During the COP21 gathering, that took place from November 29 – Dec 12 2015, protesters from several nations took action through a historic protest calling for immediate action on climate change. Though a ban on protests in Paris had been declared under the State of Emergency and enforced by police with batons, tear gas and concussion grenades. Thousands of French citizen took part in protests. Following this, 150 heads of state gathered the following day in what’s arguably the largest such gathering ever comprising of head of states to work towards a legally binding global agreement on climate change. Thirteen days later, they succeeded.
Climate change has become a global problem demanding international solutions. A unique accomplishment of the United Nation’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) climate talks was the legally binding agreement by the international community.
The final Paris Agreement asserts that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
If further states that “deep reductions in global emissions will be required.”
Several sections of the agreement are legally binding. An important aspect of this agreement is the commitment of each nation to submit—and review after every five years—plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the developed nation’s pledge to commit by 2020 $100 billion to help developing countries transition to alternative energy economies. Additionally, $100 billion will be provided every year thereafter until at least 2025.
A new level of transparency in governments is also required, which should limit itself to report national greenhouse gas emissions but also give a detailed breakdown of the source (such as a coal plant or automobiles) and be subject to a technical review of their plans by the U.N.
This is the positive news. As pointed out, there are quite a bit of grey areas with the agreement. The agreement spells out no consequences if commitments are not met. The Paris Agreement also acknowledges that even if the individual country climate plans are fully and perfectly implemented, they would be insufficient, potentially resulting in temperature increases of over double the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels “pursued” by the agreement.
1 degree global warming has been reached and the U.N. estimates that over 26 million people are being displaced every year due to natural disasters.
According to Oxfam International, 75% of those catastrophes can now be associated with climate change with a huge number of these occurrences happening in the developing nations. Helen Szoke, one of Oxfam’s executive directors, calls the agreement “a frayed lifeline to the world’s poor.”
Bridget Burns of the Women’s Environment & Development Organization says it “fundamentally does not address the needs of the most vulnerable countries, communities and people of the world. It fails to address the structures of injustice and inequality which have caused the climate crisis.”
There exist failures in the Paris Agreement’s approach to helping those most vulnerable to the devastations of climate change. For example, though the commitment of $600 billion through 2025 is important, it’s not entirely adequate to tackle the complex challenges of adapting to climate change or the devastating loss and damage suffered when disaster strikes. Economic impacts to developing nations occasioned by climate change, in the form of droughts, floods, hurricanes, agriculture loss and more, is estimated to reach $1.7 trillion a year by 2050.
The financial pledge is somehow poorly defined. The Paris Agreement does not give a breakdown of each country’s responsibility on how much to pay, when, where, for what or from what source (public or private). Incomplete financial accounting by donors has led to a great deal of debate as to how much money has already been put up by nations, with estimates ranging from $5 billion to $60 billion. Instigated by the U.S., the Paris Agreement includes an exemption that explains that it “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.”
Simply put, developing countries cannot demand (or sue) developed nations to compensate for the loss and damage suffered as a consequence of the latter’s past or current greenhouse gas emissions.
Another problem is the issue brought forth by 15,000 climate justice protesters through a 300-foot-long, bright red and white banner laid out at the foot of the Eiffel Tower on December 12. It read: “It’s Up to Us to Keep It in the Ground.” In 2014, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that in order to limit the world to 2 degrees C of warming, three-quarters of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground.
Interestingly, the words “fossil fuels,” “oil,” “natural gas” and “coal” appear nowhere in the Paris Agreement. The agreement ignores production and focuses exclusively on emissions, allowing, for example, Saudi Arabia to continue and even increase production of oil for exportation as long as it attempts to reduce domestic emissions.
Alberto Saldamando, a legal counsel for the Indigenous Environmental Network and a veteran of six years of COP negotiations said that the Paris Agreement’s lack of defined action on extraction could have devastating effects in the developing nations, says. It heavily relies on carbon markets and the Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism, allowing for continued emissions through carbon trading or offsets, such as the planting or maintaining of forests or other carbon sinks. However this model allows the toxic environmental, cultural and human health effects of fossil fuel production and transport to go on, and in some cases, facilitates the removal of indigenous peoples from their lands.
For example, a 2011 report found that REDD policies and programs in the Peruvian Amazon allow for logging, mining, oil production and agribusiness entities to continue production while indigenous small farmers are forcefully removed from their indigenous forest habitat. The indigenous Amazonians call it “carbon piracy” arguing that the wrong people who have no negative impact in deforestation are being forced out of the forest: This report states that for thousands of years, these indigenous communities have taken care of the living planet and in only one hundred years, industrialization has caused it to overheat.
In January in the U.S., 78 percent of respondents wanted the federal government to limit the levels of greenhouse gases that businesses emit—the Paris Agreement could help break the stranglehold that industry has on Congress. For example, it belittles a key argument of many Republicans against taking global action on the climate: that America cannot act alone. It also ensures that climate change deniers are alienated, such as presidential candidate (and Iowa polls front-runner) Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who in an a past interview with NPR said, “Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big-government politician who wants more power.”
These climate denialists are more in the minority in government leadership, but Kassie Siegel, a director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity states that it’s still up to “grass-roots activists to create the pressure on governments around the world as quickly as possible” to ensure that countries wake up and meet their climate commitments. That’s been the case for a while now. Lindsey Allen, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network states that nearly 200 nations were compelled to act on climate because there’s a global movement that has made action a political tool. An example given was the recent elections in Alberta and nationally in Canada in which oil industry favorites were ousted by candidates supporting clean energy.