Everything You Need to Know About Global Climate Negotiations in a Video and a Chart

climate talFlickr/CC BY 2.0

When reading any given article about annual international climate negotiations, the vast majority of the world's population typically stops reading just after the words "international climate negotiations." (That is, if they ever stumble upon such an article in the first place; they typically run on page B87 or so.) I do, too, unless duty calls—those are some very dull syllables, after all. But that's why we have animated YouTube videos and shareable charts.

Basically, every November, the UN convenes a bunch of world leaders at a rotating location—this year, it's Doha, Qatar—where they spend a week or so arguing fruitlessly over who should have to cut greenhouse gas emissions and when.

So, yeah. The U.S. is rich and it emits a mammoth amount of greenhouse gases, and it doesn't want to stop. China is getting richer, does the same, and it doesn't want to stop, either. Europe, the charming and doddering old man of global climate negotiations, points out that it has enacted cuts, but nobody cares.

The developing world wants either to burn more fossil fuels to develop, or, quite reasonably, to get some assistance to invest in clean energy and sustainable industries. The U.S., ludicrously, refuses to sign on to any emissions treaty unless every other country, including the poor ones, agree to cuts, too. China, also ludicrously, claims it shouldn't be forced to make cuts because it's still developing—even though it is the world's largest polluter and biggest economy.

So nobody does anything. Partly because the United States Congress would never agree to ratify any climate treaty, and partly because it is easier to do nothing than something. But here is the other thing you need to understand about the global climate talks:

climate talksEconomist/via

This is a chart that shows the different global climate policy scenarios, and the projected amount of carbon emissions each will bring about. If the world does nothing, in other words, by 2020, it will be emitting 58 gigatons of carbon a year. That is over 10 gigatons per year above the maximum amount that scientists say may keep global temperatures from rising more than 2˚C. We'd have to keep emissions to 45 gigatons per year to avoid catastrophic climate change, in other words.

The talks aim to find an agreement that cements that bright blue line, with enforceable rules and ambitious carbon cuts. That's what's on the table (the lighter blue line is the 'unenforced' reductions agreement scenario, like nations that choose to cut carbon get a gold star and a pat on the back). And it is considered ambitious. And as you can see, it doesn't get us there. It still leaves the world emitting 5 more gigatons of CO2 per year than scientists say is safe.

To recap: the proceedings are a gridlocked chaotic mess, nobody pays attention to them, and they will be woefully insufficient should they succeed. Now you don't have to read anything about the international global climate talks ever again.

(Unless you want to, then check out Mat's fine coverage of the proceedings on Storify)

Tags: Global Climate Change


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