I wish I could be optimistic about COP21, the climate negotiations coming to an end in Paris. I can’t. Even if the world’s countries keep their promises — known, in the mind-numbing argot of the UN as Intended Nationally Determined Commitments — the climate reductions they are promising don’t go far enough. As Coral Davenport reported in The Times as the talks got underway:
Together the more than 170 national plans for Paris would still allow the planet to warm by as much as 6 degrees, according to several independent and academic analyses. Scientists say that that level of warming is still likely to cause food shortages and widespread extinctions of plant and animal life.
These unenforceable “commitments” are, at best, a step in the right direction and, at worse, a way for government leaders to try to fool their citizens and, perhaps, themselves into thinking they are doing the right thing.
One reason for my skepticism is that these voluntary efforts resemble the voluntary measures taken by companies to curb their carbon emissions for the past decade or so. Even the most mainstream and business-friendly green groups are discouraged by the scale of those efforts, so they have launched an initiative called Science Based Targets to try to persuade big companies to do better.
In a story headlined Where’s the Science?, I wrote big companies and their climate targets the other day in Guardian Sustainable Business. Here’s how the story begins:
As the UN climate meetings in Paris come to an end this week, diplomats from around the world are under pressure to reach an agreement that would reflect the plans they presented to cut their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. These voluntary plans include targets and starting points set by each government. The US vows to cut emissions by 26% below 2005 levels by 2025; the EU by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030; and China will starting reducing in 2030.
If this sounds familiar, it should: big companies have been promising to cut their carbon output for a decade or more, setting targets and timelines of their own choosing.
It hasn’t worked. Emissions from the world’s 500 largest businesses are rising,according to Thomson Reuters. Scientists say emissions must fall to avoid catastrophic climate risks.
Science Based Targets intends to push companies to do better. It’s an initiative formed by the World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund, the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) and the UN Global Compact – business-friendly, mainstream organizations that are frustrated by the arbitrary and unscientific nature of corporate climate targets.
Voluntary carbon targets–for companies or countries–are not likely to get us where we need to go, I’m afraid. They make about as much sense as voluntary speed limits or tax rates.
You can read the rest of my story here.