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Chapter 1. Dysfunction in Climate Governance
Warning from the UN Secretary-General: “the state of the planet is broken.”
In a December 2020 speech, Antonio Gutierez warned that “We are facing a devastating pandemic, new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation and new setbacks in our work towards global goals for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. He reaffirmed his warning at the Climate Ambition Summit later that month.
Production Gap Report 2020
“To limit warming to 1.5°C or well below 2°C, as required by the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world needs to wind down fossil fuel production. Instead, governments continue to plan to produce coal, oil, and gas far in excess of the levels consistent with the Paris Agreement.” Read the report.
Emissions Gap Report 2020
According to UNEP’s latest Emissions Gap Report, “a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will make no significant difference to long-term climate change. The world is still heading for a catastrophic temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century – far beyond the Paris Agreement goals….”
“Greater Climate Ambition Urged as Initial NDC Synthesis Report Is Published“
According to UN Secretary-General, “2021 is a make or break year to confront the global climate emergency. The science is clear, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C, we must cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels. [This NDC] report … shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to … meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.” Read the New York Times’ account here.
“Sustainable Recovery Tracker” Report
Covid-19 pandemic recovery measures will “result in CO2 emissions climbing to record levels in 2023 continuing to rise thereafter. ‘Not only is clean energy investment still far from what’s needed to put the world on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century, it’s not even enough to prevent global emissions from surging to a new record.'” See the International Energy Agency report here.
The Climate Question
This BBC podcast series reflects “the variety of takes on climate change and how best to understand it and the word’s attempts to avert it, temper it or adapt to it. … Stories across the world on why we find it so hard to save our own planet, and how we might change that.”
Chapter 2. The Worsening Climate Crisis
“Coronavirus response barely slows rising carbon dioxide”
“Atmospheric carbon dioxide … peaked for 2021 in May at a monthly average of 419 parts per million (ppm), the highest level since accurate measurements began 63 years ago…. despite decades of negotiation, the global community has been unable to meaningfully slow, let alone reverse, annual increases in atmospheric CO2 levels.” Learn more from the Scripps Institution.
“Climate meltdown” in 2020
“Wildfires in Siberia, Australia, California; the worst hurricane season and highest thermometer reading yet, maybe a global temperature record. What 2020 says about climate change.” Listen to the BBC Discovery program (37 minutes).
2020 was one of three warmest years on record
According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet. Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and … headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century.”
‘No One Is Safe’: Extreme Weather Batters the Wealthy World
“Floods swept Germany, fires ravaged the American West and another heat wave loomed, driving home the reality that the world’s richest nations remain unprepared for the intensifying consequences of climate change.” Find the New York Times article here.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “steps up warning on climate tipping points in leaked draft report“
“Climate scientists are increasingly concerned that global heating will trigger tipping points in Earth’s natural systems, which will lead to widespread and possibly irrevocable disaster, unless action is taken urgently.” Read more in The Guardian here.
Every Country Has Its Own Climate Risks. What’s Yours?
“This map shows which areas could be at high risk unless greenhouse-gas emissions are cut drastically. … Worldwide, roughly 90 percent of the population will be exposed to one or more threats.”
The Paris Agreement’s warming limit may be exceeded soon
As reported by the World Meteorological Organization, the “annual mean global temperature is likely to be at least 1° Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) in each of the coming five years (2020-2024) and there is a 20% chance that it will exceed 1.5°C in at least one year, according to new climate predictions.”
G20 countries are spending over half a trillion dollars each year to subsidize fossil fuels
According to a new report, despite pledges to end support for fossil fuels, G20 governments provided $584 billion annually in direct budgetary transfers and tax expenditures, price supports, public finance, and state-owned enterprise investment for the production and consumption of fossil fuels.
Global Energy Review 2021
“Demand for all fossil fuels is set to grow significantly in 2021. Coal demand alone is projected to increase by 60% more than all renewables combined, underpinning a rise in emissions of almost 5%, or 1 500 Mt.” Read highlights of the International Energy Agency’s report here.
“The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change”
“No country – whether rich or poor – is immune from the health impacts of climate change. Right now, people around the world face increasing extremes of heat, food and water insecurity, and changing patterns of infectious diseases.” Read the report.
