In what UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon hailed as a "truly a historic moment," world leaders gathering in Paris for the COP 21 climate summit on Dec. 12 approved an accord aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 C—an improvement over the current national committments (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs in technocratic jargon) which only mandate a limit of 3 C. Some international campaigners are claiming victory. "The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. "This deal puts the fossil-fuel industry on the wrong side of history… That single number, and the new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, will cause consternation in the boardrooms of coal companies and the palaces of oil-exporting states." (AFP, NYT)
Several thousand activists marched peacefully near the Arc de Triomphe as the deal was announced—seemingly divided on whether to celebrate or protest. The permitted march was an official exception to a ban on public gatherings across France under the state of emergency instated after last month's terrorist attacks. It appears authorities relented and allowed the march because of a threat of mass defiance and civil disobedience if they remained intransigent. The previous weekend, indigenous groups from across the world staged a kayak-paddle down the Seine, demanding that indigenous rights be recognized in the new treaty. (NYT, The Guardian, The Guardian)
NASA climatologist James E. Hansen was among those taking a more cynical view of the new agreement. "It's a fraud really, a fake," he said. "It's just bullshit for them to say: 'We'll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.' It's just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned." (The Guardian)
Carbon Market Watch offers a more distanced assessment in a media statement. One of the more disturbing (if hardly surpirising) elements is the continuted emphasis on carbon trading. The Paris agreement does call for closing loopholes that have made some carbon trading schemes transparent scams:
The Paris agreement contains several provisions related to carbon pricing and markets. Countries can use and transfer "mitigation outcomes" to other countries, which opens the door to the linking of Emissions Trading Systems. The accounting rules for such transfers will be developed in the coming years and will include guidance on how to avoid the "hot air" trading of bogus pollution permits, including the avoidance of doubled-counted emission reductions. The agreement also obliges countries to promote environmental integrity and to pursue domestic climate measures to achieve their targets, thereby limiting the amount of international carbon credits that can be used.
CMW director Eva Filzmoser added: "We very much welcome that the new market provisions include robust accounting rules and a shift of the new mechanism beyond pure offsetting. However, the new mechanism is very complex so a watchful eye will be required when developing the modalities and procedures in the course of the next few years."
The accord does include language on indigenous and human rights, but CMW finds it somewhat equivocal:
Following calls from numerous countries that wanted to see human rights recognized in the operative part of the agreement, compromise was found with detailed preambular language that specifies that parties, when taking action to address climate change, have to respect, promote and consider respective human rights obligations. This also includes the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.
Alberto Saldamando of the Indigenous Environmental Network was unimpressed with the supposed tightening of carbon trading norms: "The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south. Case-in-point, the United States' climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well." (Indigenous Rising)
Of mainstream environmental groups, the grimmest view of the new accord is taken by Friends of the Earth International, which writes:
The draft Paris deal states that 2 C is the maximum acceptable global temperature increase, and that countries should pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. This is meaningless without requiring rich countries to cut their emissions drastically and provide finance in line with their fair share… To avoid runaway climate we need to urgently and drastically cut emissions, not just put it off.
The Friends of the Earth statement also decries that no actual financial commitments are made to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change:
Without compensation for irreparable damage, the most vulnerable countries will be left to pick up the pieces and foot the bill for a crisis they didn't create. Without adequate finance, poor countries will now be expected to foot the bill for a crisis they didn’t cause. The finance exists. The political will does not.
Even under the best interpretation, the real test of the Paris agreement will be in its implementation. So even if there is no actual retrogression from Paris if an abject climate-denialist like Ted Cruz takes the White House next year, unrelenting grassroots pressure and activist vigilance will still be mandated. Let's hope the optimistic headlines will not lead to any relaxing of our rigor…