Lo­sing the war against climate change

Un point sur le chan­ge­ment cli­ma­tique et les ac­tions me­nées à l’échelle mon­diale.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

Nous ve­nons d’as­sis­ter à des évé­ne­ments cli­ma­tiques ex­cep­tion­nels à l’échelle mon­diale : des in­cen­dies des­truc­teurs qui ont ra­va­gé une par­tie de la Ca­li­for­nie, de la Grèce ou en­core de la Suède, des tem­pé­ra­tures re­cord en­re­gis­trées aux quatre coins du globe et une sé­che­resse pro­lon­gée. D’après les ex­perts, ces évè­ne­ments de­vraient s’in­ten­si­fier lors des pro­chaines dé­cen­nies, no­tam­ment sous l’ef­fet du chan­ge­ment cli­ma­tique d’ori­gine hu­maine. Quel plan pour la pla­nète ?

Earth is smoul­de­ring. From Seat­tle to Si­be­ria this sum­mer, flames have consu­med swathes of the nor­thern he­mis­phere. One of 18 wild­fires that swept through Ca­li­for­nia, among the worst in the state’s his­to­ry, ge­ne­ra­ted such heat that it crea­ted its own wea­ther. Rough­ly 125 have died in Ja­pan as the re­sult of a heatwave that pu­shed tem­pe­ra­tures in To­kyo above 40°C for the first time. 2. Such ca­la­mi­ties, once consi­de­red frea­kish, are now com­mon­place. Scien­tists have long cau­tio­ned that, as the pla­net warms—it is rough­ly 1°C hot­ter to­day than be­fore the in­dus­trial age’s first fur­naces were lit—wea­ther pat­terns will go ber­serk. An ear­ly ana­ly­sis has found that this swel­te­ring European sum­mer would have been less than half as li­ke­ly were it not for hu­man-in­du­ced glo­bal warming. 3. Yet as the im­pact of climate change be­comes more evident, so too does the scale of the chal­lenge ahead. Three years af­ter coun­tries vo­wed in Pa­ris to keep warming “well be­low” 2°C re­la­tive to pre-in­dus­trial le­vels, green­house-gas emis­sions are up again. So are in­vest­ments in oil and gas. In 2017, for the first time in four years, de­mand for coal rose. Sub­si­dies for re­ne­wables, such as wind and so­lar po­wer, are dwind­ling in ma­ny places and in­vest­ment has stal­led; cli­ma­te­friend­ly nu­clear po­wer is ex­pen­sive and un­po­pu­lar. It is temp­ting to think these are tem­po­ra­ry set­backs and that man­kind, with its instinct for self-pre­ser­va­tion, will muddle through to a vic­to­ry over glo­bal warming. In fact, it is lo­sing the war.

SOME PRO­GRESS

4. In­suf­fi­cient pro­gress is not to say no pro­gress at all. As so­lar pa­nels, wind tur­bines and other low-car­bon tech­no­lo­gies be­come chea­per and more ef­fi­cient, their use has sur­ged. Last year the num­ber of elec­tric cars sold around the world pas­sed 1m. In some sun­ny and blus­te­ry places re­ne­wable po­wer now costs less than coal.

5. Pu­blic concern is pi­cking up. A poll last year of 38 coun­tries found that 61% of people see climate change as a big threat; on­ly the ter­ro­rists of Is­la­mic State ins­pi­red more fear. In the West cam­pai­gning in­ves­tors talk of di­ves­ting from com­pa­nies that make their li­ving from coal and oil. Des­pite Pre­sident Do­nald Trump’s de­ci­sion to yank Ame­ri­ca out of the Pa­ris deal, ma­ny Ame­ri­can ci­ties and states have reaf­fir­med their com­mit­ment