Chapter 3. Pathologies of International Relations
“Beyond good intentions, to urgent action”: 30 years of international climate change negotiations
According to this article in Climate Policy, the international climate negotiations are “constrained by the realities of the multilateral system. … The principal shortcoming is failure by governments to fully implement treaty obligations…. global emission growth over the 30-year period testifies to this failure….”
“Global Climate Change Governance: The search for effectiveness and universality”
“Two themes run across global climate change governance: different interpretations of how to differentiate between countries’ responsibilities for emissions reductions and the quest for universal participation.” Read the IISD brief.
“Did the Climate Ambition Summit Make Enough Progress?“
“If the summit achieved its goal of raising ambition—however incrementally—whether that ambition is sufficient to meet the key objectives of the Paris Agreement is questionable. … Current policies do not hold the world below 1.5°C, or even 2°C, of warming. Most of today’s targets will be judged when the leaders presenting them are long out of office.” Read the Earth Negotiations Bulletin analysis.
“Rebooting a failed promise of climate finance”
“The 2009 pledge to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance to developing nations was not specific on what types of funding could count. Indeterminacy and questionable claims make it impossible to know if developed nations have delivered.” Read more in Nature Climate Change.
“G7 Nations Take Aggressive Climate Action, But Hold Back on Coal”
“President Biden pushed climate action after four years in which Donald Trump rejected cooperation with allies. But leaders failed to set an expiration date for burning coal.” Read more in the New York Times.
Chapter 4. Pathologies of National Politics in the United States and China
A new moment for climate governance: Can President Biden save the world from climate change?
“Within hours of assuming office, President Joe Biden began taking steps to reverse his predecessor’s devastating policies on climate change. … Will President Biden’s actions be enough to put the United States on a solid path to decarbonization, let alone resolve the global climate crisis?” Read the Cambridge Core blog.
Can Biden Deliver on His Climate Promises?
“Many scientists think his goal of zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is technically possible and economically affordable. The politics are another story.” Read this analysis in the New York Times.
Can Joe Biden make good on his revolutionary climate agenda?
According to this essay in Nature, “although he faces a split Congress, the US president-elect has levers he can pull in the government to advance clean energy and curb global warming.” As a start, Biden pledged to “rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one of my presidency….”
Biden Vowed to Make Climate ‘Essential’ to Foreign Policy. The Reality Is Harder.
“President Biden pledged to make combating climate change ‘an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security,’ appointing a high-powered global climate envoy and salting the State Department with climate expertise. [However,] the administration showed that more immediate demands, like bolstering military security and repairing strained friendships, will provide stiff competition.” Read more in the New York Times.
Will America Finally Lead on Climate?
“John Kerry understands the urgency of the moment better than anyone — and now has more power than ever to act.” Read an interview in Rolling Stone with the former U.S. secretary of state and the Biden Administration’s climate envoy.
“Biden Win is a Win for the Climate”
“The election of Joe Biden has radically changed the policy outlook and paves the way for a significant overhaul in the US approach on international climate policy. [He] has an opportunity to greatly strengthen the multilateral effort to address the climate challenge….” Read the Veritas Global report here.
“The U.S. Has a New Climate Goal. How Does It Stack Up Globally?”
“Comparing national pledges to cut emissions can be surprisingly tricky — a lot depends on the year you start counting from. The United States has decided to measure its reductions from 2005…. But European countries tend to measure their reductions from 1990…. The later baseline makes the United States target look a bit better.” Read more in the New York Times.
Wildfires make climate change all too real for West Coast Americans
As unprecedented “mega fires” burned, climate change was “smacking California in the face” and doing the same in Oregon and Washington.
2020 “America’s Pledge” report updates emissions-reduction actions in the U.S.
Delivering on America’s Pledge aggregates and quantifies actions by U.S. states, cities, businesses and other non-federal actors to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in keeping with the Paris Agreement.
The U.S. climate fair share to limit global warming to 1.5°C
As reported in Sierra magazine, “Even if the United States honestly reduces its emissions to net zero in 2050, it will not have done its fair share of the planetary effort.” It must also help developing countries. Learn more about what the US’s fair share should look like here, and read an analysis by Tom Athanasiou here.
