COP 21 – Success or Failure
December 17, 2015 Leave a comment
Well, we have a climate change agreement for 2020 and beyond in the Paris Accord, approved this weekend. But is this an adequate level of progress needed to seriously tackle the problem of climate change? Compared to 6 years ago and the utter failure in Copenhagen, first glance suggests yes, but it’s not perfect.
Two weeks ago leaders from around the world gathered for probably the most important and significant international government conferences of our time, COP21. Prior to these talks, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s), campaigning organisations, environmentalists and individuals from all over the world took to the streets to protest and generate an atmosphere of urgency for a strong positive agreement to be achieved.
COP21 started with an inspiring speech of HRH Prince of Wales calling to arms the politicians of the world to take responsibility and deliver an agreement that will start the progress to reduced CO2 emissions and planetary stability. “On an increasingly crowded planet, humanity faces many threats, but none is greater than climate change. It magnifies every hazard and tension of our existence… It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to remain healthy, and safe from extreme weather, to manage the natural resources that support our economies, and avert the humanitarian disaster of mass migration and increasing conflict.”
This was followed by leaders of each country all making the same points, using strong rhetoric, all pointing out the obvious and what the informed already know. The rhetoric from the politicians had a passion and sincerity on a level that I had not heard before. Could Paris and COP21 be the success the world and its people need it to be?
Barack Obama, a driving force in these discussions, determined to leave behind a Presidential legacy before he steps down, not worried about re-election stated “the future is on that we have the power to change – right here, right now… One of the enemies we will be fighting is cynicism – the notion that we can’t do anything about climate change” urging a “common purpose [for a] world that is not marked by conflict but by co-operation”, concluding “Lets go to work.”
One of the few blemishes being David Cameron stating, “what would we say to our grandchildren if we failed. We would have to say it was too difficult, they would reply, well what was so difficult?… How can we argue that it’s difficult when in London alone there’s 5 trillion of funds under management and we haven’t already begun to generate the private finance that is possible to help tackle climate change?”
Highly contentious in my view, as it is him and his government that are cutting financial support for clean and renewable energy and instead pushing for shale gas fracking with a very questionable UK energy policy.
Following the opening day, the media lost interest and there was practically no coverage in the mainstream media during the 2 weeks of discussions. However, from what was available, it was clear there was a hive of activity between the main discussions, informal meetings and fringe campaigns that appear to have been running 24/7. Such is the complexity over agreement of document text, working groups were giving paragraphs to negotiate with each country.
From the start, the French leadership were doing their job perfectly, they communicated a sense of direct urgency and urged the UN to deliver an approved agreement. In the latter part of the second week the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ represented, a group of 100 countries, who have been working in the wings secretly for half a year. They helped to push policy agreements through late in the day and on Saturday the world finally got to hear what was agreed.
Not only a commitment to limit global warming to 2oC change, but also to aim to reduce it further to 1.5oC. This is highly ambitious, yet committed unilateral agreed target., seeing as the world is already heading to a 1oC degree increase in global temperature, limiting it by another half a degree is some target to have agreed.
There are a few challenges with this target, and where the Paris Accord shows cracks, there is no time frame except for ‘second half of the century’ and there are no real mechanisms agreed to ensure delivery of this target, just a promise. But this is a start, to seriously tackle climate change and hopefully the beginning of releasing the world from its fossil fuel addition.
The agreement includes a legally binding 5-year review of countries targets, and the ability for them to improve their objectives to work towards a low carbon future. However, 5 years is a long time, long enough for the world leaders not to be in power next time around and be held accountable. Considering the target of 1.5 degrees, this time frame is not feasible, the reviews are important and are legally binding but should have been annually or every 2 years to ensure targets and commitments are being delivered in a time frame that will actually limit temperature increases. Additionally, how will this be policed and by whom to ensure accountability by nations?
It is also worth noting that the terms ‘fossil fuels’, ‘oil’, ‘coal’, and ‘gas’ do not appear once in the text of the Paris Accord. It looks like corporate lobbying has played a part in the delivery of this final text, which is a real shame as the document should of at least acknowledged the link between the use of these finite resources, their link to GHG emissions and climate change.
Developing countries already receiving financial aid for assisting them with the effects of climate change, all feel they need further support from the countries already causing climate change and in many cases rightly so. This was a contentious area in the negotiations and Saudi Arabia caused a lot of problems due to their economy largely dependent on oil. But none the less, an agreement of $100bn base line annual aid would be made available. Many NGOs and commentators believe this to be a significant failure in the process as more help is needed from the developing world to mitigate the effects as well as evolve their economies to the new low carbon energy infrastructure needed.
Listening to the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, their Prime Minister, Francois Hollande, and head of UN, Ban Ki-moon speaking on Saturday morning was for me emotional, are we on the brink something truly incredible as they would have us believe or is the Paris Accord another ‘empty promise’ with no substance to actually deliver? In the hours and days that have passed, I have had time to reflect and take it all in, I am optimistic and definitely more positive about the international political landscape in this area than I have been for a number of years. COP21 has managed to get an agreement from nearly 200 countries and this should be applauded long with the target and legally binding reviews.
As Ban Ki-Moon stated, there had to be compromise, no one got 100% of what each country wanted at the start of the negotiations. I think this is also true from the environmental campaigning, activist and NGO perspective with the agreement not delivering on a level that many believe is required, not going in to detail on how targets would be achieved and not committing enough to help those who will suffer first and most with the effects of climate change.
Wholesale system change doesn’t happen over night, we know this and I believe no matter what would have been agreed in Paris, to many, myself included, it would not have been enough and open for criticism.
Expectation is high and its easy to pick holes in the agreement. What needs to done, is to reflect and look at the outcomes differently – There is an agreement approved, there is a target agreed, there are legally binding elements and there is some financial aid. I would of taken that 2 weeks ago and I think many others would.
Paris and COP 21 is not the end of the road when it comes to climate change, it is the beginning of the next part of our worlds environmental and climate journey. The targets are in place, the leadership of the world is agreed that limiting GHG emissions is critical to success. In fact just 24 hours after COP 21, the UK governments energy policy is already being scrutinised by politicians and media, an early indication of positivity from the Paris talks.
It is now up to us, the environmentalists, the activist and the environmentally considered to continue to drive for delivery against promises, hold those who fail to account and keep on the pressure to those who stand in the way of climate revolution, at the same time, applaud and celebrate where there have been successes and victories. The optimist in me tells me that Paris and COP21 was one of those victories and successes. So let’s embrace it and make it work for our future and the planet.
This blog post was written by Richard Hillyard MSc. Pg Dip. BA(Hons). AIEMA. Richard is a Senior Environmental Consultant at a major international property management company with 13 years environmental and energy experience, including the provision of CRC, ESOS, EED, EUETS compliance, CDP and Carbon Standard Reporting as well as EMS implementation and management. Prior to this, Richard was part of the FM consultancy team with BSRIA and also holds a MSc in Environmental Decision Making.