COP21 Paris Climate Conference

 In News

PCI trustee and co-founder David Woollcombe’s guest blog on the COP21 Paris Climate Conference.

The first part of this blog is an introduction to the issues and the tests which NGOs have set down to evaluate the success of the Paris Agreement. The second part will be an analysis of the progress that has been made in the climate change field. The final two parts of this blog will come when there is a final draft of the Paris Agreement, and we’ll be able to see if it passes any of the NGOs tests and the other tests that governments, the UN and experts in the field have set for it.

Part One

When the first Climate Treaty was signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, there was a Tree of Life on which citizens were invited to write their hopes and demands for the future and hang them on it like leaves. Entering the COP 21 Conference Hall in Paris, there are two trees whose leaves rotate and generate electricity.

There is much progress on the 1.5 degree target: in Copenhagen in 2009, a few people were dismissed for demanding that global temperatures should be kept below 1.5 degrees – when even the 2 degree threshold was thought to be impossible. The fact is that, even at 1.5 degrees of global warming, several small islands will disappear, and coastal regions will come under increased threat. But at 1.5, those threats can be mitigated. At 2 degrees, they cannot. Thankfully, in the draft Paris agreement, the words “1.5 degrees” appear.

The means to achieve that target are still conspicuous by their absence, as, indeed, are many other imperatives. But the $500 million spent on conferences like that in Paris do deliver some good momentum: President Obama and John Kerry announced “mission innovation”- an effort to get governments to invest billions into research into clean energy. He was immediately joined by Bill Gates, 28 other billionaires and the Indian Solar Alliance, who are all dedicated finding clean, new energy solutions.

What will Paris have achieved? Have our governments done enough to save our world and its peoples from catastrophic climate change? Several NGOs that have drawn up independent tests, “red lines”, by which we can judge whether or not the governments have reached the goals that they set out to achieve. Friends of the Earth outlines four main demands:

  1. Emissions reductions – urgent short-term action leading to the long-term phasing out all fossil fuel use
  2. Support for transformation – public finance, technology transfer and capacity building for both mitigation and adaptation action in developing countries
  3. Justice for impacted people – including compensation for loss and damage and a just transition for workers
  4. Focus on transformational action – rather than false solutions like biofuels or geo-engineering.

The People’s Test on Climate elaborate the red lines rather further:

  1. Sustainable energy transformation – redirecting finance from dirty energy to clean, affordable, reliable and safe renewable energy
  2. The right to food and water – ensuring people’s access to water and to land for climate resilient food production
  3. Justice for impacted people – securing and building the resilience of impacted people including reparations for the world’s impoverished and marginalized people who have no role in causing climate change, yet whose lives and livelihoods are endangered by its effects

The gulf between these good intentions and the reality of what is being negotiated is still huge. The draft text that was delivered yesterday is still full of different options for the various paragraphs, and many different words to describe what they actually seek. Hopefully, by tonight, they will choose which of these words to use.

Part Two

[Written Friday 11/12 evening] As we await the final text of the COP21 Paris Agreement to be delivered tomorrow morning, I want to reflect on the many good things that have come out of this Copenhagen to Paris COP journey. The road to a green, zero-carbon future is so peppered with pitfalls that I feel that we all should be congratulated on coming as far as we have done.

1. There’s a lot of good things in the Agreement: in this morning’s climate tracker assessment, 7 out of the 9 top topics were scored 3 out of 5. We also finally have a document that talks about 1.5 degrees as the target level for global warming, spelling the end of the fossil-fuel era.

There is no articulated commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies, but Article 2 of the Agreement is full of language about carbon-pricing. Business is actively lobbying for it. One CEO told me, “All I want for Christmas is a big, fat carbon price”, and if he gets it, fossil fuel subsidies will automatically go. Whether carbon pricing means cap and trade systems or a system of green taxes, both will drive down fossil fuel use and incentivise investments in renewable energy.

2. This deals with the George Monbiot complaint that UNFCCC does not deal with carbon production, only consumption. Carbon pricing is all about carbon producers, and it incentivises producers and their investors and shareholders to move towards clean energy as that is where the profits will be.

3. 185 countries now have their own, chosen carbon reduction and transition plans to green, clean energy. They feel ownership of them, and thus are much more likely to implement them, and improve upon them.

