UN Chief Warns Of 'Point Of No Return' On Climate Change
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / December 2, 2019
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Sunday that the world’s efforts to stop climate change have been "utterly inadequate" so far and there is a danger global warming could pass the "point of no return."
Speaker 1: 00:00 The 2019 UN climate change conference known as cop 25 gets underway today in Madrid, Spain, about 25,000 people from 200 countries will be taking part in the U. S is also sending a delegation even as president Trump's departure from the Paris climate Accords officially begins. Many climate experts are viewing this conference as make or break on efforts to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius. David Victor is an expert on efforts to mitigate climate change. He is professor of international relations at UC San Diego school of global policy and strategy. You'll be attending the cop 25 conference in Spain as part of coverage from our climate change desk. KPBS round table host Mark Sauer spoke with David Victor last week.
Speaker 2: 00:46 Well, the urine reports as drastic action by all nations is needed right now. Greenhouse gas emissions must start falling by 7.6% each year beginning in 2020 to meet the ambitious goals of the Paris accord. What's the reality? What's happening to emissions here in the last year? Well in the last few years, emissions have been going up and they'd been going up through the steadily last year. They went up 2.7% per year. We don't have the data yet for this year. Looks similar. Uh, the turnaround at this UN report is talking about is interesting to think about. It's not going to happen in the real world. And I think that's the new reality around climate change is that we have to get ready for a significant amount of climate change. Cause we've spent several decades talking about it and not frankly doing very much about it. No experts such as yourself have been sounding this alarm for a long time.
Speaker 2: 01:32 I should note you're a climate advisor to presidential candidate Pete Buddha judge, and you're a leader in the deep decarbonization initiative. Tell us what that is. Well, and just to be clear, I'm speaking in my personal capacity and speaking as an academic who studies these issues. And, and I think that's the reality we now have to face is, is that in order to make big reductions in emissions, we have to look at each of the major sectors that causes emissions. One sector, we've seen actually a lot of progress in the world. That's the electric power sector. We're starting to see emissions come down in many countries. That's because of new technologies like renewables in this country. A lot of natural gas better if energy efficiency. So, so that's the story in the electric power sector. But in almost every other major sector like transportation, uh, agriculture, uh, steel cement and so on, the emissions are still going up.
Speaker 2: 02:18 And the central problem is that we don't yet have the technologies tested, delivered. We don't understand exactly how they perform, what they cost. We don't have the technologies yet to make these big reductions. It's an understandably, a lot of governments are wary in that environment where wary about committing to too much. And so it's easy for them to talk about stopping climate change and then it's proved very difficult to do that in the real world. This major conference that we're talking about, the UN climate change conference cop 25 a year report on how do we celebrate deep de-carbonization. What are some of the ways to do that that people can understand? Well, this conference can be very interesting. First of all, it's just been moved from, from Chilay, which has having a massive antigovernment to Spain just in the last five or six weeks. And so they're just logistically, there's a huge scramble underway.
Speaker 2: 03:06 Uh, the all kinds of side events will be happening there. I'm involved in one where we're going to be releasing this report that you mentioned and what we're arguing for in that report is to break the climate change problem down to the major sectors. We've identified 10 major industrial sectors that caused most emissions. And then we've also shown exactly what is needed in every one of these sectors. And it's not going to happen quickly, it's not going to be cheap, but it's long overdue, these kinds of action. And I think what's interesting is that you can get started on this problem working in small groups of countries and firms industries, and we now have a growing number of countries and industries that are exactly like that, that want to do something that know that if they don't do something that, that, um, that they're going to be held accountable.
Speaker 2: 03:47 And so there's been a big shift in political interest in doing something about the problem and not yet a big shift in investment. And that's what this report is about. Turns out the latest, uh, analysis from the UN shows the Paris Accords were not nearly ambitious enough. What would you like nations to pledge doing at cop 25? Well, I think you're going to see more nations beginning to pledge to do more. A cop 25 isn't the big deadline for new pledges. That'll actually be next year. The cop 26 about a year down the road, the British government will be hosting that. That'll be a really major event because all countries are expected to issue new pledges. And so we've seen in the traditional leader countries, we've seen a big increase in ambition and I was in Germany about two weeks ago and the German government has just passed a new law that is going to increase their ambition, reduce emissions in the sectors that have been difficult to reduce like in transportation.
Speaker 2: 04:36 So you're gonna see a lot of places ramping up their ambition. Overall. I think what's happened though is that the entire Paris process has kind of gone sideways. When the Trump administration announced it was going to pull out, other countries have announced that they're going to stay in and commit to the Paris process. But the really big emitters are watching. They're waiting to see what the United States is going to do and that's China first and foremost. And uh, the nations have to ramp up their pledges to cut emissions five fold to meet that 1.5 degree goal to keep us under, uh, increasing warming by 1.5 degree Celsius. Do you agree it's, we've really got to ramp these pledges up. Well, mathematically I agree. We've been emitting a lot into the atmosphere. It accumulates, builds up in the atmosphere, relieves the atmosphere only very slowly. So mathematically, yes, that's what we need to do in order to stop warming 1.5 degrees politically.
Speaker 2: 05:26 I don't see that happening at all. And so we're going to blow through the 1.5 degree number. It seems quite likely now that we're going to blow through the two degree number. And, and had we gotten serious about this problem two or three decades ago, we'd be in a different situation today, but we didn't. And now this is where we are. And what gives you optimism that we can make meaningful progress on this going forward? I'm optimistic about technological change. I don't see how we're going to address the climate change problem in the real world where political attitudes come and go and they, unless we find a way to make big reductions in emissions to new technologies. And so the people see that they can continue to fly airplanes and drive cars and use electricity while not causing these harmful emissions. And and on the technological front, we've seen a lot of progress.
Speaker 2: 06:13 We've seen new technologies around green steel, around green plastics, a lot of progress on electric power in particular, um, and, and electric vehicles in California, in Norway, China, and, and, and so I think we're seeing the green shoots of this technological change. The problem is that massive technological revolutions take a long time and we don't have a long time. And so that's, that's where we are and that's the disconnect that we're seeing in these new reports showing that, uh, emissions continue to rise and they're going to rise past the goals we've all been talking about for awhile. And with this international conference cup 25, what do you see as the main priorities there? Well, this is not a big cop. Um, this cop will, uh, look at some issues around what are called payments for ecosystem services. So protecting forests and other activities. And how would you reward companies and governments that do that?
Speaker 2: 07:04 Just to be a lot of discussion about that. Most of the action actually will be in the side events. For example, we have a team of 26 people from UC San Diego, including the Scripps institution of oceanography, who will be their big emphasis on the oceans. A ocean theme is a big part of this year's cop. And, uh, frankly the climate change negotiators were slow to recognize the importance of the oceans and to build them into the agreements and, and scripts and others have really helped change that. And so you'll see a lot of attention on the, on the side events. I find the side events always much more interesting than the formal negotiations. Well, we'll be looking forward to news coverage out of that conference as it moves forward. Here I've been speaking with climate science expert, David Victor, professor of international relations at UC San Diego school of global policy and strategy. Thanks very much. Well, it's my pleasure,
Speaker 1: 07:50 David. Victor's views on ways to mitigate climate change have come up against supporters of the green new deal. For now, the controversy continues
Speaker 3: 08:04 [inaudible].