I’m a newcomer to all this. Back from Paris, I want to know whether the COP21 talks were successful – and what success would mean. Oh yes, say most of the media, and the ‘global leaders’. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? I’m scrutinising the reports for clues. Most are positive. The problem for me is, they don’t make sense.
If the countries’ original promises, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are all added together,
no way would they limit global warming to under 2 degrees. It’s more like 2.7 – 3 – disastrous levels. Yet these original promises still stand, and AT THE SAME TIME the countries have promised to keep global warming under 2 degrees and to AIM for 1.5. Hmmmm.
What is a New Green to think? I turn to the actual Paris agreement.
I soon see that the shortfall of the promises has been noted ‘with concern’.
The promises are to be reviewed every five years. ‘Developing countries’ can be punished if they fall short, by depriving them of financial assistance for ‘adaptation’ from the Green Climate Fund… Ridiculously, Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich economies are seen as ‘developing’ precisely because of their one-sided economies. But what about ‘developed’ countries? How will they be treated if – and when – they put electoral and corporate interests first?
The great thing is transparency, say the diplomats. That’s what we’ve gained. Everyone’s INDC must now be clearly linked to facts and figures, base years and methodologies. All this is going to be examined by the deputy headteacher – sorry, I mean the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If any country’s contribution falls short (the UK is a good example), it must submit a good excuse (“There was an election coming up”) and a note from Mummy Windsor (“We are completely satisfied that, in the difficult circumstances of the need to eliminate the deficit and ensure healthy growth for Our wealth-creators, Our government has made a realistic offer”). Because now the countries have all accepted a common objective, any one that doesn’t offer a realistic INDC will be shown up as letting down the whole world.
Why don’t I think that naming and shaming will have much influence on the US, the UK and Saudi Arabia? Just to pick three countries at random.
1.5 or 2?
We’ve got the best of both worlds, it seems. 2 degrees of warming… which might just be do-able (if we work very hard from now on, getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies, subsidising renewables instead, strictly regulating new building, making the polluter pay, designing new transport policy etc) But as well as this objective we’ve got a hopeful aspiration: 1.5 degrees. And the Guardian says this is to satisfy low-lying countries that ‘are considered at risk from rising sea levels’. Considered? Is there some doubt about it? And will Micronesia, Caribbean islands, Bangladesh, the Netherlands etc etc be happy with an aspiration?
Lastly, though I could go on for ever, let’s briefly look at poor countries claims for ‘Loss and Damage’. This is a complex, hard to understand part of the Paris agreement. I doubt that that’s an accident. I don’t think its wording is going to offer any comfort to climate migrants, or to those desperate people who are currently billeted in schools because their homes and farms are already destroyed by climate change. I don’t think the mechanism mentioned is going to move super-quick to assist poor countries’ governments in meeting displaced people’s current or future needs. Let’s read a sample:
50. Also requests the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism to establish, according to its procedures and mandate, a task force to complement, draw upon the work of and involve, as appropriate, existing bodies and expert groups under the Convention including the Adaptation Committee and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group, as well as relevant organizations and expert bodies outside the Convention, to develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change;
Para 55 says we must have positive financial incentives to prevent deforestation . That would be a good idea. Meanwhile, Indonesia lies under a blanket of smoke and smog, caused by deliberate burning of its forests by private companies. This is already illegal in Indonesia, yet year after year the appalling damage and massive carbon emissions are repeated. So who will receive the positive financial incentives ? The government, to encourage it to enforce laws it already has? Or to the firesetters? The history of capitalism suggests that the thieves will get the dosh.
Is there any point in the Paris agreement?
Yes. French and other diplomats have exerted all their skills to extract a degree of unity from a disparate group with different vested interests, different histories and different political systems. Although the unity is slight, it is based on reality. Despite the irrational, greedy system that dominates the world and makes us dance to its tune, we all have a common human interest in stopping global warming. I see the agreement as a moral advance. It’s like de-legitimising slavery, sexism or any other system of oppression. Or even like banning smoking. These are necessary steps. They don’t get rid of the oppression and damage, but they create new standards that make it harder to justify. And we need new standards very badly. New terrain to argue in, new terms of the argument. A shared goal.
Now let the activists take the lead. Let citizens hold the countries to account. As I see it, that’s our only hope.