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A Radical Peace Economy
by Helmut Selinger
We live in a time of real militaristic orgies of war and rearmament, not only in Ukraine, Russia and Yemen, also in the US airbase Ramstein in Rhineland-Palatinate and elsewhere. At the same time, however, and for decades now, a much less noticed war has been taking place: namely, the war against nature on our planet.
We need a global, cooperative understanding on a radical "peace economy" to fight climate change, not militaristic rearmament and war orgies.
May 4, 2022 Helmut Selinger
The new IPCC - report on "climate change mitigation" provides many facts in this regard, but avoids any radicalism.
[This article published on May 4, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.isw-muenchen.de/2022/05/wir-brauchen-eine-globale-kooperative-verstaendigung-auf-eine-radikale-friedensoekonomie-um-den-klimawandel-zu-bekaempfen-keine-militaristischen-aufruestungs-und-kriegsorgien/.]

We live in a time of real militaristic orgies of war and rearmament, not only in Ukraine, Russia and Yemen, also in the US airbase Ramstein in Rhineland-Palatinate and elsewhere. At the same time, however, and for decades now, a much less noticed war has been taking place: namely, the war against nature on our planet, which, just like a global nuclear war, puts the continued existence of humanity at risk.
2012 | UN DRR, Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The new IPCC - Part III report on "Mitigation of Climate Change"[1] on April 4, 2022 has reminded us of this once again.

The report deals with the question how the anthropogenic climate change or this "war" against nature on our earth can be stopped or at least still limited. On the one hand, the report repeats the threatening facts from the previous reports, e.g. the statement that in 2019 man-made net GHG (=Greenhouse Gas) emissions amounted to 59 GtCO2-equivalents and that they have not decreased again for many decades, but even increased by another 12% (6.5 GtCO2eq !) since 2010, even by 54% since 1990. Looking at the most important component of GHG'e, CO2 emissions, the report also reiterates the fact that historical net CO2 emissions since the beginning of industrialization, i.e. from 1850 until the end of 2019 cumulatively amount to 2,400 GtCO2, but of these 1,000 GtCO2 (=42%) were emitted between 1990 and 2019 alone. In contrast, it was already clear in 1990[2] that GHGs emitted by humans are the main driver of anthropogenic climate change, so they should have been ambitiously reduced at least from the 1st IPCC report at that time, in order to then avoid them completely. However, the opposite has happened: Despite all the often hypocritical declarations at meanwhile 26 climate summits, CO2 emissions in a decade have never been as high as at present. In the last decade between 2010 and the end of 2019, in fact, even 17% of the historical net CO2 emissions since 1850 (=410 GtCO2) were emitted. As published several times by isw, Institute for Social-Ecological Economic Research[3], we are now facing the shambles of international climate policy with the prospect that the remaining global CO2 budget to meet the 1.5 °C Paris target with 83% probability will be completely exhausted on Earth already by the end of 2027 (under the unfortunately likely assumption that emissions will continue at about the same rate as in 2019)!

This makes clear the catastrophic situation and the existential emergency urgency in which all of humanity now finds itself in the face of continuing global warming.

The IPCC report covers a vast array of issues that can only be summarized here in very abbreviated form.

It also assesses progress in limiting emissions and comprehensively discusses the range of mitigation options available in energy systems and cities, as well as in sectors such as agriculture, forestry, land use, buildings, transport and industry, including in the context of sustainable development. It also assesses the relationship between actions in the near and medium term, as well as long-term emissions pathways to limit global warming. However, the report unfortunately always remains fundamentally within the framework of the economic and social order that exists globally today.

The following are some key original passages from the Summary for Policymakers for initial information.(Section names are given in parentheses):

Net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased in all major sectors globally since 2010. An increasing share of emissions can be attributed to urban areas. However, CO2 emission declines from fossil fuels and industrial processes due to improvements in GDP energy intensity (-2%/yr) and energy carbon intensity (-0.3%/yr) were smaller than emission increases due to rising global activities in industry, energy supply, transport, agriculture, and buildings. (B.2)

The 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute a disproportionately large share (34 - 45%) of global household GHG emissions.
The 50% of households with the lowest per capita emissions contribute only 10 - 15% (B.3)

With the global GHG emissions in 2030 that would be associated with the implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) announced prior to COP26, it is likely that warming will significantly exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century. This means that mitigation after 2030 cannot create a pathway that limits warming to 1.5 °C. (B.6)

