“By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster” wrote George Monbiot in the Guardian on 12th Dec. The inclusion of the aspiration towards a 1.5 degrees limit is a ‘resounding victory’. But, but, but… “Our governments talk of not burdening future generations with debt. But they have just agreed to burden our successors with a far more dangerous legacy: the carbon dioxide produced by the continued burning of fossil fuels, and the long-running impacts this will exert on the global climate.”
Monbiot contrasts the delegates’ behaviour at home and abroad. Traditionally, visitors have behaved badly in Paris, but this time it seems to have been the other way round. Back home, the UK government chose this year to pass a law – the Infrastructure Act 2015 – obliging itself to “maximise economic recovery” of the UK’s oil and gas by extracting more fossil fuels.
is an international campaigning environmentalist network that historically has publicised the danger in anything above 350 parts-per-million of CO2 in the atmosphere
They say that the Paris deal leaves too many loopholes...”despite the heroic efforts from leaders of vulnerable nations and communities who fought for a deal in line with science.” But the flaws of the agreement should not bring comfort to the predatory coal, oil and gas corporations of the world. “That 2 degree pledge would require keeping 80% of the world’s remaining fossil fuels underground, a 1.5 degree target even more — and countries are required to come back to the table every 5 years to increase their ambition in reaching those goals.”
In other words, the goal of 2 degrees and the aspiration of 1.5 are an important advance, although the ‘legally binding’ parts of the agreement have massive holes in. The future depends on citizen activist movements. This video sums it up:in other words
Without agreed time lines, anything could happen. Similar conclusions are being drawn by most long-standing environmentalist groups.
the world’s largest online activist network, seems an optimistic exception in emphasising the power of aspiration. Emma Ruby-Sachs, its acting executive director, said: “The historic Paris climate deal paves the way for the shift to clean energy that the world wants and the planet needs.” Their website comments: “More than 3.6 million Avaaz members around the world backed the campaign for 100% clean energy… to create unprecedented popular momentum for a global climate deal. The final text, agreed by every country in the world, sets the target of reducing greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere to zero by as early as 2050.”
Target setting, well and good. Target setting is a good idea, but not enough. In fact, the text encourages countries to reach peak emissions soon in order to get to the point, by 2050, where carbon emissions are “balanced” by “sinks”.
What does that mean? Here comes Article Four of the Paris agreement. Take a deep breath.
In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.
Let’s go to Carbon Brief for an explanation. As they point out, it’s no accident that instead of the more precise terminology of ‘decarbonisation’ or ‘zero net emissions’ the final agreement uses the vaguer concept of “balance”. This suggests that high carbon emissions may continue into the late 21st century, ‘balanced’ by the highly controversial technology of carbon capture or by extensive tree planting. So much scope here for fudging that at least we needn’t worry about Britain’s confectionery industry.
Interviewed by Carbon Brief immediately after the signing of the Paris agreement, Amber Rudd, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, was asked just how she thought post 2050 emissions, predicted still to be enormous, could be ‘balanced’ by carbon sinks. (Will the deserts become forests? Will carbon capture make coal clean?) Ms Rudd was rather annoyed at the interviewer’s focus on the hard questions instead of the triumph of the fudge. “We do not have all the answers as to how we’re going to deliver this in 50 or 60 or 70 years time….” she said, but the UK government is already committed to investing in new technology. The hard question vanished into a lingering sweet taste… Good answer, Amber! After all, why worry? In 50, 60 or 70 years we’ll all be dead.
Friends of the Earth
is the international network of environmental groups which campaigns around social justice, development and human rights issues.
Craig Bennett on 12th Dec. “We know we need to keep global temperature to well below 1.5 degrees to minimise the impacts of climate change. But all the warm words from developed countries earlier this week have amounted to nothing: there is no obligation to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees; they have only agreed to “pursue efforts” to do so.”
And on ‘Loss and Damage’, he says the mechanism set up to compensate countries for climate change that has already happened explicitly rules out any liability of the rich countries. Hmm, I wonder why? So we’re just doing it out of the goodness of our hearts. And a fund has been set up to help poor countries adapt to climate change, but it isn’t clear who will pay what. The climate refugees billeted in African schools will have to stay there for a while, trying to live family life in one corner of a classroom.
has no truck with all this. Their strategy is de-industrialisation. They expected nothing from the Paris agreement, and are deeply sceptical about the so-called advance.
As one member blogs: “…emissions aren’t expected to peak until 2030. That’s more than 5000 days before peak emissions, 5000 days of everything getting even worse. Civilization is already driving 200 species extinct every day – to quote Lierre Keith ‘They were my kin. They were yours too’.”
But no, I don’t think Paris was as meaningless as that. The struggle against global warming needs to take place at every level – inter-governmental, through popular movements, and in all of our minds. No level is irrelevant.