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Inside, confidential and off the record


Climate change a journey

The destination in Paris climate talks was a journey that begins now

Between the tumultuous breakdown in Copenhagen in 2009 and the cheers and bubbly in Paris on Saturday , climate change diplomacy underwent a grand metamorphosis.

For more than two decades, the world's variegated nations were — impossibly — trying to undertake a common ( but differentiated ) journey toward some grand top-down solution. The outcome that emerged in Paris , in contrast, is implicitly a century-long journey, with 195 countries pursuing a safer human relationship with the climate system, but taking varied paths at varied paces to get there.

The new architecture is a far better fit for the momentous, “ super wicked ” challenges that are emerging in trying to supply societies with adequate, affordable energy without overheating the climate. I've written an article for Sunday Review offering more on this.

Here's an excerpt from the piece, which touches on roles played by figures ranging from Pope Francis to Bill Gates: 

As legions of bleary-eyed diplomats, environmentalists and lobbyists make their way home across the planet, you'll hear proclamations that COP 21 , as the meeting was called, was a historic turning point, and a profound failure.

Both will be right, depending on the scale of reference.

For the first time, even before the opening gavel, more than 180 nations, large and small, submitted plans — yes, voluntary ones — to divert from their carbon-based business as usual. The United States and China guaranteed progress by stepping together a year ago in Beijing after more than a decade of “ you first ” fights, laying out detailed domestic plans to curb emissions.

The momentum created by such commitments spurred dozens of nations, joined by the World Bank and other influential institutions, to pledge to cut subsidies for fossil fuels . Also, while poor nations see the amounts as insufficient, powerful countries, including China (which long hid behind its status as a developing country), have pledged money and technical aid to help shield the world's most vulnerable communities from climatic and coastal hazards.

And for the first time, 20 governments and a passel of billionaires led by Bill Gates announced plans to ramp up long-lagging investments in basic research and development on clean energy — like advancing cheap, extensive battery storage to maximize the potential of solar power, safer nuclear plant designs and even technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The need for a research boost was long played down by climate campaigners. They argued that the only missing factor had been the political will to move forward. But the scale and complexity of making a rapid shift from fossil fuels to clean energy will require much more than marches and votes.

After two decades of false starts and dead ends, including the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the task has become to work steadily at limiting the odds of worst-case outcomes rather than “solving the climate crisis” — which was once the central meme of climate campaigners. Urgency is being melded with patience as we confront the journey ahead. [ Please read the rest . ]

The wonderful drawing at the top of this post is by Perrin Ireland, a talented, playful science illustrator who, on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, kept a visual journal explaining the Paris proceedings .

[Please be sure to read Justin Gillis's fine news analysis, “ Climate Accord Is a Healing Step, if Not a Cure ,” for a roundup of scientists' reactions to the agreement.]

[Politico has a good close-focus report on one “shall” that nearly blew up the talks in the final hours. With that in mind, it's fun to have a look at the Paris Agreement graph showing the drop in “shalls” over time:]

Where does the word "shall" appear in the text and how often?

Andrew C. Revkin / dotearth.blogs nytimes.com/ 12 12 2015

ISSUES....12 / 14 / 2015 - Send Us Your Issues

ISSUES.... Inside, confidential and off the record
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