Road after Paris climate agreement

The road after Paris climate accord involves lots of local, hard work

by Allen Best

An agreement was struck at the Paris climate talks that may in the future be seen as a turning point in the effort to stall the worst of climate change impacts. But it wasn’t easy, as former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth illustrated in a story he told Tuesday in Denver.

Wirth has been engaged in climate change issues since 1974, when he was first elected to Congress, and then later, in 1997, was the chief U.S. negotiator at Kyoto.


Tim Wirth

Paris succeeded largely because of two reasons, he said. One was the decision to reach agreement with a bottoms-up approach, instead of the top-down approach used before, with the developed countries telling the developing countries what must happen.

Also crucial to success in Paris was the agreement struck between the U.S. and China and announced by President Barack Obama in November 2014. The United States and Chinese have “very real, very important” differences that cannot be understated, said Wirth. But in the vital issue of climate change, committed Chinese and American representatives put together the deal that showed commitment by the world’s two largest polluters.

As in a talk at the American Renewable Energy Day conference in Snowmass last August, Wirth singled out the work of Obama aide John Podesta. Wirth described Podesta as the most talented politician that exists today. He is now managing Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

But reaching an accord in Paris acceptable to 191 countries was still a challenge. Wirth’s story was about the demand made by Saudi delegates that their country be compensated for oil left in the ground. “It was amusing, but it gives you a window as to the difficulty of putting together a deal,” said Wirth.

Wirth was on a panel of four Coloradans who participated in the Paris negotiations at an event called The Road Beyond Paris. All four speakers, most with decades of engagement in the climate change issue, emphasized that the accord leaves much work to do. This is true at the international arena, but especially so at the state and local levels.

“You can be cynical about this,” said Hunter Lovins, founder and president of Natural Capitalism Solutions, a sustainability non-profit based in Boulder County. “What we got to is the starting line. This is not the finish line.”

Hunter Lovins

Hunter Lovins

Getting 196 nations to agree to lunch was a monumental effort, let alone climate change actions. “Did we get everything we wanted? Of course not. Will we ever? Probably not,” said Lovins. But, she said, the agreement does target measures that might allow warming to be contained to within 2 degrees Centigrade. Global temperatures have already increased slightly less than 1 degree C.

Lovins made the argument for divesting from companies invested in fossil fuels. “Don’t own the shit,” she told a standing-room-only audience of 200 people at the Alliance Center in LoDo. Wearing her trademark black cowboy hat and a black suit, a turquoise scarf around her neck, she said “every one of you has to think about your use of energy and where your energy coming from.”

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said he heard Africans in Paris speaking in Bantu, a language he had learned while he and his wife, Jeannie, were Peace Corps volunteers in Zambia from 1987 to 1989. The Africans, he said, were talking about divestment.

Ritter emphasized the need to get behind the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which has a broad goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electrical generation by 32 percent.

Bill Becker, who works with Ritter at the Center for the New Energy Economy, emphasized social justice as an element of adaptation. The issue of climate refugees was talked about frequently in Paris, he said, as the civil war in Syria is widely acknowledged as being, at least partly, the result of drought precipitated by climatic shifts.

Wirth divided the Paris negotiations into four elements: 1) mitigation, which means to reduce greenhouse gases, 2) adaptation, which means to cope with changes now occurring and those already locked into the climate, even if carbon emissions ended tomorrow; 3) technology; and 4) finance.

“How are we going to fund this? This stuff does not happen by itself,” said Wirth. “We need a price on carbon.”

Lovins rejected the idea of a carbon tax. Anything called a tax, she said, will not survive. “It’s dead on arrival,” she said. “That’s the reason Republicans support it.”

She argues for a cap-and-trade method of limiting carbon emissions. Emissions allowances can be traded, but there is a hard cap, she says. She cited a cap-and-trade system already in place in California and also the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, a market-based cooperative effort among nine states in New England and the mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce C02 emissions from the electrical sector.

