Schrödinger’s Cat and Expectations for G20 and COP21 after the C20 Summit

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The 1935 dated hypothetical Cat Experiment, also known as the Cat Paradox by Erwin Schrödinger, writer of the wave equation of quantum mechanics. In the experiment, a radioactive atom and a geiger counter are put into a box. If there is a beaming, the counter will click, which will move the hammer so that the hammer breaks the bottle filled with poison, and eventually the cat get killed. The only way to know whether the cat is living, is to open the box. Yet, opening the box means an absolute

When Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger designed his famous and paradoxical cat experiment in 1935, he understood that the probability of an event can only be determined through observations through time. That is, we cannot learn the fate of Schrödinger’s cat without opening the box in which it is placed.

Well, what can we expect from the G20 Summit and COP21 Conference, where real intentions are hidden in closed boxes and policy proposals and expectations are to be designed on the basis of closed boxes?  At the C20 (Civil20) Summit which took place last September at Boğaziçi University, NGOs identified a number of policy proposals in different categories to be presented to the G20 Summit that will convene in Antalya on November 15-16. Then, in late September, Turkey submitted its INDC (Intended National Determined Contributions) required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to the UNFCCC Secretariat.

The paradoxical relationship between the agenda items which will be and should be discussed at G20 Summit, the resolutions which will be and should be taken at COP21, as well as the proposals and commitments regarding these agenda items and resolutions bring to mind Erwin Schrödinger’s famous cat experiment. How valid, efficient and implementable are these proposals and resolutions? Before trying to respond to this question and opening the box, let us discuss what was predicted and which commitments were made in the first place.

Policy proposals regarding sustainability, energy and climate change at the C20 Summit

On September 15- 16, a huge C20 “village” was set up at Boğaziçi University‘s South Campus. The event drew 500 participants from international NGOs as well as representatives of Turkish NGOs from various fields. The top agenda items of this year‘s C20 were Gender Equality, Sustainability, Energy & Climate, Comprehensive Growth and Governance; and numerous sessions were held to discuss these topics.

Ten sessions were dedicated to Sustainability and Energy & Climate. Issues such as policy proposals, current events, energy vision, mega projects, carbon-free economy, access to energy, climate finance, approaches to sustainability, effects of climate change, development, and the coal consumption dilemma were taken up. Civil society actors aired very clear demands on the issues of energy vision, mega projects and climate finance.

The energy vision debate yielded important conclusions such as the necessity to integrate energy efficiency plans into state policies, the need to shift energy generation from fossil fuels to more sustainable clean and renewable energies, the fact that fossil fuel based energy generation is not only unsustainable but also in violation of future generations‘ rights, and that the local character of renewable energies provides immense advantages in terms of access to energy not to mention the reduction of foreign dependence on energy.

The discussion on mega projects mainly centered around the large investments planned for Turkey, such as Istanbul‘s third airport and third bridge, Kanal İstanbul and nuclear power stations. Participants stated that assessing mega projects by only using the criteria of growth and prestige jeopardizes the public interest and destroys the environment, which would be very difficult or even impossible to compensate for. It was noted that mega investments turn into mega losses in the long run and that future generations would unfortunately have to foot the bill.

The climate finance debate, on the other hand, centered on the issue of who utilizes climate finance funds and investments, and to what ends. Very clear conclusions were reached in this debate:

-Climate finance funds should never be allocated by the private sector; these should be exclusively public, and financed through taxation.

-Climate finance should be extended to countries fighting climate change in order to assist them in their adaptation and reduction efforts. Undeveloped countries having difficulty in accessing funding should be prioritized.

-Climate finance funds should be earmarked not only for energy investments but also awareness raising, social initiatives and education.

In fact, the working group on Sustainability, Energy and Climate that was set up in March formulated six policy proposals, encouraged by developed country leaders‘ commitment at the G7 Summit to gradually abandon fossil fuel sources and to shift to renewable energies that have a relatively lower environmental footprint.

