by Aneesa Khan
To be in a room for seven whole hours is arduous in itself. However, for that room to be one filled with painfully complacent idiots, the overpowering smell of corporate power, and sickeningly thundering applause? Well, that can only be described as torturous. Feelings along the lines of delirious levels of fury, profound misery and a fairly good amount of second-hand embarrassment for those in the room were inevitable and rampant.
Those clapping fools who thought that COP21 in Paris had delivered to us (in the words of dear Laurent Fabius) a historic “differentiated, fair, balanced, legally binding agreement” were either highly misinformed or painfully naive or highly manipulative of the final Paris Agreement. The narrative of the climate deal was so molded by the French Presidency, developed countries, sell-outs from the Global South, and the media, that it was easy for many to lose sight of what actually went down in the hallowed halls of Le Bourget and within the 31 pages of the disastrous deal.
Here are the main ways in which the COP FCCC’ed us over with this new “agreement”:
- The temperature “goal”:
The Agreement aims to hold 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”. 1.5 degrees is the absolute tipping point for climate change in many small islands and developing countries and people are losing lives and livelihoods today, right now, with just about 0.8 degrees of warming. What does “well below 2 °C” even mean? 1.8? THANK GOD parties can also maybe pursue the efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, just in case 2 degrees wasn’t ambitious enough for them. Probably the biggest kick to the shins for those on the frontlines is this – though parties seem to be eager to reach these temperature goals, surprise-surprise, their actual pledges to reduce their emissions are not adding up to these empty promises. Mitigation goals from our nations are sending us down the fiery path to hell. Or something around 3.5 degrees of warming. Same thing. What we needed this to say was – “hey, it is absolutely essential that temperature rise stays under 1.5 degrees no matter what, and also it is mandated that in the process of reaching this, every country must do their fair share in reducing their emissions. If you polluted more in the past, you need to reduce more today, and vice versa.”
- The “long-term” goal:
So how can we fake our temperature goals without creating the illusionary methods by which we are going to pretend to reach them? The UNFCCC school of theatrical arts has delivered yet another masterpiece. The text states that to achieve the temperature goal: “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”. Clearly we are dealing with folks who have multiple PhDs in the art and science of vagueness. The wording in this paragraph opens the door not only to run away climate change but also its right-hand buddies – false solutions. In reality, to stay under 1.5 degrees of warming we need to have a completely decarbonized world by 2050. Saying “we need to reduce by the second-half of the century” is pitifully weak, it might as well say that we should all buy a couple of coalmines and sit back and watch the world burn till 2099. A quick and just edit to this would be: “We must decarbonize our world. Developed countries, due to your historical responsibility, you have to reduce your emissions to zero by 2030, and the rest of you – kindly do it by 2050”. Additionally, an open letter of invitation has been sent out by this paragraph to the solutions that go hand in hand with the problematic concept of net-zero emissions. Words like “removal” and “sinks” allow for business as usual while assuming that we can just take our pollution out of the atmosphere at the snap of our fingers and everything will be ok.
- The “highly ambitious” emissions reduction methods:
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet? Well, a carbon market by any other name would definitely still smell as rancid. The agreement says: “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 development and ensure environmental integrity and transparency, including in governance”. Spot the false solution! “Internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” is just the UN promoting trading mechanisms that have been proven as ineffective in cutting emissions, while also being plain unjust – a market-based solution to a market-based problem that allows us to keep polluting? Eh, no thanks and good riddance. We required this agreement to say: “For emission reductions we need to have a just energy transition with a focus on community-based renewable energy, we need to have a sustainable food system where land rights are respected and food sovereignty are at the forefront, and we need to not sign onto any of these international trade deals that put people and the planet behind profit.” Maybe the last part is too much wishful thinking, but hey, why not go all out when the current and future lives of our world are stake, right?
- The “transfer” of resources:
Emissions reductions and adaptation in developing countries are not going to happen with love and fresh air. Those in the North have a moral and legal obligation to provide finance and technology to those in the South so that they don’t go down the dark, dark path that current systems of economic development have set as a standard. The amount of money needed for climate finance is in the trillions. This text seems to be following a pattern – it once again does what’s not needed. It says: “developed countries intend to continue their existing collective mobilization goal through 2025 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation; prior to 2025 the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall set a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries”. The language is extremely loose here – the word “mobilize” is so broad that it could mean anything. Money could flow in the form of loans, development aid, candy. A 100 billion dollars a year is absolute peanuts as well, especially when put in comparison with the military budgets of most countries. One wonders what wars they will fight once climate change is the thing ravaging their sense of security. This text needed to say: “We need new, additional, scaled-up and predictable climate finance that flows from developed to developing countries in the forms of grants.”
- The “Loss and Damage” debacle:
Sometimes emission reductions weren’t enough AND people can’t adapt to the climate change. Sometimes it’s just too late to apologize (thanks for the inaction!). When it is too late in the game and people are being affected irreversibly by warming climates then they need to be compensated for their loss. Hence, we have the very much-needed concept of loss and damage. Unfortunately, developed countries interpreted this to mean: “Hey it’s your LOSS, sorry-not-sorry about all the DAMAGE, goodbye!”. The agreement states: “the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”. As an expert interpreter of UNFCCC lies, I can confidently say that this means: “the Agreement involves the US and the EU and hence provides a basis for nothing from anybody responsible”. The main point of Loss and Damage is that those responsible provide compensation and that is what we needed this agreement to say, not the exact opposite.
- The “Climate Justice”:
“Noting the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change”. How. Dare. They. Climate justice is justice for the people and the environment. It is based on the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). It differentiates between developed and developing countries. It recognizes the need for renewable energy, the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, the point of fairshares, and the need for finance and technology transfer. It supports those on the frontlines, it supports indigenous rights, migrants rights, gender justice, and voices from trade unions. It knows that we need ambition before 2020, not just after. Unless these things were hiding and this is a poorly planned game of Where’s Waldo, nowhere in those 31 pages did we see any REAL climate justice ideology. Every mention to CBDR, equity, non-market mechanisms, gender equality, and finance (to name a few) is just lip service, empty, empty promises. More than that, these honorable mentions are an infuriating co-option of the language of the climate justice movement. The French presidency and developed countries are calculating to the point where now when we say that they failed to deliver, they can just point to all these words we ask for in the text. Discourse means nothing when seeded in false intentions.
Kevin Anderson dropped a truth bomb when he said that the Paris Agreement was worse than Copenhagen. Monsieur Fabius might like to delude himself by thinking otherwise, but we know what really happened. No hugs and curtain calls with Christiana Figueres and Ban Ki Moon can hoodwink the people. Copenhagen may have led to a long hangover for civil society but Paris was just the pre-game. The agreement may be “non-intrusive and non-punitive”, but we aren’t. The climate justice movement is about to get down and cut a rug (and emissions) like never before.