Climate Update: A Race Against Time

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2018, Issue 8
By E.G. Nadeau

NASA Global Temperature Maps: Dark blue shows areas cooler than average; dark red shows areas warmer than average. The five warmest years in the global record have all occurred since 2010. Source:

In the July 2017 issue of The Cooperative Society Project newsletter, we wrote an article entitled “Trump Withdraws from the Climate Change Agreement, but the Rest of the World Is Still In.”

A lot has happened in the last six months – ugly, bad, and good – that affects the trajectory of world climate change. In this article, we chronicle and evaluate some of the most important factors related to carbon dioxide emissions and propose the makings of a successful strategy for reducing them.

Let’s start with ugly
At the top of this category are the actions of the fossil-fuel driven Trump administration. With the United States as the second-largest carbon-emitting country in the world – and the largest per capita emitter – the U.S. federal government is doing its best to make carbon emissions even worse. Several key Trump appointees in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies are rolling back clean-energy regulations, and effectively providing a license to increase pollution to the coal, gas, and oil industries.

In addition to these specific backward actions favoring fossil fuels, Trump announced the ugliest action of all in June 2017 with his stated intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, thus abdicating U.S. responsibility to shoulder its share of the global initiative’s reduction of carbon emissions (although in late January 2018, he mentioned that the U.S. might consider rejoining the Agreement[1]).

Two bads
The planet experienced its third-warmest surface temperature in 2017 since reliable measures were developed in the late 1800s. What’s worse is that, if the lack of El Niño warming last year is taken into account, 2017 was the hottest ever recorded. The warmest temperatures experienced by the planet since the late 1800s have occurred at the beginning of the 21st century.[2] Global warming has shifted from a serious long-term problem to an urgent near-term crisis. There are other indicators – such as the accelerated warming of the Arctic and the rapid melting of the glaciers in Newfoundland – that show climate change proceeding at a substantially faster pace than had been projected just a few years ago.[3]

Also on the negative side of the ledger, The United Nations Emissions Gap Report, published in November 2017, concluded that: “The NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions] that form the foundation of the Paris Agreement cover only approximately one-third of the emissions reductions needed to . . . [keep the increase in the earth’s surface temperature well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels]. The gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is alarmingly high.”[4]

Several goods
There was a flurry of positive actions and meetings in November and December 2017.

As mentioned in our July 2017 newsletter, a number of U.S. states, cities, businesses, and other organizations responded to Trump’s proposed withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by affirming that “they were still in.” This announcement was followed by the America’s Pledge Phase 1 Report published in November 2017, which documents the current commitments of U.S. states, cities and businesses to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by 2025. A Phase 2 Report to be completed later this year “will develop a more comprehensive analysis focusing on bottom-up non-federal contributions to 2025 U.S. emissions outcomes.” [5]

The U.N. Climate Change Conference was hosted by Fiji and held in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017. This was a follow-up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which almost all the countries of the world reaffirmed and clarified their commitments to reduced carbon emissions.[6] Of all the 197 signers of the Paris Agreement, only one country, the United States, has ceased to be active in its implementation.

The One Planet Summit was held in Paris in December 2017. Its focus was on “public and private finance in support of climate action.” A second One Planet Summit will be held in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland.[7]

Thus, it was heartening to see national governments, subnational entities, businesses and other organizations distance themselves from Trump’s dystopian actions.

A race against time
The most dramatic information presented above is The Emission Gap Report’s conclusion regarding the inadequacy of the combined national commitments of carbon emission reductions in the Paris Agreement.

The two-thirds shortfall in emissions reductions may appear to be an almost insurmountable gap. However, the Report offers a number of ways to make up the difference through a set of new commitments to be made by the end of 2020.

Under current national commitments, “Annual Global Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GtCO2e)” will rise from about 50 units in 2016 to 53 units in 2030. In order to avoid a trajectory that would lead to a temperature warming of 2° or more Celsius by the end of the century, we will need to reduce the GtCO2e to about 42 units by 2030. (See the accompanying graph.)

Carbon Emissions Gap:
Although fully implementing the Paris Agreement will lead to fewer carbon emissions than the world’s current policy trajectory, it will still be about 11 GtCO2e per year more in 2030 than what is necessary to keep global temperatures from rising 2 deg C by the end of the century.

In other words, there is at least an 11 GtCO2e difference between the emissions goals we need to set for 2030 and where they are currently set. Missing the 2020 revisions of nationally determined contributions “would make closing the 2030 emissions gap practically impossible.”[8]

So, what must be done?
The signatories of the Paris Agreement are scheduled to revise their commitments by the end of 2020. Thus, in a little less than two years, almost all of the countries of the world will need to agree to strengthen their commitments to reducing carbon emissions significantly beyond the goals they have already set.

The good news, according to the Emissions Gap Report, is that:

Emissions could be reduced by up to 30 to 40 GtCO2e per annum, with costs below US$100/tCO2e. It is remarkable that a large part of this potential comes from just six relatively standardized categories: solar and wind energy, efficient appliances, efficient passenger cars, afforestation and stopping deforestation. These six present a combined potential of up to 22 GtCO2e per annum.[9]

A reduction of 22 GtCO2e per annum would take us well below the 42 GtCO2e level by 2030, thus putting the world on a trajectory that would keep us below the 2° level throughout the rest of the 21st century.

The Report cautions, however, that:

To realize the full emission-reduction potential, countries need to implement ambitious policies immediately, to enable and accelerate the implementation of the full socio-economic potential of available measures and technologies. Most of the studies used for the bottom-up assessment of sectoral emission-reduction potentials assume that implementation of measures start immediately, underscoring the urgency of pre-2020 mitigation action.[10]

Avoiding building new coal-fired power plants and phasing out existing ones is crucial to closing the emissions gap. This will require careful handling of issues such as employment impacts, investor interests, grid stability and energy access to achieve a just transition.[11]

Action by subnational and non-state actors, including regional and local governments and businesses, is key to enhancing future ambition. . . . Enhanced monitoring and reporting of non-state actions, and the resulting emissions reductions, will be essential to making pledged actions transparent and credible.[12]

What we as individuals and community members can do
Take a look above at the six carbon emission categories identified as high priorities for reduction in The Emissions Gap Report. We can take actions directly related to all of these categories. We can promote solar and wind energy in our communities and organize against the use of coal-fired utilities, for example, through the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal initiative.[13] We can buy energy-efficient appliances and strengthen local codes regarding them. We can buy hybrid and electric vehicles and help to establish strict state and local policies regarding vehicle emissions and the phasing out of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. And we can improve forestry practices in our communities that increase carbon sequestration. (On the topic of improved forestry practices, Luc and I wrote an article entitled “The role of forestry cooperatives in climate-change mitigation.[14])

Problems associated with climate change are getting worse faster than we thought, and the current proposed solutions are inadequate to avert a large increase in the Earth’s surface temperature. It’s not too late for the countries of the world, businesses and subnational actors to ratchet up their efforts to head off catastrophe, but these efforts must be accelerated in the next two or three years for this to happen.





[4] , p. xiii




[8] , pp. xiv-xv

[9] , p. xix

[10], p. 61

[11], p.21

[12], p. xiv



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