He’s the founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, which has organized 20,000 rallies around the world in every country save North Korea. He’s spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline and launched the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement. He’s Bill McKibben, and he had a guest appearance on the WGBH radio program, Boston Public Radio, on 12.03.2019 — just as this year’s global climate talks, 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP25, was ready to convene.
During the interview, McKibben warned that “options about a global solution that marked the Paris Accords are now in abeyance.” McKibben’s comments marked the anticipated tensions of the 25th United Nations Climate Change conference, which is now being conducted in Madrid, Spain through to December 13 under the presidency of the Chilean government.
The conference incorporates the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 15th meeting of the parties for the Kyoto Protocol (CMP15), and the second meeting of the parties for the Paris Agreement (CMA2).
McKibben acknowledged that “the fossil fuel industry is definitely weakened” from its previous zenith and that “75 years from now, we’re going to run the world on sun and wind because it’s free.” That good news was also tempered by his vision of “a fundamentally different world, as it will be broken.”
“The question is not whether we have enough time to do much about it,” mused the the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College. “That’s going to take movements pushing forward.”
McKibben’s pessimism is well-founded. The world’s average temperature is rising faster than previously thought and may increase by as much as 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, according to new findings by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The key findings of the WMO provisional statement will be presented at COP 25.
Nationally Determined Contributions are Ambitious & Problematic at Global Climate Talks
Under the Paris Agreement, the 194 Parties to the UNFCCC committed to shifting the world’s course towards sustainable development. This included “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
In order to achieve this goal, all participating countries are required to set national GHG emissions reductions targets – nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The next review of the NDCs will take place in 2020 and it will be necessary for countries to increase ambition in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
190 countries are represented at the current UN global climate talks conference. An umbrella group of countries is meeting within the conference – a coalition of mostly developed nations outside the EU, including Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Ukraine, and the US. Yes, the US has a big delegation at COP25, even though Trump has proclaimed that the US is leaving the Paris agreement next year.
The progress of the umbrella group has been slow, as many countries are resisting the focus on increasing the ambition of targets volunteered under the Paris deal and the need to implement what has already been agreed during previous talks. There’s a specific focus of the Madrid talks: How to implement Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which addresses developing cooperative approaches and mechanisms to cut emissions and support sustainable development.
In the meantime, carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, also accounting for deforestation, rose to more than 55 gigatons and have risen on average by 1.5% a year for the past decade, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) annual emissions gap report.
“30 years ago, a modest tax on carbon would have done a lot,” McKibben reminds us. “Instead, because of the oil companies, we’ve been on fast forward.”
The Poor Will Suffer the Most as the Climate Crisis Escalates
A new UK report that will be debated this week at the COP25 climate talks in Madrid provides experimental evidence to illustrate that aversion to environmental inequality is as pronounced as aversion to income inequality and varies across different types of environmental quality. The authors estimate that the cost benefit analysis (CBA) of environmental projects and the integrated assessment modelling of climate change policy have commonality.
Aversion to environmental inequality is a determinant of the social discount rate (SDR) for the environment, and correspondingly, the change over time in the social value of environmental quality relative to other goods and services in society. It’s a theme that McKibben knows well, citing that there will be a billion climate refugees as the crisis reaches epic proportions.
“I went to jail in August in immigration protests, trying to draw the lines. There have to be some other approaches than cages,” he admonished. “Every time we have a Democratic debate, there’s a focus on how we’re going to pay for healthcare… not erosion of basic physical systems of the planet.”
The authors of the UK report argue that cash needs to be raised by a new international organization that is set up to raise and distribute funds to nations which will suffer the worst impacts of the global climate crisis. They say the new revenue should be used in addition to the $100 billion a year rich countries have pledged to help poorer nations cut their carbon emissions and adapt to the climate crisis.
US Domestic Policies Needed to Interrupt Corporate Climate Malfeasance
McKibben explained that “we have to get change, which is great to see with the Green New Deal (GND).” But the GND isn’t the end all of US domestic policies, he noted. “We’re also working on the financial power of the fossil fuel industry — some of the biggest insurers in the world will no longer be insuring the big coal and tar sands companies. But those insurers are in Europe,” he noted. He offered insights that, because “these companies benefit from a measure prod in the right direction,” US insurance companies should follow the European lead and “refuse to give insurance.”
“We’re not going to solve the problem, one Prius at a time,” McKibben reflected. He said that he had been “heartened by the Yale alumni” who stopped the Harvard-Yale football game in November, “demanding that elites stop investing in fossil fuels.” Unfurling banners with slogans like “Nobody wins — Yale and Harvard are complicit in climate injustice,” protesters from both schools called on the universities to divest their multi-million dollar endowments from fossil fuels companies, as well as companies that hold Puerto Rican debt.
Another area McKibben discussed during the BPR interview was youth activism around the climate crisis. He expressed his admiration for groups like Sunrise and others who are working diligently to make the subterfuge of fossil fuel billionaires transparent. But he also acknowledged, “It’s not fair to take the biggest problem the world ever faced and assign it to 14-year-olds.”
“It’s time for everybody with leadership to start behaving with a lot more responsibility,” McKibben admonished.