Taiwan heats up climate change conference
Despite being banned from direct participation at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, NGOs from Taiwan have made their voices heard
While he was in Paris, Jason cooperated with Taiwan's environmental news platform -- Taiwan E-Info -- for reporting, and wrote some news articles (in Chinese, for benefit of Taiwanese readers), and provided pics for their other articles.
This article in Chinese here: -
On the final day - Sat. Dec. 12 This article contains photos, the 2nd and 3rd photos provided by Jason to the online site.http://e-info.org.tw/node/
In an interview with The Cli-Fi Report in late December, Jason explained what it was like to be in Paris during the international COP21 meeting, and what he was doing there.
INTERVIEW TO FOLLOW HERE:
DAN BLOOM: Were there any NGOs from Taiwan at the COP21 meeting in Paris?
JASON PAN: The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation and global Tang Prize Foundation were among the two presentation booths coming from Taiwan. The UNFCCC is an important forum to be seen, to make contacts and build up international networking. Although, for NGOs and civic society groups, most of us cannot afford to pay for a booth, so this is only for the well-off big organizations, and those that have some corporate backing, or have funding from international agencies.
QUESTION: How did it all go? In your personal POV, was the COP21 conference a success or a failure or a mere media circus or an important step forward?
JASON PAN: It was a bit of all these, and much more. To be fair to everyone involved and all the hard work and organization that went into, I would not brand COP 21 a failure at all. It was an important summit meeting, and definitely a step forward – the world got a new climate agreement. It may not be satisfactory to everyone, to all interest groups… as for example, I would have like to cap the global warming limit to 1.5 degrees, and not at the 2.0 degrees, as in the agreement text. But hey, it is an accord that, in theory at least, nearly all nations of the world agreed to the set goals and agreed to work within its framework, so it can be built upon and make progress in the future years.
QUESTION: Is the final agreement in Paris legally binding?
JASON PAN: It is supposed to be legally binding; however there are loopholes in it, and we all know some countries will try to evade their legal responsibilities, in the name of economic groups and national development. In any case, the agreement has built into it a 5-year review / monitoring mechanism, and also it is up to each government and its leaders to make it accountable and undertake compliance measures in accordance with the agreement.
QUESTION: How many days were you there in Paris?
JASON PAN: I was there for the whole thing, the entire two weeks and more…. Since we had to arrive the weekend before – for us NGOs and IPOs, we always hold preparatory meeting / activities ahead of the actual kickstart of these UN summit meetings, for work planning, division of various task teams, to get the new people oriented, map out the strategy, and receive updates from host organizations, etc. Then I also stayed the final weekend, because from my past experience, these UN meetings with negotiations to reach agreements, it usually goes overtime – at times lasting into Saturday and Sunday. So it did happen: this COP 21 the scheduled final day was Friday, Dec. 11, but it was prolonged into Saturday, Dec. 12.
QUESTION: Are you personally optimistic or pessimist re the results of COP21 and future global meetings set now for 2018 and 2023 an 2028?
JASON PAN: Actually, I am personally optimistic about outcome of COP 21 and of mitigating effects of climate change and man-made global warming. It is due to the courage and commitment by all those who participated at COP 21 in Paris. Readers of your blog of course know that there were terrible ISI terrorist attacks at several places around Paris, just a few weeks prior to COP 21, and there were talks of postponing the meeting, and also some people decide not to take the risk and stayed home. So people like me and others are boosted by the commitment and attendance of near 160 national leaders worldwide (first two days), bringing with their top environmental ministerial officials and negotiation teams to Paris, plus all the energy and effort for input and contribution into it by civic societies, environmental activist groups, and other non-state entity groups.
DAN BLOOM: Thank you, Jason for your time and committment, as a veteran bilingual journalist and a Taiwanese citizen working now for the Taipei Times.
JASON PAN: Thanks for this opportunity to talk about this.
To see some other points of view on the results of COP21, see these links below:
''Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—and What It Means for Our Future'' a book by scholar Dale Jamieson
Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—and What It means for Our Future, Dale Jamieson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 266 pp., $29.95 cloth.
In 1988 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring climate change to be a common concern of mankind and urging states to treat it as a priority issue. Twenty-five years, two international agreements, and countless international conferences later, the upward trend of greenhouse gas emissions has barely budged.
Should we declare "game over" and admit defeat? The subtitle of Dale Jamieson's new book—"why the struggle against climate change failed"—suggests that the answer is yes. Jamieson remarks in the preface that he was finally able to finish his book, which he began more than two decades earlier, because he now knows how the story ends. The owl of Minerva can spread its wings, he says (paraphrasing Hegel), because "dusk has started to fall" (p. ix).
