The Third Way

Looking at what the outcome of the COP21 Paris climate talks could be.

“Between now and 2025, we need to maintain optimism and hope, and after that we might start to see results” – Prof Tim Flannery.

Ahead of climate negotiations at the COP21 summit in Paris at the end of the year, Professor Tim Flannery, The Chair of the Climate Council, was recently joined by Professor Robyn Eckersley from the University of Melbourne, a specialist in international environmental agreements, Nikola Casule from Greenpeace and Emma Herd, CEO of the Investor Group on Climate Change, for an evening of discussion on the possibility of success at the talks and possibility of reaching an international agreement. The event was co-presented by the Sydney Environment Institute, Sydney Ideas and the Sydney Democracy Network.

Professor Flannery noted the Paris talks are “coming at about the same time as a very interesting inflection point in terms of our emissions growth after just going through a decade of worst-case scenario emissions growth for greenhouse gases.” He pointed to findings from the International Energy Agency, which showed global economic growth had decoupled from the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, for the first time in 40 years. Emissions from the energy sector had, in fact, stalled.

“It’s a very interesting moment. A cautious optimist may think that that announcement means 2014 is a big year for emissions growth and we’re decoupling to heave off that worst-case scenario trajectory. Although commitments from Paris won’t start kicking in till 2020… there are a lot of things happening through this period,” he said.

“I think Paris is very important. On face value we hope that the reductions will get us onto a trajectory, which more likely moves towards three degrees of warming by the end of the century rather than the current four degrees. So that’s good but that’s not merely the battle. But from that perspective Paris is already a success – a success of getting us off the worst-case scenario. It is pretty much impossible that we’ll avoid two degrees of warming.”

The 2007 Australian of the Year highlighted that policymakers need to look to new, ‘Third Way’ technologies. “The third way is a group of technologies, methods and approaches to fight the problem that work by strengthening Earth’s distance self-regulatory processes by drawing CO2 out from the atmosphere,” he said. Examples include seaweed farming to carbon-negative plastic and even carbon-negative concreting. Concrete contributes about 5% of green house gas emissions but by turning a carbon positive technology into a negative one, the CO2 is absorbed into the concrete.

Professor Flannery believes work on these types of technologies needs to begin now. “We know from wind and solar, how long it takes for new technologies to reach maturity”. This will involve 20-30 years of investment, research and development but “without this avoiding two degrees of warming is not achievable”. Beyond the science, he has encouraged people to aspire towards a positive outcome.

“During this period we need to maintain our hope as the next decade will be a very tough one to fight climate change because Paris commitments won’t kick in till 2020, we won’t be able to cut emissions as fast as we’d all like and there’ll be no hope of building third way technologies to scale. So between now and 2025, it’s useful to maintain optimism and hope, and after that we might start to see results.”listen to the podcast of the event below.

Top Image Credit: Damien Pleming