Science For Dummies

by Joana Kollert

Taken from pexels.com

As a scientist, when reading the “Scientists For Future” statement supporting the Fridays for Future protest marches, my initial response was disappointment. The statement uses an extremely basic language to summarize the demands of the Paris Agreement, and the key steps necessary to avoid the most perilous climate change hazards. There is nothing innovative, provocative or unexpected about this statement. Thus, I was very doubtful about its effectiveness.

However, one has to consider the political message behind this petition, which now has 23,000 signatories in German-speaking countries alone. Until recently, scientists have kept quietly in their laboratories or behind their computer models, delivering the data which screamed for immediate action against climate change. However, as soon as this data was handed over to politics, the scientists retracted, and felt that their job was done. I routinely imagine Donald Trump’s office, in which climate data spreadsheets are used as scrap paper for cost calculations of the infamous wall to Mexico.

This discontinuity between scientific advice and political response hit a peak with the IPCC’s publication of the Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Whilst scientists had demonstrated that reaching even the 2°C was highly optimistic and unrealistic, the IPCC was asked to research an even more utopian target. Call me cynical, but the scientists were silenced by being told to play with their numbers a bit more, while international politicians were busy trying to find excuses not to reduce emissions.  By condemning scientists to stick to their classical role of pure researchers with no political voice, it was easy to justify mitigation inaction with the fact that the scientists were still working on exact numbers, and that the uncertainties were too high to take any definitive action.

Scientists have completed their role as researchers. They have delivered the numbers, and they have been ignored. It is high time that scientists assume their role as concerned citizens. With this petition, scientists are no longer hiding behind numbers and big data. Their message is clear.  The simplicity of the statement is indeed its greatest strength.

This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.

Coal vs. goals: unfortunate choice of decoration undermines credibility of negotiations at COP24

by Joana Kollert

Efforts of the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) taking place in Katowice, Poland, between December 2nd and 14th are being overshadowed, quite literally, by a cloud of coal enveloping the conference center, which is located just 3 miles from the Wujek coal mine. Following a year of devastating climate catastrophes around the globe, and the highest global carbon dioxide levels in the past seven years, the main goal of COP24 is to finalize the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement concluded in 2015.

With near-universal membership, the UNFCCC boasts 184 ratifications, and its parties have met annually since 1995. Its supporters collectively follow the aim of preventing “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. The threshold of danger is anticipated at 2°C – and more recently even 1.5°C – global average temperature increase compared to Pre-Industrial Times. If all Parties were to reach their current, voluntary, national emissions reduction targets, global average temperatures are still predicted to increase by over 3°C by the end of the century. Moreover, only 17 of the 184 ratified Parties are meeting even these insufficient goals. Thus, six months after the Paris Agreement, guideline negotiations to put forward practical measures in line with the 2°C (better yet 1.5°C) target of the international treaty were initiated, and COP24 was set as the deadline. Thus, expectations are high.

As if the cloud of coal surrounding the conference center weren’t controversial enough, cages of coal “decorate” the conference facilities, and the booth for the town of Katowice proudly presents different coal souvenirs: soap made of coal, earrings made of coal. The reality remains that Poland meets 80% of its energy demand from burning the contested fossil fuel, and that three Polish coal companies sponsored COP24. Whilst the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report released in October argued that coal must be almost entirely phased-out by the middle of the century to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts, the Polish President Duda declared that coal is Poland’s greatest treasure, with deposits that will last 200 years. This problem exemplifies one of the largest hurdles of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: the need for a large-scale transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and the largely lacking economic and political will to do so.

A further testimony to the controversy surrounding climate change regulations is the French protest movement by “Les Gilets Jaunes”, which has been causing havoc in Paris for several weeks now. Protests are directed mainly at Macron’s planned (and meanwhile retracted) tax raises on diesel and fuel. Supporters of the “Gilets Jaunes” stem mainly from sub-urban, economically weaker areas. They are short of spendable income, yet they need their cars every day, such that even a small price increase in fuel and gas will significantly impact their livelihood. The economically stronger population, that often lives closer to city centers with access to public transportation and aren’t as affected by the price increases, have less incentive to complain. This divide between wealthy and less wealthy illustrates a core issue of international climate change policymaking: common but differentiated responsibilities. Why should developing countries, that are suffering more from climate change impacts than developed countries and have contributed comparatively little to present carbon dioxide levels, endure financial losses that impede their economic development?

Last, but certainly not least, with a heavy heart we must recall Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, as well as the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. The new president not only wants to follow Trump’s (mis)leadership and withdraw from the Paris Agreement, but also boost deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Hopefully these rather dismal circumstances will not cause all 184 signatory Parties to lose hope, and the end of COP24 will see an effective implementation plan of the Paris Agreement.

Links:

https://unfccc.int/katowice

http://www.cop24.katowice.eu/

https://thinkprogress.org/un-climate-talks-cop24-greenwashing-coal-trump-poland-dfe0579704e7/

https://www.wired.com/story/a-global-climate-summit-is-surrounded-by-all-things-coal/

http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/katowice-worum-es-bei-der-uno-klimakonferenz-geht-a-1241125.html

https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-fossil-fuel-emissions-in-2018-increasing-at-fastest-rate-for-seven-years