Paris Climate Deal: A big fail

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Paris Climate Deal: A big fail

People are saying the Paris Agreement is a great success. But will it bring climate justice? Danny Chivers and Jess Worth put it to the test.


'D12' day of action in Paris, France, 12 December 2015. by Allan Lisner / Indigenous Environment Network

After two weeks of negotiations – well, 21 years, really – governments announced the Paris Agreement. This new climate deal will start in 2020. But is it really as good as the French government say?

Before the talks, social movements, environmental groups, and trade unions around the world met and agreed on a list. This was the ‘People’s Test’. It is based on climate science and the needs of communities affected by climate change and other injustice around the world. They said, if the Paris deal was going to be fair, it would need to:

1. Get immediate, urgent, very large cuts in emissions;

2. Get enough support to change the energy systems;

3. Get justice for people affected by climate change;

4. Get real, effective action, not false solutions;

Does the deal pass the test? Here’s New Internationalist’s (NI) assessment.

Test 1. Get immediate, urgent, very large cuts in emissions: NI assessment: Fail.

The Paris Agreement aims to keep the rise in global average temperature to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to try to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.’ But the emission cuts in the agreement are based on voluntary promises called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs). All the governments planned these before the talks, based on what they agree to do, not what science or justice needs. These cuts are now an official part, but they are not enough to get to a 1.5°, or even a 2° goal. The agreement says it’s not necessary to look at these targets again until 2020.

Asad Rehman from the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice says that this agreement is good for the big polluters, but bad for the poor. There is no concrete action. The promises that rich countries have made will get us to 3.7° warming of the planet. None of the developed countries are doing enough to cut their emissions and move away from dirty energy.

Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research says that the Paris agreement does not talk about the very large emissions from ships and planes. He says the agreement ‘is weaker than Copenhagen’ and does not agree with the latest science.

The Paris deal does not say countries must cut emissions before 2020. Steffen Kallbekken, Director of the Centre for International Climate and Energy Policy, says that we will probably use all the carbon to get to 1.5°C warming by 2020. If we follow the INDCs the world will get between 2.7°C and 3.7°C warmer.

For a good chance of reaching that 1.5° target, we need to keep at least 80 percent of known fossil fuels in the ground. And we must stop all new plans for fossil fuel. We need to stop deforestation and cut other greenhouse gases eg. methane, by doing something about animal agriculture. But the Paris agreement does not mention the words ‘fossil fuel’ – or coal, oil, or gas - and says nothing about animal farming, palm oil and other industries that cause deforestation.

Test 2. Get enough support to change the energy systems: NI assessment: Fail.

The International Energy Agency says that the world will need $1,000 billion per year to be fossil fuel free by 2020. Developing countries need about two-thirds of this – $670 billion. So the North needs to give money to the South. This is fair, because industrialized countries got rich by burning fossil fuels in the last 200 years; countries with only 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for about 60 percent of the greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere.

But the Paris Agreement only agrees to ‘mobilizing’ $100 billion per year by 2020. This is for emission cuts and also adaptation (see 3, below). This is not enough, and there is no agreement to increase this figure, only an idea to look at it again by 2025. And they include many different things in the word ‘mobilize’: loans, private finance, grants where people have to follow instructions, and parts of aid budgets. People have even said that the money sent home by migrants working in richer countries is a form of climate finance, and this can be part of the total ‘mobilized’ by the rich countries.

This is not enough and not fair. Governments spend about $5,300 billion per year on subsidies to fossil fuels. Janet Redman, Director of the Climate Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, says: ‘We spend $2,000 billion a year on our military and gave $14,000 billion to save the banks when they failed. Rich countries have to move money from banks and military to clean energy and preparing for climate change.’

Test 3. Get justice for people affected by climate change: NI assessment: Fail.

The UN Environment Programme says that poor countries need $670 billion to cut emissions by 2020, and also about $150 billion per year to adapt to protect them from the worst of climate change. That’s more than $800 billion per year. So the $100 billion the Paris talks agreed is less than 15 percent of what the countries need.