4. No one expects the deal to fall apart tonight, which means that UNFCCC were probably right to bring in the Heads of State at the opening session, as it got every one off to a hopeful start. Even Geoffrey Lean, Britain’s top climate journalist, enthused, “This is all very exciting – the climate deniers are going to be very unhappy bunnies come tomorrow morning”. The atmosphere has been consistently upbeat and positive throughout the two weeks.

5. In the margins, there have been positive coalitions forming: the High Ambition Coalition has just been joined by Brazil – the first major economy to do so. It is pushing the 1.5 degree target and the ratchetting up of INDC commitments, so we can look forward to a great coalition of the willing there.

There is also the US-led “Mission Innovation”. 26 countries are putting their hands in their pockets to support it, along with several business leaders. And India’s coalition of 121 Tropic nations in its International Solar Alliance is an immensely positive move.

6. The health industry is here: “Tackling Climate Change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st Century”, screams the headline on the Lancet’s paper on the subject. Of its many arguments, the most obvious is that clean air promotes good health where dirty air causes disease.

7. NGOs and celebrities are here: there are few better examples of the positive developments that are happening than those in Al Gore’s new Climate Reality show. It’s long, but if you just watch a bit of it, you will get a sense of the many amazing things are happening everywhere.

8. The Nordic countries are taking a lead. Some Swedish provinces promising to be zero carbon by 2030, Norway already has 20% of it’s new car sales being electric, Nordic industry is looking at investing in low-carbon, green economy solutions, there is practically no investment in fossil fuel development, and Norway has a green tax commission which will be imposing green taxes in 2016.

9. The aviation industry is here led by models of the Solar Impulse, the Swiss French solar powered plane which is half way around the world on its zero-carbon flight. Airbus is promoting a new electric engined airplane for commercial production in 2017.

10. The food industry is here in force as climate change would seriously interfere with their supply chains. Kelloggs, General Mills, Unilever and many others are looking at how they can secure green, resilient, climate-friendly supply chains in order to be able to continue – and increase – the production of their products.

11. Construction is here, as is the car industry and big banks. Shipping interests are all here, too. Green shipping may not be in this agreement, but it is on the radar as a big polluter. Led by the Nordics, large shipping companies are intent on cleaning up their act. There was a whole exhibition on Global Efficiency, looking at the increases in efficiency of resource use that are now available to us. As one government representative said, “Governments can only legislate; it is up to the private sector to implement”.

12. Finally, it has been a huge learning experience for all of us. We have learned a huge amount about how to make this transition from two centuries of fossil-fuel powered growth and development to the inevitable future of green, renewably powered growth.

The Faith communities have joined this learning journey, and the media center was over-subscribed with journalists so that they had to turn many away. Even so, for the last two weeks, newspaper readers and TV News watchers from Seattle to Sydney, Detroit to Delhi, Rio to Rawalpindi, Beijing to Birmingham have been watching pretty non-stop news about the Paris Agreement and our progress towards it.

Part Three

[Written Thursday 17/12]

James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first alerted the world to the dangers of global warming in 1988, dismissed the Paris agreement as a “fraud,” saying that “it failed to rise to the challenge of a global carbon tax that would accurately reflect the damage that greenhouse gasses do to the environment.”

Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace, while welcoming the deal, said: “This is not a moment for triumphalism. This deal alone won’t dig us out of the hole we’re in: it sets out the objective of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees but the emission targets on the table take us closer to 3 degrees.”

George Monbiot of the Guardian summed it up, saying: “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

Monbiot, Hansen and Naidoo are amongst very few articulate commentators on climate change who really know what’s going on. We have been talking about this for 27 years and most politicians and media commentators still don’t have a handle on what Hansen says, so clearly and rightly, needs to be done: price carbon at a level that will force the transition away from fossil fuels to renewables and raise the funds necessary to repair or “mitigate” the damage the global warming has done to our environment.

Paris evades the central issue that 99% of scientists agree on: we have to limit carbon emissions to 565 gigatonnes by 2050 to keep global temperature rise to under 2 degrees; yet the world is on track to emit 2,795 gigatonnes – over 5 times more. A single line in the preamble to the Paris agreement committing to “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees” is probably not going to change that.

The physics of climate change demands unified leadership. However, the Paris process was to fragment the leadership into 193 separate parts by inviting every UN member government to come up with its own plan for limiting its carbon emissions. This had the entirely predictable result that every target is different, each uses different baseline years and, as Kumi points out, the targets set fall well short of what is needed.