China’s emissions exceed emissions from all developed countries combined
“In 2019, China’s GHG emissions passed the 14 gigaton threshold for the first time, reaching 14,093 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent…. This represents a more than tripling of 1990 levels, and a 25% increase over the past decade. As a result, China’s share of the 2019 global emissions total of 52 gigatons rose to 27%.”
“Chinese Overseas Development Financing of Electric Power Generation“
An article in One Earth shows that most Chinese overseas energy financing is currently in coal. It argues that decarbonization of China’s (and other countries’) power investments will be critical for reducing future carbon emissions from recipient countries.
Do actions in China match its carbon-neutrality pledge?
To achieve the Paris Agreement’s target to limit global warming to less than 2°C, emissions from the energy sector will have to peak very soon and decline by 2030. This report “shows that power industry plans to build new coal-fired power plants after 2020 contradict China’s 2060 carbon neutrality target.”
The Rock Standing in the Way of China’s Climate Ambitions: Coal
“Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has promoted an uplifting vision for growth increasingly freed from greenhouse gas pollution, but turning that plan into action is already proving contentious. The big issue is coal.” Read more in the New York Times.
China’s five-year plan could push emissions higher unless action is taken
“China has set out an economic blueprint for the next five years that could lead to a strong rise in greenhouse gas emissions if further action is not taken to meet the country’s long-term goals.” Read more in The Guardian.
Evaluating China’s 14th Five-Year Plan
“As the world’s most populous country, the world’s second-largest economy, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, China’s 14th FYP is immensely important not only for domestic development but also for the direction of international progress on key issues like the Paris Climate Agreement.” Read the IISD guest article here.
“Despite Tensions, U.S. and China Agree to Work Together on Climate Change”
“The United States and China have said they will fight climate change ‘with the seriousness and urgency that it demands’ by stepping up efforts to reduce carbon emissions, a rare demonstration of cooperation….” Read more in the New York Times.
“U.S. and China Climate Goals: Scenarios for 2030 and Mid-Century”
According to an Asia Society/Climate Analytics report, “If the United States and China … are able to achieve net-zero GHG emissions around mid-century, it would … require bold action in all sectors of the economy, with an early coal phaseout being paramount for both countries.”
Assessing Net-Zero Pathways in the U.S. and China
“Two new reports published by the California-China Climate Institute seek to provide insights into [emissions-reduction] pathways by reviewing the latest deep decarbonization literature for both the U.S. and China, respectively.” You can find both reports and a synthesis report here.
Chapter 5. Pathologies of National Politics in the Global North
The European Parliament calls for emissions reductions of 60% by 2030
The European Parliament adopted a mandate for the EU to cut emissions 60% by 2030 on the way to being climate-neutral by 2050 and thereafter achieving “negative emissions”. It also called for ending all fossil-fuel subsidies by 2025.
The EU to cut greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030
“European Union leaders agreed to cut net carbon emissions by 55 percent in the next decade from levels measured in 1990, overcoming the concerns of [member] nations still heavily dependent on coal and taking a critical step in the effort to become climate-neutral by 2050.” Read about it in the New York Times.
Domestic politics in Poland thwart EU ambitions on carbon emissions
“Brussels hopes to reduce carbon emissions in the European Union by 55 percent by 2030 but … a Polish energy policy announced in February means it will fall far short.” Read the New York Times article.
EU climate and energy governance in times of crisis
This special issue the Journal of European Public Policy “seeks to explore how (1) major factors underlying the EU ‘polycrisis’ (e.g., the Euro- and migration crises) and (2) EU climate and energy governance have influenced each other…. EU climate and energy governance has advanced significantly despite, sometimes even because of, the crisis trends.”
“U.K. to Halt Subsidies for Fossil Fuel Projects Abroad”
In December 2020, the UK government pledged to “end financing, aid and trade promotion for new projects overseas to extract or use crude oil, natural gas or the type of coal burned to generate electricity.” It had already pledged to end sales of petrol/gasoline and diesel cars, and to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Canada was a global climate hero, but it risks falling behind
“Canada is the only G7 nation whose greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the Paris Agreement. The main reason: its oil sands.” Read the New York Times article here.