Developed countries have done most to cause the problem, so they have the responsibility to solve it. But the Paris deal only says that developed countries should ‘take the lead’ with money, as part of a ‘shared effort’ by all.

The US and some NGOs are saying that developing countries are responsible for not doing enough in the agreement. But many climate justice organizations, social movements, faith groups, trade unions, environmental and development organizations, show that the opposite is true. Many developing countries are promising to do more than their ‘fair share’ to cut emissions while rich countries are not doing enough.

And as climate change is already happening, many countries already have very bad floods, storms and droughts. These will continue – and get worse – for many years, even if we keep the temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees.

Asad Rehman says that the EU, the US, and other rich countries have forced poorer countries to agree that they have no legal, moral and political responsibility for the carbon pollution that they’ve created, that has destroyed the lives and work of millions of people.

Magline Peter, an Indian fisherfolk leader got to Paris late because his flight was delayed because of the floods in Chennai. He says that the US and others do not want to pay for loss and damages in countries like India.

The idea that governments should provide training and financial support for workers in the fossil fuel industry to find other jobs is mentioned in the introduction to the agreement but not in the main agreed text. And the part about taking account of human rights is not in the text at all.

So the rights of Indigenous peoples are not part of the agreement. Dallas Goldtooth, of Indigenous Environmental Network, says it’s difficult to accept that the rights of Indigenous people to decide their future, where they get our food and water from, is not legally recognised by the countries of this world. It’s destructive and it shows that this agreement is a failure.

Test 4. Get real effective action, not false solutions: NI assessment: Fail.

The agreement talks about ‘technologies’ and ‘actions’ but does not say exactly what these are. So there could be many false solutions.

Renewable energy is mentioned only once, about Africa. It will also still be possible to ‘offset’ carbon emissions by carbon capture, geoengineering or forestry schemes.

Carbon trading has not been effective at all, and this can now continue. And there is no mention of good solutions eg. respecting the land rights of forest peoples, promoting clean democratic energy or getting food sovereignty for communities and small farmers. These would keep carbon safe underground and in trees and soils. There are no new regulations to stop destructive industries, stop deforestation and keep fossil fuels in the ground. And there is nothing in the deal to make it more important than big trade agreements eg. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership. These could give big businesses the power to stop any environmental regulations that stop them getting money.

Dallas Goldtooth says the Paris agreement is ridiculous. Carbon markets and carbon trading are false solutions. The best solution, supported by science, is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We must stop fossil fuel development, and we must support all those communities that are dependent on fossil fuel economies to change to renewables. If we’re from the global north or the global south, we need help and support to create a future of renewable energy for 100 percent of people on this planet.

NI Final score: 0/4.

So the Paris Agreement is a disaster for the poorest people in the world. The target of 1.5 degrees and decarbonization look good on paper. But there’s no sign that governments want to make them a reality. Paris could be the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry, but much more needs to change before that becomes a reality.

So what next?

Climate justice campaigners are not surprised by this. Asad Rehman says they had very low expectations of the agreement. But it’s important what happens next: Do we return to our capitals, do we build a movement, do we make sure our countries are doing their fair share? Do we stop the dirty energy industry, do we invest in new climate jobs, do we invest in community-owned decentralized energy? And most important, do we help the millions of people across the world who are fighting for climate justice?

Dallas Goldtooth agrees:‘The decision-makers of the world can’t make the changes that we want. The people need to make that change. And we’re already seeing the power of the people. For example the Keystone XL pipeline in North America. It was taken down because of people organizing. It wasn’t the governments who made that choice, it was the farmers, the Indigenous peoples of America that made that choice, and the politicians had to change.’

People shouldn’t be surprised that the deal is bad, Goldtooth says. ‘Industry has a big influence on the agreement. Countries that depend on a fossil fuels influenced the deal. People who are fighting for alternatives are not allowed in those negotiations. So we now need to continue: demand climate justice, and to show the world, show the countries, show big business what people can do when we unite for climate justice.’

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).