foiled earlier efforts at consensus (notably at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009) – how to balance the needs of developed and developing nations. It’s inherently interesting that nuclear is a big part of how they will industrialize while containing greenhouse gases.

Figueres largely sidestepped talking about individual countries and generation types. That makes sense – in her position, she has to be very careful. However, the other speaker, Eileen Claussen, former president and founder of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, has no such concerns and was quite happy to make the obvious point.

“The bottom line is that nuclear is the only 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week source of power that does not result in the emission of greenhouse gasses. It’s hard to believe that we can limit temperature increase, and its associated impacts, without a vastly expanded use of nuclear energy.”

If you watch the Claussen segment, which kicks off the presentation, don’t miss the Q&A exchange about Germany. Claussen and an audience member knocks back the notion that Germany represents a breakthrough in privileging renewable energy sources. It’s very entertaining. (I haven’t read this myself, but is Germany really importing wood from the U.S. and Canada to burn as fuel, as an audience member says? If true, it’s quite – distressing. Topic for further research. Granted, this event was co-sponsored by NEI, so no criticism of Germany is too much, but the wood chips still have to fall where they will.)

You can watch the whole presentation on YouTube. It’s only an hour in length. Well worth your time and with a lot of interesting content I can’t cover in a short post.

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