The 21st UN climate conference (COP21) was held in Paris from 30 Nov – 13 Dec, 2015. After 2 weeks of intense negotiations it arrived at a historic agreement promising to keep the global warming under 2 degrees Celsius. The 31 page treaty was signed by 198 countries.
Five Positive Aspects
1. If temperatures can be held to a rise of 1.5C, catastrophe may be averted.
2. Targets are set and governments can be held to account.
3. Air pollution and the importance of preserving forests are now under the spotlight.
4. Much greater investment in renewable technology is promised.
5. Vulnerable countries will get $100bn a year to help adapt to climate change.
Five Gloomy Aspects
1. Countries may wriggle out of their commitments.
2. The agreement buys us time, but will it be enough?
3. Most agreements benefit big business over small landholders.
4. Climate change assistance may be funded by diverting aid funds.
5. There is no legal responsibility for rich countries to help poorer ones, with adapting to climate change.
Many climate justice activists have been vehemently voicing on the urgency of immediate action to protect the earth for human survival. They also argue that it is necessary to stop capitalism destroying our Planet. Climate change is a greater threat than terrorism, and the two are interconnected. But terrorism certainly has the ability to overshadow other issues by its immediacy and horror.
The COP process over the past 20 years has lead to a worsening of the climate crisis and a rise rather than reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the war on terror has led to more terror – in Beirut and Baghdad as well as Paris – and to a refugee crisis that leaves dead bodies washing up on Europe’s shores. The same logic underlies both of these failures. A logic of maintaining the status quo, of protecting our economic interests at all costs, of ignoring the historical and current ways in which the West is deeply implicated in the root causes of the problem.
In this moment of fear and uncertainty, of multiple crises sweeping the globe, a movement for justice, equality, anti-oppression,liveable planet and a change to the system based on greed and exploitation, is ever more needed. It is not the time to stay silent.
Role of India
The epochal global climate treaty signed in the Paris Meet would not have been possible without commitments from all the 195 participant countries. The role of South East Asia has been crucial, especially of India which had the key to any global consensus in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
India, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, had only pledged to limit the amount of carbon dioxide per unit of GDP. China is a big polluter because of its size and huge population, which is largely poor. To demand an emissions cap would be akin to asking India to drop its ambitions to become an economic powerhouse quickly. Given its large and as yet unmapped energy requirements due to the large population that has no access to energy and its infrastructure bottlenecks, India cannot drop coal from its energy mix. The country has actually set a coal production target of 1.5 billion metric tons by 2020.
India’s refusal to give up completely on coal,was taken as its unwillingness to be part of a global effort to move away from fossil fuels to safeguard the planet.India made clear that coal was not its default option. Solar, wind and hydro- nuclear are also the country’s major energy sources.
Through the year, the host France held two informal level meetings at the level of negotiators, three informal ministerial meetings, including the traditional pre-COP (a ministerlevel meeting just ahead of the Conference of Parties, as the annual meeting is known in UN climate lingo). There was also a lastminute whirlwind tour across the capitals of key countries – India, South Africa, Brazil, United States, Canada – by its foreign minister Laurent Fabius and the special ambassador for climate talks, Laurence Tubiana.
The two-week long negotiations began with a Leaders’ Event. This was an innovation; heads of State and government have always attended the climate meet in its closing days. But the French, wary of a repeat of the previous unsuccessful talks in Copenhagen, decided to change course. “We wanted to avoid the Copenhagen syndrome, when not enough had been done before and the leaders came too late to save the process,” Fabius explained.
The Leaders’ Event on 30 November was attended by 154 heads of State and government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US president Barack Obama, Chinese president XI Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin. The leaders made it clear that not having an agreement in Paris was not an option.
The Climate Treaty
The Paris Treaty includes five big steps of climate action.
1. Climate Change Mitigation (Art. 2 & 4): The agreement includes a series of goals to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius to accompany the current hard limit of 2 degrees. Following this treaty, countries will pursue the mitigation plans laid out in their domestic climate commitments, which will go into effect in 2020.
2. Long-Term Goal (Art. 4): The overall aim specified in the agreement is to peak global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and undertake rapid reductions so as to achieve a balance between emissions by anthropogenic sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.
The specificity of this long term goal is such that, when coupled with the goal of limiting warming to 2 Celsius countries would be de facto required to completely decarbonize the global electric sector by 2050, according to the IPCC.
3. Adaptation (Art. 7): Developed countries will provide financial and technological support to help developing countries adapt to impacts of climate change, building resilience and preventing further damage (also in COP Decision Section III, Paragraphs 42-47).
4. Loss and Damage (Art. 8): The Paris Agreement includes a section directing countries to create a special process to address the losses and damage that stems from unavoidable climate impacts which overwhelm the limits of adaptation (e.g. sea level rise), as well as follow the procedures laid out in the Warsaw Mechanism. The COP Decision explicitly excludes liability or compensation for losses and damages (COP Decision Section III, Paragraph 52)
5. Finance (Art. 9): The COP Decision text reiterates a global finance pledge with a floor of 100 billion dollars per year in climate financing from developed countries by 2020 (Section III, Paragraph 54), and expands the donor pool post-2020 to encourage other countries to voluntarily provide additional financial support (Article 9.2). Countries have agreed to set a new global, collective climate finance goal for 2025 that increases upon the 100 billion dollar target for 2020 (COP Decision Section III, Paragraph 54.
Scientists at the COP approved the agreement as a turning point that would ensure a 1.5-2 Celsius safe operating space on Earth.
Women leaders while recognising the progress made by this draft there were still miles to go to make the fight against climate change truly gender inclusive.As the industrialized countries are not held liable for global warming and will not pay any compensation to those who are the victims of climate change, it is feared that women, especially from the climate vulnerable regions,would be pushed into deeper poverty.
Alberto Saldamando, Human Rights expert from Alaska, feels that for Indigenous groups, the agreement has been more of a disappointment than a hope. He says, “The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatise, commodity and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD(Reduced Emission from Deforestation) + projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global South.”
The next climate conference will be held in Morocco in 2016.
What is COP?
The United Nations Climate Change Conferences are yearly conferences held in the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This formal meeting of the UNFCCC Parties is known as ‘Conferences of the Parties’ (COP) assesses progress in dealing with climate change. It also negotiates legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The first COP was held in Germany in 1995. India hosted it in 2002.