Paris climate change deal too weak to help the poor, critics warn
Summit fails to put humanity’s interests above short-term goals, say experts
WHILE leaders from around the world have hailed the agreement struck in Paris on climate, some analysts and environmentalists are less upbeat and are not sure about its impact.
With 2020 as the pivot year for the voluntary emissions reduction, they say, it is clear that between now and then the remaining atmospheric carbon budget may already have been taken up. Whether that happens or not, delayed actions until 2020 presents the planet and all beings on it a very dire future that many will not survive.
The Executive Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey said the Paris agreement did not indicate any urgency in tackling this fundamental problem even though it did indeed recognise the urgency of the crisis.
“The agreement recognises everything that needs to be recognised, including the need for finance and technology transfer, human rights, gender and intergenerational equity, etc., but provides no scope for operationalising these in a manner that signifies this acknowledgment.
“Although it is generally agreed that fossils must be kept in the ground if we are to stand a chance of keeping temperature increase below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the Conference of Parties (COP), perhaps encouraged by its oil company partners, ignored this and locked the planet on the path of peril.”
Bassey, who was a former Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/ Friend of the Earth Nigeria, noted that the agreement spoke repeatedly of “sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases.” These are wedges to keep the door open for all sorts of carbon offset schemes including REDD and all its variants, yet-to-be-proven carbon capture and storage, geoengineering and such like.
“We can thus expect intense externalising of climate action on climate victims as well as carbon colonialism – which may include what is referred to in the Agreement as internationally transferred mitigation (Article 6) rather than direct in-country carbon emissions reduction,” he said.
According to him, the climate finance remains grossly insufficient with targets of $10 billion yearly up to 2020 when this would shift to $100 billion yearly. That these amounts are insufficient can be seen from the fact that the U.S. spent about $68 billion to handle the aftermath of just one hurricane, Hurricane Sandy.
“Considering that rich countries spend up to $2 trillion annually in needless wars releases equally underscore that what we see are specious power play and climate apartheid. And, by the way, who accounts for the millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases released in warfare besides destruction of lives and wreaking of havoc on nations and territories, especially those that are fossil resources rich. It is clear that the paucity of the Green Climate Fund is not a lack of funds but a determination by rich countries to avoid historical and current climate debt,” he said.
Similarly, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an independent analysis group, delivered a downbeat appraisal of the outcome, saying it was not the breakthrough many had claimed.
Richard Chatterton, head of climate policy at the group, which provides analysis used by investors, said: “The deal reached in Paris is weak, containing no concrete increase in the level of ambition to address climate change, and simply urges countries to do more over time.”
He said the most notable outcome was the mechanism for five-yearly reviews of carbon targets, and agreement on the principle that countries should provide transparent accounts of how they reach those goals. But even these were “accompanied by language that could allow countries to maintain the status quo for years to come.”
He also criticised the target of achieving net-zero emissions. “An emissions reduction goal, for a peak year in global emissions or for language on decarbonisation or emissions neutrality have all failed to make it into the final agreement,” he said. “What countries have settled for is an ambiguous aim,” to balance emissions with carbon sinks. But he said it was unclear what this would mean in terms of real emissions reductions.
“This agreement will disappoint many observers who were hoping for a step change in global ambition [on climate change]. It is no surprise, however, that the reality falls far short of such expectations,” Chatterton concluded.
Other observers were also wary. Oxfam called the deal “a mixed bag,” arguing that governments had failed to put humanity’s interests above “narrowly defined and short-term interests,” and that the lack of a pathway to keep temperature rises below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels left that goal unclear and vulnerable people in danger.
Craig Bennett, UK chief of Friends of the Earth, was cautious. While he acknowledged “the spirit of Paris” in bringing countries together was positive and could be built upon, he said in key aspects it was inadequate.
“We have got to understand the limits of Paris,” he said. “It is certainly not sufficient [as an agreement]. If you judge it by the science, it’s clearly not strong enough. It’s also clearly not strong enough for poor countries.”
But investors should take it as a signal, he added. “Does this give investors confidence? Probably, yes. It’s all very woolly [in language and aims] but the direction of travel is clear – to low carbon.”
Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change for ActionAid, said the poor had been excluded: “What we needed out of Paris was a deal that put the poorest people first. What we have been presented with doesn’t go far enough to improve the fragile existence of millions around the world.”
Bill McKibben, activist and co-founder of 350.org, said the deal was in danger of dragging out the transition away from fossil fuels for far too long to maintain global temperatures at a safe level, leaving open the possibility that “endless climate damage will be done.”
He urged activists to target the fossil fuels industries to prevent that. His views were echoed by David Turnbull, campaigns director of Oil Change International, who described the agreement as “a lowest common denominator of global politics, not the aspirations of the global community.”
There was also concern from special interest groups. Clodagh Byrne, adviser at HelpAge International, warned that older people were left out, despite the fact that they are more vulnerable to the effects of high temperatures, being more likely to die in heatwaves than younger adults, and at greater risk of death in the event of extreme weather, such as floods or storms, as they were less able to escape.
“Given the disproportionate impact that climate change is already having on older people, it is alarming that no specific consideration has been given to them in the text, even within the list of those whose rights should be specifically taken into account,” she said.
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