Much hot air has been expended since President Trump announced on 1 June 2017 that the USA would withdraw from the December 2015 Paris accord.
As is often the case, Trump is at least partially right, but in the welter of hype and hysteria, it is easy to overlook the real issues.
The inconvenient truth is that the Paris agreement is a mirage. It stresses mitigation and adaptation to cope with global warming and even sanctions continuing increases of CO2 emissions, especially by China, which in 2015 accounted for 29% of the global total, much higher than the US figure of just 15%, the EU at 10% and India at 6%.
Even worse, Paris is not a binding, but a voluntary agreement, so there is no mechanism to enforce compliance.
Out of a misplaced sense of historical and economic equity, the rich developed countries pledged to cut their own emissions and transfer hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to poorer countries, which can go on pumping out CO2 and other greenhouse gases for some time to come – thus adding to the total amount in the atmosphere.
Scientists therefore noted from the outset that the emission pledges under the Paris Agreement would only avoid the worst effects of climate change, that is a rise of 4-5°C.
Most studies, however, suggested that the pledges would still result in a likely temperature increase of about 3°C by 2100.
Similar studies agreed that even if CO2 emissions were to stop immediately, temperatures would continue to rise for decades since carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for at least a century.
So it was no surprise that a year later, in November 2016, even the United Nations Environment Programme warned that under current global climate pledges, the world was on track for a temperature increase of 3⁰C – much higher than the “soft” Paris target of 2⁰C and the tougher “ideal” of 1.5⁰C. And this despite the fact that the December 2015 agreement was signed under the aegis of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere had remained relatively static at roughly 280 parts per million (ppm) for some 10,000 years until about 1750 and the Industrial Revolution.
But CO2 emissions have risen from 5 billion tons per annum in 1950 to more than 35 billion tons per annum today.
Now, CO2 is just over 400 ppm, a number of no particular scientific significance, but one which is seen by researchers as a crucial psychological barrier which was already passed in 2016.
The present concentration is the highest for some 800,000 years and possibly the highest in the last 20 million years – but it is still rising.
The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is also accelerating at a rapid clip. It rose from an annual rate of increase of about 0.7 ppm per annum towards the end of the 1950s to about 2.1 ppm per annum between 2005 and 2014.
Unless CO2 emissions are brought under control,
CO2 concentrations could easily pass 500 ppm in the coming decades, and even reach 2,000 by 2250
This is bad, if not catastrophic news for poor tropical and subtropical countries and indeed will cause major problems for the advanced countries of the northern hemisphere, even though they are far better equipped with global warming to cope due to their greater wealth and technical expertise. They too will be affected by the likes of rising sea levels.
All the invective against Trump glosses over what is really needed – a return to 316 ppm when regular CO2 measurements began in 1958, or even to pre-industrial levels.
This would lead to a cooler earth and create more agricultural land, thus alleviating food shortages and reducing the risk of violence and civil war, mass migration and mass immigration to the rich West.
Virtually no one is talking about this. Why? Because it was hard enough to achieve the lame compromise that was the Paris agreement and hopes of any reductions are in the realm of fantasyland. People celebrated Paris faute di mieux – the best of a bad job.
Even with zero emissions, getting back to pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm is “sort of a 10,000-year proposition.”
Ralph Keeling, Director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s CO2 Program in San Diego. (It was Keeling’s father Charles David who first started regularly measuring atmospheric levels of CO2 in 1958).
The timeframe of 10,000 years is literal, not hype. The ocean would absorb much of the excess carbon in the atmosphere in about 100 years, while another part would find its way into the deeper ocean over a millennium before the planet’s carbon cycle, such as rock weathering, would soak up most of the rest over about 10,000 years.
If the global leaders, corporations, businessmen, scientists and environmentalists criticising Trump were really serious about global warming, they would not have agreed to pre-emptive surrender and accepted yet further increases in emissions and coping mechanisms such as mitigation and adaptation, but gone for real reductions.
It is encouraging that global leaders and opinion agree that Paris should still be implemented even after Trump’s announcement of withdrawal, but to praise the accord as a solution to global warming was a mistake from the start.
Trump would certainly have been better advised to keep the U.S. within the Paris Agreement, but technological and commercial breakthroughs in alternative energy and carbon storage and capture (CSC) techniques, such as converting carbon into stone, must be forthcoming and implemented as quickly as possible
If not, our 2016 forecast on global population and Islamic fundamentalism will turn out to be as bleak as we fear.