4. is not to say... ne si­gni­fie pas... / so­lar pa­nel pan­neau so­laire / wind tur­bine éo­lienne / low­car­bon à faibles émis­sions de car­bone / to surge aug­men­ter consi­dé­ra­ble­ment / blus­te­ry (très) ven­teux. 5. concern in­quié­tude, pré­oc­cu­pa­tion / to pick up ici, ga­gner du ter­rain / poll son­dage / to cam­pai­gn faire cam­pagne, mi­li­ter / to di­vest from se désen­ga­ger de / to yank out ici, sortir / Pa­ris deal ac­cord de Pa­ris sur le cli­mat (adop­té en déc. 2015) / com­mit­ment en­ga­ge­ment / to it. Even some of the scep­tic-in-chief’s fel­low Re­pu­bli­cans ap­pear less averse to ta­ck­ling the pro­blem. Op­ti­mists say that de­car­bo­ni­sa­tion is wi­thin reach. Yet, it is pro­ving ex­tra­or­di­na­ri­ly dif­fi­cult.

A FUEL’S PA­RA­DISE

6. One rea­son is soa­ring ener­gy de­mand, es­pe­cial­ly in de­ve­lo­ping Asia. In 2006-16, as Asia’s emer­ging eco­no­mies for­ged ahead, their ener­gy consump­tion rose by 40%. The use of coal, ea­si­ly the dir­tiest fos­sil fuel, grew at an an­nual rate of 3.1%. Use of clea­ner na­tu­ral gas grew by 5.2% and of oil by 2.9%. Fos­sil fuels are ea­sier to hook up to to­day’s grids than re­ne­wables that de­pend on the sun shi­ning and the wind blo­wing. Even as green fund ma­na­gers threa­ten to pull back from oil com­pa­nies, state-ow­ned be­he­moths in the Middle East and Rus­sia see Asian de­mand as a com­pel­ling rea­son to in­vest.

7. The se­cond rea­son is eco­no­mic and po­li­ti­cal iner­tia. The more fos­sil fuels a coun­try consumes, the har­der it is to wean it­self off them. Po­wer­ful lob­bies, and the vo­ters who back them, en­trench coal in the ener­gy mix. Re­sha­ping exis­ting ways of doing things can take years. In 2017 Bri­tain en­joyed its first coal-free day since ig­ni­ting the In­dus­trial Re­vo­lu­tion in the 1800s. Coal ge­ne­rates not me­re­ly 80% of In­dia’s elec­tri­ci­ty, but al­so un­der­pins the eco­no­mies of some of its poo­rest states.

CAR­BON EMIS­SIONS

8. Last is the tech­ni­cal chal­lenge of strip­ping car­bon out of in­dus­tries beyond po­wer ge­ne­ra­tion. Steel, ce­ment, far­ming, trans­port and other forms of eco­no­mic ac­ti­vi­ty ac­count for over half of glo­bal car­bon emis­sions. They are tech­ni­cal­ly har­der to clean up than po­wer ge­ne­ra­tion and are pro­tec­ted by ves­ted in­dus­trial in­ter­ests. Meanw­hile, scrub­bing CO2 from the at­mos­phere, which climate mo­dels im­ply is nee­ded on a vast scale to meet the Pa­ris tar­get, at­tracts even less at­ten­tion.

9. The world is not short of ideas to rea­lise the Pa­ris goal. Around 70 coun­tries or re­gions, res­pon­sible for one-fifth of all emis­sions, now price car­bon. Tech­no­lo­gists bea­ver away on stur­dier grids, ze­ro-car­bon steel, even car­bon-ne­ga­tive ce­ment, whose pro­duc­tion ab­sorbs more CO2 than it re­leases. Yet none of these fixes will come to much un­less climate list­less­ness is ta­ck­led head on. Wes­tern coun­tries must ho­nour their com­mit­ment in the Pa­ris agree­ment to help poo­rer places adapt to a war­mer Earth. Po­li­ti­cians have an es­sen­tial role to play in ma­king the case for re­form. Pe­rhaps glo­bal warming will help them fire up the col­lec­tive will. Sad­ly, the world looks poi­sed to get a lot hot­ter first.

(Noah Ber­ger/AP/SIPA)

A fi­re­figh­ter trying to save a home on Des­sie Drive in La­ke­port, Ca­li­for­nia, Ju­ly 31, 2018.

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