To be effective, she said, the price of a carbon tax is crucial, if it is to induce changes. She said a tax of at least $60 per metric ton is needed. In contrast, British Columbia has a tax of $30 per ton.

Wirth said a crucial place to start on this road after Paris is to ask what rules need to change From coal companies to the homebuilders associations, embedded rules favor carbon emissions, he suggested. They must be changed, and officials at many levels need to get out of the way. “We have to get really good people at the PUC (public utilities commission) and (as an example) at the Boulder City Council.”

“This is the hard work, but it’s extremely satisfying when you can knock off some of these incumbents that need to get out of the way,” said Wirth.

Paris delivered a framework for international change, he said, but now the attention needs to focus on smaller and more local efforts.

“Now, a lot of specific hard decisions have to get made. We have to push, push, push.”



About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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4 Responses to Road after Paris climate agreement

  1. Pingback: The road after Paris climate accord involves lots of local, hard work | Natural Capitalism Solutions

  2. Jane Conlin says:

    I agree that Tim Wirth is on the right track when he speaks of the need for a price on carbon, a method to cut emissions that has been proven to be effective. British Columbia, for example, has seen its economy improve and emissions reduced since placing a fee on carbon.
    Lovins says that a carbon tax won’t work. Well, first, cap and trade hasn’t worked to reduce emissions in Europe, and secondly, a fee on carbon that is returned to the citizens, is not a tax. It is the most important first step in creating a free-market solution to reducing carbon emissions. Economic models have shown repeatedly that a fee and dividend response will benefit the economy by creating jobs, supporting innovation, and making everyone healthier.

  3. paul says:

    An accord, or just maybe the rest of the world thinks Americans are idiots.
    Hardly a day passes without evidence that coal is making a major comeback:
    • Some 1,200 coal plants are planned across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India, according to the World Resources Institute.
    • Coal use around the world has grown about four times faster than renewables, according to the global energy monitoring publication BP Review of World Energy 2015.
    • German coal “will remain a major, and probably the largest, fuel source for power generation for another decade and perhaps longer,” the Financial Times concludes.
    • “The U.S. is dropping coal plants at an unprecedented rate, but still nowhere near as quickly as India is adding them,” Bloomberg Business reckons.
    “By the end of this year, some 7.5% of the U.S. coal fleet will have disappeared … . But by 2020 India may have built about 2.5 times as much capacity as the U.S. is about to lose.”
    Then, of course, there’s the world’s biggest coal addict by far — the People’s Republic of China. According to a 2014 report from Eric Lawson of Princeton University, a leading climate change apocalyptic on the left:
    “The reality is that fossil fuels dominate China’s energy landscape, as they do in virtually every other country. And the focus on renewables also hides the fact that China’s reliance upon coal is predicted to keep growing.”
    Lawson’s calculations of how coal use is growing in China are jaw-dropping. “From 2010 through 2013, (China) added half the coal generation of the entire U.S. At the peak, from 2005 through 2011, China added roughly two 600-megawatt coal plants a week for seven straight years.
    “And according to U.S. government projections, China will add yet another U.S. worth of coal plants over the next 10 years, or the equivalent of a new 600-megawatt plant every 10 days for 10 years.”
    Coal production in the U.S. is much safer and less carbon-intensive (clean coal technologies have reduced pollutants by 30%) than coal from other nations. So Obama’s war on coal may make global warming worse.
    Some might say this gesture by the Obama administration to cut off coal production in the U.S. is a useful first step to save the planet. Except this isn’t just a cheap sign of goodwill.
    It’s a tremendously expensive gesture that will cost America hundreds of thousands of jobs, raise utility prices by as much as $1,000 per family and reduce GDP by as much half a percentage point a year when we are already barely growing. The poor will be hurt most.
    What makes the Obama administration regulations doubly destructive is that the U.S. has more coal than any other nation.
    But, Lovins and Wirth got to do” lunch in Paris”.

  4. Pingback: The road after Paris climate accord involves lots of local, hard work – THE REAL FREEDOM Program

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