Last week marked the end of the two week COP21 meetings in Paris where delegates from nearly 200 countries came to discuss a solution to climate change. There has been an incredible amount of praise for the outcome, now called the Paris Agreement, both from mainstream media and large Environmental NGOs. However, there are a number of problems with this agreement which make me question whether this is really an outcome worth celebrating. I have outlined some criticisms below.
1) There has been much praise for the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming to 1.5-2°C. However, this is not legally binding – the only legal requirement is transparency with regard to what your country is doing to help achieve this and for everyone to reconvene once every five years. If we go by the current voluntary pledges on emission reductions each nation has made we will actually have a warming of 2.7-3.7°C, almost double the target. Also these pledges for emission reductions often include market-mechanisms, carbon-offsetting methods and carbon capture and storage (CCS) which all prevent moving away from a carbon-based economy and encourage a reliance on fossil fuels.
2) There will be follow up meetings every 5 years to deepen emission cuts and name-and-shame countries for not making enough effort to do so. This sounds great in theory but if we continue as we are now we will reach our 1.5 target by 2020. Additionally, these meetings are supposed to be “facilitative, non-intrusive, non-punitive’’ which does not give governments a real incentive to take stronger action and make fulfil commitments if all they are going to receive is a stern talking to and mild slap on the wrist.
3) $100 billion will be given to the Global South each year by 2020 to help with adaption to emission reductions and clean technology.
- a) This is both an arbitrary figure and is not actually enough money as is needed to fulfil these aims.
- b) It has been left vague as to what exactly this money will go towards meaning it could fund anything from making coal powered power plants more ‘efficient’ and ‘green’ (which really is not solving the problem) to funding community owned wind energy (which would be great), but it is clear which project is more likely to be funded (hint: coal).
- c) This sum of money is to be collected by voluntary donation from each nation, so whilst the $100 billion is an overarching legally binding agreement, there is no minimum donation a country is committed to make to this.
4) Despite all this money for the Global South, the Global North is still not liable for compensating the damages they’ve caused in the Global South.
5) Countries are to peak greenhouse gas emissions ‘soon’ before rapidly scaling down in the second half of the century. It’s a little understandable why they cannot say ‘now is peak emissions’ but this just allows for complacency without a hard target for when peak emissions should be and scaling down in the second half of the century is frankly just too late and further delaying any real action.
6) The aim of being carbon neutral by 2050 allows for continued carbon emissions by encouraging the use of emission offsets and carbon markets. These mechanisms have many problems including: removing the focus from emission reductions and green energy investment, praising monoculture reforestation used as carbon sinks, using land grabs and causing conflict by displacing indigenous and local people to secure ‘green projects’ for offsetting emissions, and the questionable effectiveness of offset projects themselves etc.
7) There is no mention of taxes/fees/regulation of fossil fuel industries and related emissions let alone other drivers of climate change such as deforestation from large-scale (animal) agriculture, nitrous oxide from poor fertilizer use etc.
8) The way in which nations have framed their emission reductions, either as a ‘cut’ compared to ‘business as usual’ or a year in which emissions were unusually high or in terms of ‘carbon intensity’, has meant that many countries are not actually reducing emissions by the percentage they claim and some have pledged to effectively increase their emissions.
9) On a personal note, maybe I’m being naive with what can actually be achieved in these meetings, but apparently most of the time was spent discussing whether we should limit warming at 1.5°C or 2°C and how much the arbitrary sum of money to give to the Global South should be, instead of discussing actual solutions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the problems with the Paris Agreement, but it definitely illustrates why we should not be celebrating this as a victory. The lack of legally binding emission reductions and agreements, lack of taxes on fossil fuel industries and related activities and the use of market-mechanisms and carbon offsets to further entrench ourselves in a carbon-based economy is hardly a step forward. That being said, at least I’ll still have something to do in my spare time.