Projected cumulative future CO2 emissions over the lifetime of existing and currently planned fossil fuel infrastructure (850 Gt CO2) far exceed the remaining available CO2 budget of about 500 Gt CO2 for pathways that limit warming (with 50% probability) to 1.5 °C. (B.7)

Without strengthening policies beyond those implemented by the end of 2020, GHG emissions are projected to increase beyond 2025, leading to an average global warming of 3.2 (2.2 to 3.5) °C by 2100. To meet the 1.5 °C limit (at 50%), CO2 emissions would need to be reduced globally from the 2019 level by 48% by 2030 and by 80% by 2040. (C.1)

All global model pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, and those that limit warming to 2°C, require rapid and deep, and in most cases immediate, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors. Modeled mitigation strategies to achieve these reductions include transitioning from fossil fuels without CCS (=carbon capture and storage) to very low-carbon or zero-carbon energy sources, such as renewables or fossil fuels with CCS, demand-side measures and efficiency improvements, non-CO2 emission reductions, and the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods to offset remaining GHG emissions.

So-called illustrative mitigation pathways (IMPs) show different combinations of sectoral mitigation strategies for specific levels of warming.
To limit warming to 1.5°C (at 50%), global use of coal, oil, and gas must be reduced by 95%, 60%, and 45%, respectively, by 2050 - compared to 2019. (C.3)

Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the entire energy sector

Reducing GHG emissions across the energy sector will require substantial change, including significant reductions in overall fossil fuel consumption, the use of low-emitting energy sources, a shift to alternative energy sources, and energy efficiency and conservation. The loss of unburned fossil fuels and stranded fossil infrastructure to meet the 2 °C target. is estimated at $1-$4 trillion over the 2015-2050 period. (C.4)

Net-zero CO2 emissions from the industrial sector are challenging but possible. Reducing industrial emissions will require coordinated action along the entire value chain to promote all mitigation options, e.g., demand management, energy and material efficiency, material cycling, and emission reduction technologies and fundamental changes in production processes. (C.5)

Urban areas can create opportunities to increase resource efficiency and significantly reduce GHG emissions by systemically transitioning infrastructure and urban form to net-zero emissions via low-emission development pathways. Ambitious mitigation efforts for existing, fast-growing, and emerging cities include

Reducing or modifying energy and materials consumption,
comprehensive electrification, and
improving carbon absorption and storage in the urban environment. (C.6)

The use of CDR to offset residual emissions that are difficult to avoid is unavoidable if net zero CO2 or GHG emissions are to be achieved. The scale and timing of deployment will depend on the trajectory of gross emissions reductions across sectors. Scaling up the use of CDR depends on the development of effective approaches that address feasibility and sustainability constraints, particularly at large scales. (C.11)

Mitigation options costing $100 per ton of CO2 equivalent or less could reduce global GHG emissions by at least half of 2019 levels by 2030. Global GDP continues to grow in modeled pathways that limit warming to 2°C or less, but, without accounting for the economic benefits of mitigation actions from avoiding climate change damages or due to reduced adaptation costs, is several percent lower in 2050 compared to pathways without mitigation actions beyond current policies. However, the global economic benefits of limiting warming to 2°C exceed the costs of mitigation according to most of the studies assessed. (C.12)

Accelerated and equitable mitigation and adaptation actions are critical for sustainable development.

There is a strong link between sustainable development, vulnerability, and climate risks. Limited economic, social, and institutional resources often lead to high vulnerability and low adaptive capacity, especially in developing countries. (D.1/.2)

Increased mitigation and broader action to shift development trajectories toward sustainability will have implications for distribution within and across countries. Attention to equity and broad and meaningful participation of all relevant stakeholders in decision-making at all levels can build social trust and deepen and broaden support for transformative change. (D.3)

There are mitigation options that are feasible to implement on a large scale in the near future. Feasibility varies from sector to sector and region to region, and depends on capacity and the speed and scale of implementation. Feasibility hurdles would need to be reduced or removed and enabling environments strengthened to deploy mitigation options at scale. These hurdles and enabling environments include geophysical, environmental, technological, economic, and especially institutional and sociocultural factors. Strengthened action in the near term beyond NDC's (= national mitigation commitments announced prior to COP26) can reduce and/or avoid the challenges that exist regarding the feasibility of modeled global pathways that limit warming to below 1.5 °C. (E.1)

In all countries, mitigation efforts embedded in the broader development context can increase the pace, depth, and scale of emissions reductions. Policies that redirect development pathways toward sustainability can expand the portfolio of available mitigation actions and enable the pursuit of synergies with development goals. (E.2)

Climate governance

Climate governance that acts through laws, policies, and institutions based on national circumstances supports mitigation by providing the framework in which different actors interact and a basis for policy development and implementation.

