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Avoiding Two Degrees of Warming ‘Is Now Totally Unrealistic’

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Robinson Meyer writes in the Atlantic:

Michael Oppenheimer has been thinking about climate change about as long as most Americans have been alive. For almost four decades, he has worked on answering the phenomenon’s two most pressing questions: How dangerous will climate change get? And what can humanity do about it? So after President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Thursday, Oppenheimer was one of the experts I most wanted to hear from.

It helps that Oppenheimer, a Princeton professor since 2002, has worked on or in some of the most important environmental programs of the modern era. He is currently a coordinating lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and he edits the journal Climatic Change. From 1981 to 1996, he worked as the senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, where he helped frame the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act that reduced acid rain.

Along with other scientists, he lobbied the United States to start negotiating the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which President George H.W. Bush signed 25 years ago this week. Since then, he has attended the major UN climate negotiations, including Paris in 2015.

I spoke to him on Friday about his outlook for climate treaties looking forward, Trump’s ability to roll back older climate policies, and whether the U.S. withdrawal from Paris could make global warming significantly worse. Our conversation has been edited for concision and clarity.


Robinson Meyer: You’ve been involved in climate diplomacy for a long, long time. How are you feeling today?

Michael Oppenheimer: I’m upset and troubled—as I rarely am, because I’ve been involved in this issue for 35 years. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, but this is the most discouraging. It is more discouraging than when George W. Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.

The reality is the clock has been ticking all this time, all those 35 years the clock has been ticking. And because the clock has been ticking, Earth is already a degree warmer than it would otherwise have been. We don’t have much time to avoid the two degrees of warming that would destabilize ice sheets, entail extreme heatwaves, and potentially undermine food security. And this decision is just enough to push us over the edge, in my view. I think it’s totally unrealistic now to believe that we are going to meet that objective.

So in a personal way, for someone who has worked on the issue for decades, this more so than any other setback seems to indicate that it’s highly unlikely that we can make the two-degree goal. The Trump action pushed us over the edge, and basically Trump owns the responsibility now for this problem.

Meyer: Do you think it’s the withdrawal from Paris that puts us over the edge? The Trump administration has already cancelled a lot of the Obama programs to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions—are those more important?

Oppenheimer: No, I don’t think that cancelling domestic regulations will actually have as much effect as the withdrawal from Paris could. I am fairly confident it’s going to discourage some other countries from being aggressive in their commitments.

The two do go together, they’re of a piece. But, in fact, there is no immediate effect from some of the work the Trump administration has done on the Obama regulations. Because you can’t just cancel them. Even with the Clean Power Plan—if the courts determine that the plan is legal, then it will take years for the adminstration to rewrite it. They can slow down implementation but they can’t eliminate it. Also, a lot of the momentum in the markets—in terms of low prices for solar and wind and natural gas—is going to continue, no matter what.

But the point is: All that wasn’t enough. We needed a ratcheting up of stringency over the next decade or so, if we were going to be assured of meeting the U.S. plan under Paris—and certainly if we wanted to go beyond that and keep decreasing emissions at an accelerating pace.

Meyer: And what’s the mechanism there? How does the U.S. leaving the treaty affect the behavior of other countries?   . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and global warming will dominate the world of those who are children now.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2017 at 8:52 am

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