Reason in a Dark Time is Jamieson's attempt to understand what went wrong—"why we are stuck with [climate change] and what we can learn from our failures to get out of the ditch" (p. ix). Although Jamieson characterizes the Enlightenment faith in reason as a "dream," and recognizes that it is in particularly short supply in climate change policy, he is very much a man of the Enlightenment himself—hence his title, with its emphasis on reason, even in dark times, and his stated goal, which is to make readers think. Reason in a Dark Time succeeds admirably in this task. Although much of the ground Jamieson explores is well trodden, he has a gift for translating complexities into simple, often arresting terms, and is able to make even familiar material seem fresh.
Jamieson is a distinguished philosopher at New York University, but Reason in a Dark Time is not primarily a work of philosophy. Instead, it ranges over many disciplines. In one chapter, Jamieson provides a brief history of climate change science; in another, he analyzes the obstacles to action from the perspective of a political scientist; and in another, he provides a lucid overview and critique of climate change economics. To the extent Jamieson does touch on philosophical issues, he focuses on what he calls "commonsense morality." He is interested in the real rather than the ideal world, hence his focus on nonideal theory. The result is a book that is uncommonly accessible to nonspecialists, and will resonate even among those working in the trenches of climate policy, for whom works of pure philosophy often seem somewhat beside the point.
What explains the failures of climate policy? Many of Jamieson's explanations are familiar: scientific ignorance; the difficulties of linking science and policy; organized denial by those who stand to lose from aggressive policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; political partisanship; and weak political institutions, particularly at the international level. More fundamentally, climate change presents "the largest collective action problem that humanity has ever faced, one that is extended both in space and time" (p. 104), a point that Jamieson comes back to again and again.
More speculatively, Jamieson argues that deeper forces are at work. Biologically, human evolution has simply not equipped us to deal with a problem like climate change. "Evolution built us to respond to rapid movements of middle-sized objects," he says, "not to the slow buildup of insensible gases in the atmosphere" (p. 4). Although Jamieson does not use the metaphor, his discussion reminds one of the frog of urban legend that is insensible to a slowly heating kettle and boils to death rather than jumping out.
Generally, human action is motivated by either economics or ethics, or some combination of the two. People address a problem because they believe that doing so is in their economic interest or is morally right. But Jamieson believes that neither economics nor ethics is up to the challenge of climate change. "Climate economics," he argues, "is severely limited in demonstrating that aggressive responses to climate change are in our economic interests" (p. 144), in large part because economic analyses turn on issues of valuation, which in turn depend on ethical considerations. Similarly, the problems of climate change "swamp the machinery of morality, at least as it currently manifests in our moral consciousness" (p. 144). Climate change is very different from simple cases where one person intentionally harms another, about which we have a strong moral intuition. "The idea that turning up my thermostat in New York can contribute to affecting people living in Malaysia in a thousand years is virtually beyond comprehension to most of us" (p. 102).
Unlike so many books about climate change, Reason in a Dark Time is not a "call to action." Jamieson did not write the book "to save the Earth," he tells us (p. 1). Rather, it is reflective and analytic. Jamieson takes comfort from the fact that in the 20th century civilization survived and even prospered—this despite two world wars, the Holocaust, and countless other disasters that left hundreds of millions dead. If we are "lucky," he says, climate change will be no worse (p. ix).
I suspect that many readers may not be as "philosophical" as Jamieson about this prospect. That climate change may cause only catastrophic harms, not the end of humanity altogether, might seem, to some, rather small consolation. Personally, I do not think the situation is quite as dire as Jamieson suggests. Although 20-plus years of climate change negotiations have left me skeptical about finding a policy solution to the problem, perhaps technology will provide an answer or we will get really lucky and climate change will prove less severe than projected. Certainly, the many uncertainties in our models of climate and of technological change make predictions difficult.
But what if Jamieson is correct? Does this mean we should simply accept our fate as gracefully as we can, rather than rage against the rising seas? This is not Jamieson's conclusion. Although he says that climate change policy has failed, there are failures and then there are failures. We may not be able to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius, the level that the international community has deemed safe. But three degrees of warming is still better than five, which is better than seven. So even though we may not be able to prevent dangerous climate change, we can still do a lot to contain the damage, and to "live more . . . successfully with the changes we are bringing about" (p. 11).