Why is Australia so slow to act on climate change?
“Australia is one of the world’s biggest per-capita greenhouse gas emitters…. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says ‘Australia can always be relied upon’ to deliver action on climate change, but critics at home and abroad point to a record of over-promising and under-delivering.” Listen to the BBC documentary here.
“Russia rules out cutting fossil fuel production in next few decades”
Despite moves by other countries to move toward decarbonization, “Russia has no plans to rein in its production of fossil fuels in the coming decades.” Read more in The Guardian.
“How Russia Wins the Climate Crisis”
“Climate change and its enormous human migrations will transform agriculture and remake the world order — and no country stands to gain more than Russia.” Read the ProPublica/New York Times article here.
“Russia Signs Deal With Dubai Logistics Company to Navigate Thawing Arctic”
“The deal, which company executives signed, theatrically, on the deck of a boat touring the canals of St. Petersburg, hands the Russian project a stamp of commercial approval from one of the world’s largest logistics companies. Climate change is at the heart of the business.” Read the New York Times article here.
“As Frozen Land Burns, Siberia Fears: ‘If We Don’t Have the Forest, We Don’t Have Life’”
“For the third year in a row, residents of northeastern Siberia are reeling from the worst wildfires they can remember, and many are left feeling helpless, angry and alone…. Scientists say that the huge fires have been made possible by the extraordinary summer heat in recent years in northern Siberia.” Read the New York Times article here.
Chapter 6. Pathologies of National Politics in the Global South
“Can India chart a low-carbon future? The world might depend on it.”
“As the world confronts a changing climate, India is a crucial unknown, and its decisions could either doom efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions — or jump-start them.” Read more in the Washington Post.
Brazil’s forests continue to burn while the government looks away
Record-setting fires in Brazil destroy forests and wetlands, as ranchers, loggers and miners take advantage of the government’s policies of encouraging economic development and reducing environmental enforcement.
Saudi Arabia denies its key role in climate change even as it prepares for the worst
“Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, remains a principal funder of climate denialism even as it prepares for climate extremes.” Read more in The Intercept.
Climate change and small island developing states
This article in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources assesses “hazards, exposure, and vulnerability; impacts and risks; awareness and knowledge; adaptation planning and implementation; mitigation; loss and damage; and climate justice to provide an overarching review of literature on climate change and SIDS.”
“Small Islands, Large Oceans: Voices on the Frontlines of Climate Change“
“Small island developing states are particularly vulnerable to climate change, natural disasters, and external economic shocks…. For SIDS to survive climate change … we need to adopt an integrated approach that promotes economic diversification, innovative financing instruments, and scaling up the ‘blue economy.'” Read the IISD Report.
Chapter 7. Pathologies of Human Nature
The catastrophic impacts of humanity on the earth are increasing
According to the latest Living Planet Report, biodiversity is being lost at an increasing rate due to human activities. The populations of many species have declined by 68% since 1970, in the process harming human health and well-being.
“Scientists’ warning on affluence”
“Affluent citizens of the world are responsible for most environmental impacts and are central to any future prospect of retreating to safer environmental conditions. … However, existing societies, economies and cultures incite consumption expansion and the structural imperative for growth in competitive market economies inhibits necessary societal change.” Read more in Nature Communications.
Confronting carbon inequality
From 1990 to 2020, “The richest 10% of the world’s population (c.630 million people) were responsible for 52% of the cumulative carbon emissions – depleting the global carbon budget by nearly a third (31%).” Read more in this Oxfam report.
Chapter 8. Reconsidering International, National and Human Governance
Climate-related security risks in Paris Agreement pledges
“This SIPRI Insights paper … finds that climate change is mainly seen as a risk to socio-economic development and human security and almost never as a risk to societal stability or the functioning of the state. … countries are currently not considering the risks from indirect climate impacts….”
Human Development Report 2020: The Next Frontier – Human Development and the Anthropocene
The report explores “how human development relates the Anthropocene. … considers the implications for action, discussing three key mechanisms for change: social norms and values, incentives and regulation, and nature-based human development [, and] proposes new metrics, including an adjustment to the Human Development Index to account for planetary pressures.”
