Now the media attention about COP21 has died out a bit and I had the chance to have a better look at the Paris Agreement, it’s time to make up the balance of the text called historical by the negotiators and bullsh*t by climate activists.
If you ask me, reaching any agreement between 195 countries on a topic that affects nearly all aspects of our societies is quite historical whatsoever. It took them twenty-one climate summits to get it, that is twenty too many. But hey, here we are.
Is it enough? Of course not. But if you read my blog post at the beginning of COP21, you know that I was not expecting that. To be honest, when I was going through the drafts of the agreement circulating during the two-week summit, I was optimistic. Some of the good things have made it to the final text, some have not.
One of the biggest surprises is Article 2, which agrees to aim for no more warming than 2°C and the objective of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Many didn’t hope for such an ambitious goal. Don’t get me wrong, more than that would mean straight-away genocide of the inhabitants of Island states such as the Marshall Islands. It has to be less than 2°C.
We’re playing dices with nature here. And the rules of the game are hard. You win or you die.
Another important issue is the recognition of the differentiated responsabilities and respective capabilities. In human language: every country has to do its fair share. Developed nations should take the lead by undertaking economy-wide emission reduction targets (art. 4, §4) and support shall be provided to developing countries (art. 4, §5).
That’s a first bummer. In the last draft before the final text was released, there were two shall‘s, instead of a should and a shall. Big deal? Big deal. Shall in the UN documents has a legally binding status, should has not. Rumors have it that it were the US negotiators who pressed for this last-minute change in the early hours of Saturday, otherwise: no deal.
At least we have the certainty that rich countries shall help developing nations. That was for me personally an important point I was looking for in the outcomes. I believe that the wealthy nations who put most of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere to date should reach the hand to others to raise out of poverty in a way that is in harmony with the Planet, not by ruining it. Let’s give them all the tools to not make the same stupid mistakes as we did.
Let’s give poor nations all the tools to not make the same stupid mistakes as we did.
Although rich countries refused to include the article which would provide a basis for any liability or compensation for the poor ones, the long-awaited climate fund of 100 billion dollars to help them with climate adaptation was officially achieved.
Okay, we know what the goals are. How do they plan to get there? Starting from the idea of differentiated responsibility and respective capability (art. 2, §2), each country has to present its own contribution, which will be revised every 5 years. This leaves the space for countries to achieve the goal in the ways which suit their circumstances. But that also gives not much guarantee, many activists argue.
There is no global ceiling for carbon emissions, no carbon taxing system, no stop on fossil fuels. There is only the aim and the acknowledging and the request. To be fair, countries’ contributions so far add up to a warming of rather 2.7-3.4°C instead of keeping it below 2°C.
On the other hand, you have to keep it mind very good that it is the very first time 195 nations have, or soon will have, pledged their contributions. This nations cover 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions, where Kyoto only covered the emitters of 14% of the worldwide emissions. The structure of pledges is central and universal for all parties. And despite the fact that they don’t count up so far, attentive readers will find that there is quite a lot of stress on transparency. All countries will face the same monitoring and reporting requirements, rich, poor, North or South. This will be a key tool for people to keep their governments accountable.
Still, with so many nice words but not much action on the table, why I am I hopefull then, you probably wonder. The guy behind the pen — well, keyboard — is a naive day-dreamer? Nope Or better: judge yourself after reading the rest of this article. For me COP21 was the confirmation of something that has been growing for years. You could hear it rumbling in the distance, if you wanted to listen. Change was upon us, and change has come. The people came, saw, and draw the red lines.
Change was upon us, and change has come. The people came, saw, and draw the red lines.
Litteraly. On December 12th thousands of People from around the world gathered in the French capital to carry a kilometers long red carpet with a very clear message: keep fossil fuels in the ground and act for climate justice. And for the first time, it was very clear: their call is heard.
What also became very clear during this climate talks is that the vulnerable countries are no longer put aside by the big guys. For island and low-lying nations, 1.5 or 2°C makes the difference between life and death. Paris had to bring a global agreement and has to be the beginning of dramatic change. We’re playing dices with nature here. And the rules of the game are hard. You win or you die.
For me, the Agreement is not a victory of the cheering politicians during the ending ceremony last Saturday. For me it’s the victory of a movement that is as diverse as the issue of climate change is itself.
The Paris Agreement may sound small and futile. But it marks the end of the fossil fuel era and the beginning of irreversible change. And this time, people will be the architects, not the big fossil fuel companies. The persistence of activists around the world made it very clear during 2015: climate change is an issue that needs global action. For me, the Agreement is not a victory of the cheering politicians during the ending ceremony last Saturday. For me it’s the victory of a movement that is as diverse as the issue of climate change is itself.
We need to keep fighting. More than ever before. We have an agreement now, but… we have no plan of attack. I have plan: attack! It’s now or never. We know that politicians are not going to do it for us, but at least we know it will be together with them, not against them. The agreement lays the basement for meaningful progress and brakes with anything what we’ve seen before. That’s why I stay hopeful. That’s why I wanna keep up the fight. For me, the Paris Agreement symbolizes the born of a new era: the Born of Hope.
cover photo courtesy: US Department of Agriculture