In the aftermath of the C20 Summit, the conclusions reached in the debates as well as the suggestions posted on the bulletin boards of the so-called “Communiqué Kitchen,” where all individuals could share their personal or collective opinions, were synthesized in the final declaration as follows:

1. To move towards a goal of long term emission reduction and decarbonification,

2. To set clean, reliable and safe energy access targets for 2030,

3. To couple investments in energy efficiency with the goal of a complete shift to renewable energies by 2050,

4. To provide incentives not only to ambitious and high-cost mega projects, but also to local and small-scale investments,

5. To set the target of gradually reducing and ending the utilization of fossil fuels by 2020; decreasing carbon incentives and supporting renewable energy investments in order to create a low-carbon economy resistant to the effects of climate change,

6. To transform polluting investments into clean ones, support impoverished countries in their fight against climate change and promote agricultural methods resistant to the effects of climate change in these countries

7. To demand that G20 countries establish structures for monitoring, reporting and regulating carbon emissions which lead to climate change.

The final declaration also stated that G20 countries had to play a key role in ensuring equal participation in gender terms, as well as in cohabitation, social justice, the fight against poverty, prevention of social and economic problems, and the protection of human rights and honor.

However, all these suggestions and premises were put forth without any certainty as to what the G20 Summit participants will discuss and prioritize during their negotiations, just like the fate of Schrödinger’s cat, which was at risk of death from poisoning if the box‘s internal monitor detected radioactivity and shattered the poison flask. It will be the resolutions reached at the Antalya summit on November 15-16 which will tell us how long the cat will survive.

Turkey‘s climate commitments for the period of 2021-2030

An analysis of national contribution commitments presented to the United Nations suggests that the cat‘s chances of survival are rather slim, because very few countries have made commitments to truly fight against climate change as demanded by the civil society. In Turkey‘s national contribution commitments, for instance, we come across a significant amount of unclear and non-transparent information, which lack scientific basis and is therefore debatable.

According to the information presented in the above chart, Turkey states that it will reduce carbon emissions by 246Mt from 2021 to 2030—an amount which corresponds to 21%—by undertaking improvements in energy, transport, manufacturing, construction and urban transformation, agriculture, waste management and forestry. However, this commitment is not absolute.

At this point, the following questions have to be posed:

What kind of an economic growth performance is Turkey targeting in order to slash carbon emissions by 929 Mt by 2030? Such a reduction would necessitate the attainment of the frequently stated target of 5.5% growth. Is this figure realistic? At a press conference on October 7, WWF Turkey and the Istanbul Policy Center released the “Report on Low-Carbon Development Itineraries and Priorities for Turkey” by Professor Erinç Yeldan and Assistant Professor Ebru Voyvoda.

According to the models and projections presented in this report, Turkey‘s annual average growth rate is 3.3%. According to the business-as-usual scenario, this corresponds to a carbon emission of 600 Mt. The above chart clearly demonstrates the huge gap between the official policy scenario and the business-as-usual scenario.

What does this gap tell us? How much of a reduction will Turkey actually attain? In actual fact, this figure corresponds not to a drop of 21%, but to a 111% increase over the year 2012. In other words, the economic growth target has been set at a very high and unrealistic level, and the increase in CO2 emissions is presented as a reduction.

Furthermore, as clearly indicated in the INDC report, this reduction target is not binding and may come about only after 2021, because Turkey has such ambitious growth objectives. In his book Seventeen Contradictions and The End of Capitalism, Professor David Harvey describes this attitude to growth as “the growth obsession.”

The improvements required in the fields of energy, transport, manufacturing, construction and urban transformation, agriculture, waste management and forestry to meet this commitment are as follows: planned and low-carbon transportation, habitable cities, the protection of natural assets and biodiversity, agricultural policies adapted and resistant to climate change and planned, integrated waste management. As such, it is clear that the commitments presented to attain energy efficiency really end up in a Schrödinger’s cat paradox according to this projection. The contributions to the fight against climate change of this country, which does not have realistic economic growth forecasts, are bound to result in a paradox since it is not clear how its measures against climate change will affect growth performance.

As such, a revision of Turkey‘s Intended National Determined Contributions in light of realistic scientific models and projections should be the key demand in our fight against climate change.