In December, some 40,000 folk assembled in Paris for the UN Climate Conference, COP21.  High hopes were expressed for a binding and enforceable climate agreement.  And today in parliament (to coin a phrase) MEPs are still congratulating themselves on its great success.  The reality is slightly different.

The previous Kyoto Protocol (never ratified by the USA) set emissions targets.  These were challenging, but at least emissions per country could be reasonably estimated and targeted.  The new Paris deal targets not emissions but global temperatures.  Much more difficult – almost impossible – to predict and target with any accuracy.  Indeed in my recent blog on “externalities” I pointed out that given the very sketchy correlation between temperature and CO2 levels, it is simply risible to talk about targeting global temperatures to one place of decimals.

And the policy also fails for the same reason that our UK targets for 2050 fail.  If we don’t hit the targets by 2050, whom do we send to jail?  (My preference is Ed Miliband, who was Environment Secretary at the time of the 2008 Climate Change Act – but he may not be around by then).  In any case can you imagine imposing penalties in 2016 based on targets set in 1974?

Nevertheless, taking their estimates at face value, the bids made by participating countries in Paris are projected to “keep global warming down to 2.7oC”, way over the 1.5 to 2.0oC target range.  And even these bids are not firm, but conditional.  India says it needs $2.5 trillion (that’s a lot of money) between now and 2030 from the West to deliver its bid.  But the USA wisely saw to it that there was no legally binding requirement on Western countries to provide that aid.  Congress would never have ratified the deal otherwise.

There is no mechanism for requiring states to deliver on their bids, or for sanctioning them if they do not.  Nor is there any mechanism for tightening the screw to bring that 2.7oC figure down below 2.0oC, other than a commitment to “a global stock-take in 2023”.

This is as near as it gets to kicking the problem into the very long grass.  Most of today’s politicians will be retired by then – it will become someone else’s problem.  And as lawyers like to say, “An agreement to agree is no agreement at all”.

Please also see my blog on the extraordinary potential consequences of COP21 recommendations.

Cañete’s lap of honour

On Tuesday January 12th I attended the European Energy Forum Dinner Debate, at which Commissioner Cañete presented the results of COP21, and basked in the adulation of assembled MEPs (though the input from industry representatives was a little more measured).  During the course of the evening I tweeted several times, and if it’s not too self-indulgent I’d like to share the Tweets with you.

  • Commissioner Cañete’s analysis of COP21 was a master-class of irrelevance and self-delusion.
  • Commissioner Cañete is Spanish (from Jerez — I was there earlier this month).  I am reminded of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
  • Perhaps the main outcome of COP21 will be to give investors the confidence to go for massive green projects … leading to bankruptcy.
  • Commissioner Cañete says we’ll reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, because “that’s the road map”.  Follow the yellow brick road!
  • Cañete is talking about e-mobility.  But when he says it, it sounds so much like “immobility”.  Perhaps appropriate.

As I was doing this I noticed a very senior executive from an oil major (no names, no pack-drill, as my old Mother used to say) on the other side of the table, looking at his phone, and then glancing up at me with a broad smile – he’d been following my Tweets.  I think it was the third one that caused his reaction.