Merging the Poverty and Environment Agendas
This policy brief examines “how poverty and the environment are linked, while also considering solutions such as reining in excessive resource consumption by the wealthiest 10% and shifting governments’ communications emphasis away from GDP and jobs toward indices of national wellbeing that include the historically marginalized and the environment.”
Remaking Political Institutions: Climate Change and Beyond
In his mini-book, James Patterson argues that “The problem structure of climate change creates a vexing political challenge. Realizing societal transformations under climate change … involves changes in political institutions in response to, as well as in anticipation of, climate change destabilization.”
Chapter 9. Prescriptions for Governing Climate Change
“Politics is not enough: Individual action and the limits of institutions“
In The Ecological Citizen, Luke Philip Plotica argues that “if we are to treat the cause as well as the symptoms of ecological devastation, melioration must begin where the harm begins – with us, at home, at work, in our neighbourhoods and communities….”
Changing our ways? Behavior change and the climate crisis
“It is increasingly clear that … far-reaching changes in lifestyles are also required if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global heating. After a long period of neglect, sustainable behavior change is now rising up the climate policy agenda.” Get the Cambridge Sustainability Commission’s report here.
Consumption Corridors: Living a Good Life within Sustainable Limits
“Rejecting familiar recitations of problems of ecological decline and planetary boundaries, this compact book instead offers a spirited explication of what everyone desires: a good life. Fundamental concepts of the good life are explained and explored, as are forces that threaten the good life for all.”
“1.5-Degree Lifestyles: Targets and options for reducing lifestyle carbon footprints”
“Changes in consumption patterns and dominant lifestyles are a critical and integral part of the solutions package to addressing climate change. … The results of the analysis are striking, showing in some cases the need for reductions of over 80% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from today’s intensity of lifestyles. Reductions will be necessary not only for developed countries; several developing countries will also need to reduce their average per capita emissions from current levels….”
Chapter 10. Policies and Prospects for Climate Governance
“Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5ºC and 2ºC climate change targets“
According to a report in Science, “even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, emissions from the global food system alone would make it impossible to limit warming to 1.5ºC and difficult even to realize the 2ºC target. Thus, major changes in how food is produced are needed if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
“Radical Realism”: the phase-out of oil and gas production
This 2-minute video argues that “burning just the oil and gas in already operating fields would blow the world’s carbon budget for 1.5ºC. In other words, it’s not enough to simply stop new fossil fuel extraction to achieve climate targets. Governments and investors must take action to close oil and gas fields and coal mines early, while implementing just transition measures at every step of the way.”
“Big Oil (Probably) Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon”
“Unless the world’s governments and consumers make dramatic changes — triggering a rapid shift in corporate plans — oil and gas companies aren’t on track to shift their investments as rapidly as analysts say the planet requires…. Based on their current portfolios … they would still be funneling much more money into new fossil fuels than into green energy over the next decade. Read the NPR story here.
COVID-19 Recovery: A Pathway to a Low-Carbon and Resilient Future
According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, “countries can use the recovery to drive investments and behavioral changes that will reorient their economies toward a more strategic low-carbon trajectory, while simultaneously addressing underlying vulnerabilities and strengthening resilience.”
“Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector”
“The number of countries announcing pledges to achieve net-zero emissions over the coming decades continues to grow. But the pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – fall well short of what is required to … give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C.” Read the International Energy Agency report.
Sources of renewable energy are growing rapidly
According to a report from the International Energy Agency, by 2025 renewable forms of energy are anticipated to overtake coal as the largest source of electricity worldwide.
“Postapocalyptic environmentalism: A movement for transformational climate adaptation?”
This paper examines the strategic implications of a “postapocalyptic” environmental movement, which assumes that climate catastrophe is unavoidable.
The possibility of rapid transition: we’ve done it before
Is a rapid (and fair) transition to living within environmental thresholds even possible? Drawing on precedent, this pamphlet argues that “once we understand and accept the necessity of action, we’re even quite good at it. The past shows we can adapt fast.”