Some notes about Climate Change

The Paris Agreement was, if you believe the political leaders who took an active part, a game changer. It was, on this view, a triumph. As Barack Obama put it, it will save the planet. But you should not believe them: the reality is that Paris demonstrated how big the international failure has been, and provided little by way of comfort that its framework will do the necessary job. You can see it everywhere: climate change has slumped down the list of priorities for companies and governments. The repeated hype over Glasgow COP26 followed the old soundtrack – and yet the central aim to limit temperatures to 1.5˚C stands almost no chance of being achieved as a result of Glasgow.

A cold, hard reality check on all the rhetoric is needed. Here are the facts. The ambition set out at the Durban Conference was that Paris would see a legal global agreement binding the main world players to targets that would jointly keep global warming below 2˚C. What happened? Most countries came up with their proposed national targets, just as they had for the Copenhagen Agreement. They are voluntary, not legally binding, and they do not add up to the 2˚C. In the case of the big players, China offered to cap emissions by 2030 (after another 15 years of potential emissions growth), India has no real meaningful cap, and the US is embedding the switch from coal to gas. For all three, what will happen has little or nothing to do with Paris. The one bit of good news is incidental: China’s economy may slow down rapidly.

Fast forward to Glasgow and the legal bit has got nowhere. This did not stop the negotiators doing two things: first, making the COP circus a regular five-year event, and thereby keeping all the UN-led bureaucracy and all the NGOs up and running; and keeping a target of 1.5˚C alive by proposing yet another stab at the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) consistent with this target in Egypt in 2022.

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