UN Climate Change Agreement in Paris – just another case of ‘fiddling while Rome burns’?

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Published: 11th January 2016.

Intro by Pat Byrne (TSN Editor).
Detailed analysis of the UN Agreement by: Mike Davies (Chair, Alliance for Green Socialism).

Radio interview on the consequences of the Agreement with Chris Williams (author of ?Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis?).

Introduction – Another Toothless Agreement

Less than a month has passed since the United Nations Climate Change Conference brought together representatives of 196 countries in Paris and made an Agreement which is supposed to stop the rise of Global temperatures. On one side the mainstream media greeted the Paris Agreement as a major step forward in the battle against climate change. On the other a wide range of environmental groups have denounced the Agreement as merely window dressing, a serious of pious promises without enforcement rules which will have no effect on the growing ecological threat.

The main advance trumpeted by the Agreement is to reduce the target for global warming from 2 to 1.5 degrees, but environmental activists believe that it will do the opposite resulting in a rise of up to 3 degrees with drastic consequences for natural and human populations around the world.

For example, Friends of the Earth summed up the outcome of the UN Climate Change Agreement thus: ?Rich countries have moved the goal posts so far that we are left with a sham of a deal in Paris. Through piecemeal pledges and bullying tactics, rich countries have pushed through a very bad deal,? said Sara Shaw. Asad Rehman from FOE put it more dramatically: ?The iceberg has struck, the ship is going down and the band is still playing to warm applause.?

This view was echoed by Victor Menotti from the International Forum on Globalization: ?The Paris Agreement will be known as the Polluters? Great Escape since it weakens rules on the rich countries and puts the world on a pathway to 3C warming.?

Conference Sponsored by the Polluters
Should we be surprised by this outcome? Hardly. For a start, the conference was sponsored by energy companies, airlines, motor manufacturers and banks, precisely the organisations whose drive for profits are fuelling the rise in carbon levels in the oceans and the air, raising temperatures and destroying life on a grand scale.

More fundamentally, in the whole Climate Change Conference process the richer countries are unwilling to challenge the short-termist international capitalist interests that are the driving force behind the relentless destruction of the world?s environment in what is becoming a period of mass extinction. For example, in the last 40 years half of all the world?s marine species have been destroyed through a combination of pollution and aggressive fishing. On land, the situation is little better with illegal logging and deforestation destroying the planet?s forests at an alarming and accelerating rate ? forests the size of Panama are cut down every year, with the end of the world?s rain forests which are home to 80% of global species forecast by the end of this century.

But all is not yet lost. As the final speech inside the Paris Conference by civil society group?s representative, student Aneesa Khan, put it, the grass-roots environmental movement is rising to the challenge posed by this latest toothless UN Agreement:
?The self-congratulation in this room is palpable. We?ve heard that this moment is ?a turning point for humankind and a message of light.? These are pretty words, meant to provide us only an escape from reality… You did not ?achieve? anything. All you achieved was silencing the voices who stood in your path, and allowing power to run its course. You achieved business as usual? Though the Agreement is weak, the Climate Justice movement is strong. Today, the climate justice movement came of age. We now know that our political leadership will not deliver what?s needed, no matter how many lives are at stake. Onwards, we go united. We will deliver an energy revolution that serves people and not corporations. We will build the justice that the Paris Agreement did not deliver?and as you have buried us today, so we will grow to reclaim our power.?



Media Response to the UN Agreement:
?A major leap for mankind? – The Observer
?Climate deal ?to change the world?? ? Sunday Times
?Governments have agreed to limit the increase to 1.5?C? – The Guardian

World leaders and the media have trumpeted the outcome of the COP21 climate talks in Paris as a world-saving triumph. This report attempts to tell the truth which is rather different.

Structure of the text
The text agreed in Paris runs to 31 pages. The first 19 pages record the ?DECISION? to adopt the Agreement, in six sections; the last 12 pages are the ?PARIS AGREEMENT? itself, Preamble plus
twenty-nine articles. To understand it all, you really need to read both parts together.
Note that in the text of the agreement, ?mitigation = action to reduce global warming, while ?adaptation? = action to survive global warming

Much attention has, rightly, focussed on the different targets of a maximum 2?C rise in average temperature or a more ambitious limit of a 1.5?C rise. Both are against a baseline of ?pre-industrial? average temperature. The British press has frequently misquoted 2?C as a safe limit. In fact a rise of 2?C would cause massive disruption: drought, flood, storm, desertification, loss of species, disruption of the ocean, disease and huge population displacement. Clearly 1.5?C would be a much better outcome, although even that would cause significant global problems.

So, isn?t it great that our leaders have committed to a 1.5?C limit? Well, it would be, but they haven?t. To begin with, the agreement actually aims for ?well below 2?C? plus ?pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5?

ARTICLE 2 1 (a): ?This Agreement ? aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change ? including by (a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;?
Far worse, the contributions to emissions reductions endorsed by the Paris talks come nowhere near even the 2?C limit. The UN Climate Change Panel estimates that, to keep within the 2?C limit, we need to keep the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to under 40 gigatonnes (carbon equivalent) by 2030. The total pledges at Paris are so inadequate they will lead to 55 gigatonnes in 2030. That?s an overload of nearly 40%.

DECISION II para 17:?Notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2?C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030, and also notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the intended nationally determined contributions in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 ?C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 ?C above pre-industrial levels by reducing to a level to be identified in the special report referred to in paragraph 21 below.?

We are not looking at a temperature rise of 1.5?C. We are not looking at one of 2?C. We can expect a catastrophic 3?C, 4?C or even higher. The Paris talks have produced lots of words, but the actions agreed mean the opposite of the words.