The last chapter of Jamieson's book is a rather conventional enumeration of policies that would help: integrating adaptation with development, increasing terrestrial carbon sinks, full-cost energy accounting, putting a price on emissions, using regulations to force technology adoption and diffusion, and supporting technology research. Jamieson suggests trying a variety of approaches, piggybacking where possible on other policies, and settling for incremental progress, rather than making the best the enemy of the good. We should "abandon the Promethean dream of a certain decisive solution," he says, "and instead engage with the messy world of temporary victories and local solutions" (p. 10). To my mind, these are all very reasonable proposals, but they are hardly novel, and they are likely to face the very same obstacles that Jamieson so brilliantly shows have undermined previous efforts to address the climate change problem.
That Jamieson does not suggest anything radically new, however, does not detract from the value of his book in helping us better understand the challenge we face from climate change. In discussing climate change economics, Jamieson says that "we should be both epistemologically and normatively humble." What is important is to "use the resources of economics gracefully, modestly, and in recognition of their limits" (p. 149). This is sound advice not only for economists but for anyone writing about climate change. Reason in a Dark Time succeeds so well because Jamieson, with very few exceptions, practices what he preaches.
Grand promises of Paris climate deal undermined by squalid retrenchments
Inside the narrow frame within which the talks have taken place, the draft agreement at the UN climate talks in Paris is a great success. The relief and self-congratulation with which the final text was greeted, acknowledges the failure at Copenhagen six years ago, where the negotiations ran wildly over time before collapsing. The Paris agreement is still awaiting formal adoption, but its aspirational limit of 1.5C of global warming, after the rejection of this demand for so many years, can be seen within this frame as a resounding victory. In this respect and others, the final text is stronger than most people anticipated.
Outside the frame it looks like something else. I doubt any of the negotiators believe that there will be no more than 1.5C of global warming as a result of these talks. As the preamble to the agreement acknowledges, even 2C, in view of the weak promises governments brought to Paris, is wildly ambitious. Though negotiated by some nations in good faith, the real outcomes are likely to commit us to levels of climate breakdown that will be dangerous to all and lethal to some. Our governments talk of not burdening future generations with debt. But they have just agreed to burden our successors with a far more dangerous legacy: the carbon dioxide produced by the continued burning of fossil fuels, and the long-running impacts this will exert on the global climate.
With 2C of warming, large parts of the world’s surface will become less habitable. The people of these regions are likely to face wilder extremes: worse droughts in some places, worse floods in others, greater storms and, potentially, grave impacts on food supply. Islands and coastal districts in many parts of the world are in danger of disappearing beneath the waves.
A combination of acidifying seas, coral death and Arctic melting means that entire marine food chains could collapse. On land, rainforests may retreat, rivers fail and deserts spread. Mass extinction is likely to be the hallmark of our era. This is what success, as defined by the cheering delegates, will look like.
And failure, even on their terms? Well that is plausible too. While earlier drafts specified dates and percentages, the final text aims only to “reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”. Which could mean anything and nothing.
In fairness, the failure does not belong to the Paris talks, but to the whole process. A maximum of 1.5C, now an aspirational and unlikely target, was eminently achievable when the first UN climate change conference took place in Berlin in 1995. Two decades of procrastination, caused by lobbying – overt, covert and often downright sinister – by the fossil fuel lobby, coupled with the reluctance of governments to explain to their electorates that short-term thinking has long-term costs, ensure that the window of opportunity is now three-quarters shut. The talks in Paris are the best there have ever been. And that is a terrible indictment.
Progressive as the outcome is by comparison to all that has gone before, it leaves us with an almost comically lopsided agreement. While negotiations on almost all other global hazards seek to address both ends of the problem, the UN climate process has focused entirely on the consumption of fossil fuels, while ignoring their production.
In Paris the delegates have solemnly agreed to cut demand, but at home they seek to maximise supply. The UK government has even imposed a legal obligation upon itself, under the Infrastructure Act 2015, to “maximise economic recovery” of the UK’s oil and gas. Extracting fossil fuels is a hard fact. But the Paris agreement is full of soft facts: promises that can slip or unravel. Until governments undertake to keep fossil fuels in the ground, they will continue to undermine the agreement they have just made.
With Barack Obama in the White House and a dirigiste government overseeing the negotiations in Paris, this is as good as it is ever likely to get. No likely successor to the US president will show the same commitment. In countries like the UK, grand promises abroad are undermined by squalid retrenchments at home. Whatever happens now, we will not be viewed kindly by succeeding generations.
So yes, let the delegates congratulate themselves on a better agreement than might have been expected. And let them temper it with an apology to all those it will betray.