An insightful commentary in Germany’s flagship daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung looks at the status and future of global climate policy development. In the commentary, climate policy expert Oliver Geden of the Foundation for Science and Policy (SWP) in Berlin writes that “climate diplomacy has long since maneuvered itself to a dead-end” and that “global climate protection is on the verge of upheaval“. Both climate science and climate-economic science have led policymaking into an impossible situation.
Geden first points to 25 years of no progress in getting policymakers to curb greenhouse gas emissions. “When one compares the mood that prevailed between the 4th IPCC report of 2007 and the Copenhagen Climate Conference of 2009, we notice that nobody is risking announcing a coming breakthrough in climate negotiations. Moreover, also warnings of approaching large catastrophes are getting less coverage“. Climate conferences have suffered a long string of failures, and the result, Geden writes, is that a new approach appears to have been adopted by countries:
Unlike the situation before Copenhagen, no climate diplomat or NGO representative still seriously believes it is possible to get big emitters like the United States or China to obligate themselves to far-reaching emissions reductions through a UN treaty.”
The focus he writes, is “no longer on what is desired, but on what is doable; not on nice-sounding intentions but on actually achieved results.” Governments appear to have abandoned binding targets for 2025 or 2030 altogether. The focus is no longer on reducing emissions, but has shifted “to putting the brakes on the rise in emissions“. If Geden’s perception is accurate, and there is no reason to doubt it isn’t, then impatient activists will have to accept waiting many more years before to reaching the desired emissions cuts.
Geden observes that the international paradigm shift now taking hold will have considerable implications for climate science itself, as it will herald “a pragmatic change of course.” He writes that “the climate-political debate is no longer about whether climate change is happening, but rather it is irrefutable that it is for the most part only about its extent, character and speed“. The consequences, he writes:
This is going to promote a depoliticization of climate science, where scientitific uncertainties will once again be discussed with greater calmness.”
Geden also sees climate economists having taken over centre-stage in the debate as they struggle to determine which global climate targets are realistic and which ones aren’t. He writes that with each passing year, the chance of successfully reaching the “2°C target” becomes ever more diminished. Geden feels a paradox has arisen: “With each year of globally increasing emissions, model assumptions on transformation-capability are appearing more and more optimistic.” While political advisors no longer see a 3% annual reduction in emissions after 2020 as realistic, the IPCC still envisions emissions reaching a peak by 2030 with 6% annual emissions reductions thereafter as being realistic. The IPCC even adds in its calculations “negative emissions” through CCS technology. Here Geden writes that with such calculations of postponed emissions reductions and “negative” emissions, climate economists are only unwillingly confirming their “political capabilities” and that economic science is putting its reputation at risk over the midterm. Consequently one has to expect policymaking will distance itself from it. In summary, since climate science and climate sconmic science appear to have painted themselves into a corner, Geden writes:
The relationship between climate policy and climate science currently finds itself in a phase of upheaval…[…] Climate science will have to get used to the fact that its comparatively privileged status will remain restricted when it comes to its access to media, general public and research funding. Its real influence on political action will hardly go beyond the extent that is usual in other political fields.”