A chant in the Boulevard de la Grande Armée:
“Un degré, deux degrés, trois degrés, Un crime contre l?humanite”
(“One degree, two degrees, three degrees, A crime against humanity”)

ARTICLE 9 1: ?Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.?

ARTICLE 9 3: ?Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts.?
The foregoing Articles are the basis for the claim that rich countries will provide poorer countries with $100 billion per year to help them fight and adapt to climate change. Unfortunately, it?s not true. Firstly, there is no figure set on the total to be provided now. There is a ?floor? figure starting in ten years? time, stated in the ?Decision? part of the text.

DECISION III 54: ?? prior to 2025 ? shall set a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 bn per year.? More importantly, there is no mechanism whatsoever by which this money will be provided. The $100 billion per year is merely an aspiration. No country has committed to providing it. This is not an agreement to do it, it is just a hope that it might happen.

DECISION IV 115: ?Resolves to enhance the provision of urgent and adequate finance, technology and capacity-building support by developed country Parties in order to enhance the level of ambition of pre-2020 action by Parties, and in this regard strongly urges developed country Parties to scale up their level of financial support, with a concrete roadmap to achieve the goal of jointly providing USD 100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation while significantly increasing adaptation finance from current levels and to further provide appropriate technology and capacity-building support.?

A key area of dispute has always been responsibility for climate change ? and consequent responsibility for stopping it and for its effects. Historically it is, of course, developed countries that have generated the bulk of greenhouse gases and thus caused the climate change crisis. Logically, the developed countries should sort out their own mess. They should be bearing the primary responsibility for preventing climate change running out of control. They should be helping the poorer countries affected by climate change.
Oddly enough, the rich countries don?t see things this way. Developed countries want to forget how we got here and simply talk about where we are, sharing the burden equally regardless of past responsibility. The Paris Agreement goes straight down the line of the rich countries, containing no references at all to historical responsibility. All it contains are a few sops ? phrases that could, perhaps, if you really wanted to, be interpreted as oblique references to what should be a core principle.

PREAMBLE: ?Also recognizing that sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production, with developed country Parties taking the lead, play an important role in addressing climate change,?

ARTICLE 2 2: ?This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.?

ARTICLE 4 4: ?Developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.?
To make the lack of responsibility even clearer, the Decision includes a statement that the Agreement does not involve liability. If you live on an island that sinks beneath the waves because of global warming, that?s just tough.

DECISION III 52: ?Agrees that Article 8 (loss & damage) of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.?

A key weakness in the whole Agreement is that it is not legally binding. The text is feeble enough ? full of ?should?s, ?would?s, ?request?s, ?urge?s and so on. But any country that finds it irksome can simply walk away from it without penalty.

The supposed substitute in the Agreement for being legally binding is the inclusion of a review mechanism every five years. This doesn?t kick in until 2023. Worse, it is all voluntary, even the review.

ARTICLE 14 para 2: ?? shall undertake its first global stocktake in 2023 and every five years thereafter??

Until quite late on in the process, every draft of the Agreement included reference to a ?just transition?. The trade unions, in particular, fought for this phrase. Likewise, many sought the inclusion of a reference to ?climate justice?. The only reference to either comes in the form of a disgracefully patronising ?note? in the preamble.

PREAMBLE: ?Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and noting the importance for some of the concept of ?climate justice?, when taking action to address climate change.?
The thrust of the text of the Decision is that countries facing the need for adaptation should cooperate regionally. Presumably they should all try to drown together.

Carbon Trading has been thoroughly discredited. It has, of course, been a great success for some. Rich individuals and corporations have made a fortune ?trading? on ?carbon exchanges?, often with fee money from governments. But it has contributed not a jot towards reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. That has not stopped it being squeezed into the agreement almost under the radar. Despite the circumlocutions (maybe no-one might notice), the text provides both for carbon trading and for emissions trading between countries.

DECISION V 137: ?Also recognizes the important role of providing incentives for emission reduction activities, including tools such as domestic policies and carbon pricing;?

ARTICLE 6 2:? Parties shall, where engaging on a voluntary basis in cooperative approaches that involve the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes towards nationally determined contributions, promote sustainable …?

ARTICLE 6 3. ?The use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes to achieve nationally determined contributions under this Agreement shall be voluntary and authorized by participating Parties.?

Some large omissions are referred to above. There are more.

The oceans play a crucial role in global warming. Firstly, they act as a truly enormous heat sink, holding far more heat than the atmosphere. Without them we would already have fried. Unfortunately, we understand little about the mechanics of this process. Secondly, the nature of the oceans as an ecological system is being profoundly affected by warming and consequent acidification. Yet the oceans get one single word mention in the entire text.

Migration caused by environment problems, including global warming effects, is already happening on a significant scale. Haitians move to Brazil because of earthquake activity. Malians move to Europe because of desertification. If sea levels rise, tens or hundreds of millions will move or drown. Yet there is just one reference, in the Decision, to this.

Britain?s position is easily summarised: blatant hypocrisy. The government has signed up to the agreement while in the process of actively undermining almost every aspect of the fight against global warming. They are selling of the Green Investment Bank so it becomes just any other investment bank. They are removing subsidies for onshore wind power. They have slashed the Feed-In Tariff that motivates the installation of small scale renewables. And so on.

British government policy is flood, storm, drought, and disease – and devil take those on the low ground.

By Mike Davies, Chair, Alliance for Green Socialism – Online source


Radio Interview: How Paris Set the Earth on a Course to Burn

A thirty minute interview with environmental scientist Chris Williams at: https://soundcloud.com/davidcnswanson/talk-nation-radio-chris-williams-on-how-paris-set-the-earth-on-a-course-to-burn

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