Effective and equitable climate governance relies on the involvement of civil society and political actors, businesses, youth, workers, the media, indigenous peoples, and local communities. (E.3)

Many regulatory and economic instruments have already been used successfully. Instrument design can help address equality and other goals. These instruments could support deep emissions reductions and spur innovation if deployed on a larger scale and more broadly. Policy packages that enable innovation and build capacity are better able to support a shift toward equitable, low-emission futures than individual policies. (E.4)

Progress in aligning financial flows with the Paris Agreement goals is slow. Recorded financial flows are not reaching the levels needed to meet mitigation targets in all sectors and regions; in addition, recorded climate financial flows are unevenly distributed across regions and sectors. Overall, the challenge in closing the gaps is greatest in developing countries. Scaling up mitigation finance flows must be supported by clear policy decisions and signals from governments and the international community. Accelerated international financial cooperation is a critical enabling factor for low-GHG and equitable change, and can address inequities in access to finance and in the costs of climate change impacts and vulnerability

In general, international cooperation is a critical enabler for achieving ambitious climate change mitigation goals. (E.5)

Guidance for action to combat climate change is lacking

So much for some key original quotes from the WG III report's Summary for Policymakers.

At the end of this text, however - despite the enormous wealth of aspects and assessments and the valuable work of the many hundreds of authors of the WGIII report - a criticism should also be allowed, first of all fundamentally on the layout of the report, then on the style or some formulations of the summary, and finally also on some fundamental orientations of this report:

In view of the dramatic situation, which was described in detail in the parts of WGI and WGII from the point of view of natural science and is also reflected in this Part III in many data, dramatic steps and clear, radical proposals to combat climate change are actually also to be expected from economic and social science. But the report avoids already in its approach to critically go beyond the global - economically and socially prevailing conditions and to search for the systemic causes, why - despite decades of knowledge about the ever worsening condition of the nature of the climate on earth - the economic and social conditions have not reacted to it in any adequate way. This question would be actually existentially necessary in view of the threatening situation, remained however already in the beginning excluded.

This is probably also connected with the fact that even in the case of hard and clearly critical results, one often wriggles around clear and unambiguous statements with consistent recommendations for action in winding words and complicating treatises, e.g., about a huge number of scenario and model path discussions. Many formulations seem to be rather connected to diplomatic language use and are often hardly conducive to bring about a radically clear assessment of the situation and clear action orientations in the reader.

In general, it seems problematic to place too much emphasis on the concept of negative GHG emissions. The mention in the text of the summary of CDR (Carbon Dioxide Removal) methods to get previously emitted CO2 back out of the atmosphere, which is almost self-evident to policy makers, gives the impression that this is a realistic and routinely acceptable large-scale technical mitigation option in the future. This applies to various CDR techniques such as BECCS (bio-energy and carbon capture and storage), DACCS (=direct air carbon capture and storage) and ocean alkalization.

Also, the related self-evident mention of negative CO2 emissions to compensate for past or remaining CO2 emissions must be considered at the present time as merely a highly speculative theoretical possibility to be assumed fictitiously. There is talk, for example, of a geological storage capacity in the order of 1,000 Gt CO2. The risks involved in such large-scale extraction techniques cannot be reasonably assessed today. The almost self-evident mention of this fictitious possibility downplays the urgency of the immediate need to reduce today's emissions.

[1] This is the 3rd part of the sixth reporting cycle (AR6 = 6th Assessment Report) of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The different parts are written by different "Working groups (WG I, II and III)". WG III consists mainly of economists, sociologists and political scientists from many parts of the world, who have presented this 3rd part of the current IPCC - reporting cycle. The 1st part- predominantly written by natural scientists- was published in August 2021, it dealt with the scientific physical basis of climate change. The 2nd part-also predominantly written by natural scientists-was published on Feb. 27, 2022. It addresses climate change impacts and adaptation and vulnerability issues related to climate change. A summary synthesis report has been announced for Sept. 30, 2022. This will then conclude this sixth reporting cycle (AR6 - 2021/2022).
[2] The first IPCC report was published in 1990. It hit like a bomb and led to the 1992 Rio Conference, where the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted - with big promises to radically tackle climate change. 1 IPCC 1990 Report.
[3] e.g. Selinger, Helmut (Nov. 2021) and Selinger, Helmut (Jan. 2016).
Helmut Selinger

Dr. graduate physicist

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