The evidence from studying the INDC papers from the 185 governments that submitted them is far from convincing: Pakistan’s amounts to a page – with 7 clauses and no commitments. The ones from Russia and Belarus choose 1990 as the baseline – the year of maximum carbon emissions before the economic collapse of the post-Soviet era. That means, as shown by the graph that Belarus shamelessly publishes in its INDC, that it can claim a 28% emission reduction, while actually, it represents a 25% increase from 2002. There is inspection but no punishment for failure: they are only “intended” contributions.

greenhouse gas emissions 1990-2030

Then there’s the matter of funding for climate change mitigation. Paris sets a floor of $100 billion a year by 2020, but many, including Lord Stern and Mark Carney, believe the actual cost will be in the trillions, not the billions. An OECD report released before the Paris COP states that $62 billion has already been mobilised, but the government of India points out that this includes private sector funds, loans not grant funding and a lot of money already committed. It concludes that the actual amount of new money mobilised to date is $2.2 billion – 3.5% of what the OECD claims, and 2.2% of what the Paris Agreement pledges. In these times of austerity, it requires a much more substantial re-think of the current spending priorities.

How does the final agreement match up with the four Climate Justice Red lines and People’s Tests I mentioned in my first Paris blog? These were massively promoted by Friends of the Earth – but there is nothing on their website to date (16/12/15) to say if they feel they were met or not. I called the FoE Press Office – but no one was prepared to talk to me. The People’s Test website has no analysis either, so here is my own analysis of if the Final Paris Agreement text meets their red lines:

Urgent short-term emission reductions – leading to the long-term phasing out all fossil fuel use. Long-term phasing out is not mentioned as a policy goal in the final text, and the short-term picture is equally bleak, as nothing needs to happen until 2020 and there will be no review of INDCs until 2019.

Support for transformation – public finance, technology transfer, and capacity building: there are lots of promises about technology transfer and capacity building and description of the institutional arrangements to achieve this.

Justice for impacted people – including compensation for loss and damage and a just transition for workers; Clause 52 of the decision specifically rules out “any basis for compensation or liability,” but the Warsaw Mechanism for loss and damage remains. The “just transition” of the work force and Human Rights provisions are mentioned only in the Preamble and not in any operative clauses.

Focus on transformational action – rather than false solutions like biofuels or geoengineering. Very little action flows from the agreement and almost none of it is transformational. As George Monbiot wrote, “The agreement in Paris was widely greeted as a breakthrough. It is nothing of the kind. Shorn of targets, time-tables and binding instruments, it is a highly effective programme for salving the collective consciences of delegates, and little more.”

But the tests did not embrace the only test that the New York Times pointed out really matters: the financial one. How would markets react? On the Monday after the Paris accord, some oil and coal stocks went down but Exxon Mobil shares rose nearly 2%. So it seems to be business as usual.

As there is a yet-unstated recognition by governments and the public that we have to phase out fossil fuels this century, this $40 trillion dollar project (the World Bank estimate of its cost) should have started in 1992, so we are already 23 years late. As Bill McKibben, another climate leader who really knows what is happening, wrote post-Paris, “What matters now is pace – speed, velocity. Fossil fuel subsidies have to end yesterday. Huge subsidies for renewables need to start tomorrow. You have to stop fracking right now and you have to raise the price of carbon steeply and quickly so every one gets a clear signal to get off it.”

Bill and Naomi’s organisation will lobby energetically to make that happen, but it won’t help if the media and politicians lull us into the complacent feeling that, after Paris, the job is done. It isn’t.

“If we do this, what’s the worst that can happen?”, asked John Kerry in a powerful speech in Paris. “We will create millions of new jobs, healthier air and water, so less sickness; innovation will thrive, and build whole new industries which will make our economies prosper. But if we don’t do this – and the scientists are right, well – we all know the downside: global warming and extreme weather causing millions to migrate, tens of thousands to die or lose their livelihoods, whole island nations to disappear – and billions of dollars of weather-related damage to happen every year.”

There are reasons for why we cannot – or will not – “do this”: for Kerry, there are the Republican climate deniers who control Congress, and there are the billions of dollars in tax revenue from fossil fuel companies which keep the government afloat. For G-77 governments, there is the necessity of fossil fuel subsidies to help farmers get their produce to market.

We need a massive campaign of public education in schools and, especially, in the media. We have to tell the story of how this generation of citizens will deliver us from our addiction to the brown, fossil-fuelled, planet-destroying economy and lead us to the sunlit uplands of a green, sustainable, renewably-powered economy that brings peace, prosperity, fun, stability and happiness to all.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Peace Child International.

Recommended Posts