At press time, the news from the world conference on climate change at Doha, Qatar was mixed: encouraging (there’s still time to keep the temperature from rising more than 2 degrees by 2020); discouraging (as yet no program has been proposed that will accomplish that); and enlightening (fossil fuel interests, not green renewable companies, still have a solid grip on public funding for energy projects throughout the world).
A report released concurrently with the conference by Climate Action Tracker, a project of Climate Analytics, finds that it would be possible to keep from exceeding the 2 degree limit even now—but only if most of the world’s unextracted fossil fuel deposits were left in the ground and not burned. (As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s James Hansen wrote last May in an op-ed on Canada’s tar sands, “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.”)
As it is, the overwhelming preponderance of public money spent on energy subsidies is still going to fossil fuel companies and projects. In 2011, $523 billion in tax money was spent globally on fossil fuel-burning projects, while only $88 billion went for renewable energy projects such as wind and solar. According to the International Energy Agency, that’s 30 percent more for fossil fuel projects than in 2010, even though at the Copenhagen conference on climate change in 2009 (the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), there was an agreement to begin phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels.
In the United States, President Obama authorized $3.2 billion in renewable energy subsidies in 2012. But the U.S.’s Export Import Bank backed $10.4 billion in fossil fuel projects around the world this year.
World-wide, emissions have not been keeping pace with the increase in fossil fuel funding; they rose 3.2 percent in 2011, less than their 5.9 percent rise in 2010. But they are still far above the levels needed to reach the 2 percent goal. A 15 percent reduction in emissions levels is needed to keep climate change in check, experts say.
If we can reach the 2 percent goal, or, even better, a target of 1.5 percent, we can use proven, safe technologies to keep global warming from going out of control, and the cost will only amount to about 1 percent of global GDP distributed over many years, the CAT report says. Otherwise the costs of mitigating warming would be higher, and methods as yet unproven on a large scale would have to be brought into play; one example is carbon capture and sequestration, a practice that still has many unsolved problems.
The central problem that pits fossil fuels against the welfare of the planet was framed this way in a letter by young people from around the world to Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: “According to the best science we have, there is room for 565 gigatonnes more CO2 in our atmosphere before we lose any chance of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees and preventing the enormous damage associated with such a rise.
“All together, the global oil, coal and gas industries are planning to burn over five times that amount, roughly 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon. Indeed, their share prices depend on exploiting these reserves and you are surely aware of the enormous sums they have spent to prevent governments from protecting the habitability of our planet, thus reducing the value of their assets. Their business plan is incompatible with our survival.”
In the Valley, Colleges Against Climate Change Silence held a rally in Amherst December 1 to promote, among other things, divestment by the Five Colleges of financial interests in fossil fuel-based industries. For more information about CACCS, contact Emily Keppler/ email@example.com; Laura Hayden/ firstname.lastname@example.org; Deidre Nelms/ email@example.com; Jim Sowell/ firstname.lastname@example.org; or Emma Wade/ email@example.com.•