There are few things that compare to the awesome pageantry of a good international convention. The dignitaries, the cameras, the hand holding, late night squabbling, the closed doors, the squaring off of police and protester; it is simply a marvelous occasion. It brings about an air of accomplishment and is usually a sign of good faith that we are on the right path. That is what I thought about the Vienna Convention … for the protection of the ozone layer. It and subsequent additions forming the Montreal Protocol have been regarded as one of the most effective when it comes to international environmental treaties. Any convention is a long drawn out process and with states vying for different interests it can be difficult to find compromise. However, with the Montreal Protocol most ozone depleting substances were controlled and eventually reduced. So we see that it is not impossible for us to come together to combat climate change and CO2 emissions. There is something that resembles hope here.
In December 2015 the Conference of Parties 21 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Paris with a goal to put the world’s nations in motion towards a reducing CO2 levels. The UNFCCC was signed in 1992 and has been signed by almost every country at the UN. While some may protest that the objective was to produce a fear mongering free-market destroying machine, this is hardly the case. No, actually it was to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Protocols and amendments have been added to the convention and this shows potential progress, but will it be enough. The convention aims to keep the global average temperature well below 2 C (3.6 degrees in Freedom Units) and to limit the increase past 1.5 C, which would still be above pre-industrial levels. It also seeks to not conflict with global food production and attempts to ease financial cooperation to reduce greenhouse gasses.
Is this the turning point in controlling human interference with the world climate that many have been looking for? Is this the convention’s Montreal Protocol? Let us look to the agreement itself. It has added a few things that may become game changers. For instance, nationally determined contributions (NDCs), a worldwide voluntary collection basket. This may help get money to developing countries who need it most and the donations are of course made record. A Global Stocktake will then evaluate every 5 years what has been done and what still needs to be done.
The agreement itself uses a lot of interesting language. There are a lot of ‘strongly urges’ going around, like for the 100-billion-dollar collection target. It basically encourages Parties to compromise. This is not uncommon for international treaties. In the world of states not even international governance trumps a state’s sovereignty. It will be up to national governments to bring some haste for reduction. Until then it will be up to the non-Party stake holders, better known as people or citizens, who are also not forgotten in the text.
The treaty also includes things for Non-party stake holders as well. It was nice of them to mention us at least. Us being the human beings and poor citizens of Gotham that are not state actors or super heroes but may also have a stake in the environment. The treaty points out and recognizes the important role of providing incentives for emission target reduction, including domestic policies and carbon pricing as tools (137).
The inclusion of the identification of anthropogenic emissions could turn out to be a great addition. So long as they are identified they are left in the treaty but if the Party wants to leave it out then they just have to have an explanation as to why. So if one country tries to snake around a certain emission creating industry or company and continue to allow it to happen, it will at least be made note of.
Then there are the articles. Now this is some good stuff, right in article 2 they already want to hold the global temperature well below 2C above pre industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. A very brief overview follows:
Article 3: Efforts to reduce temperature should be undertaken and communicated
Article 4: Aims to reach peak point and continue reduction, while acknowledging developing countries special circumstances
Article 5: Conserve and enhance reservoirs of greenhouse gases
Article 6: Deals with voluntary cooperation of their nationally defined contributions, mitigations of green house gases
Article 7: Adaptation capacity, it is good to be flexible
Article 8: Cooperation to avoid maximum damage, early warning systems, emergency preparedness
Article 9: Developed country shall provide financial resource
Article 10: Technology sharing framework
Article 11: Developing countries and small islands will need help (we should not let them lag behind especially when it comes to emission targets)
Article 12: Public participation and awareness (as appropriate)
Article 13: Transparency framework, super important
Article 14: Long term goals to be achieved, this is the refereed to Global Stocktake
Article 15: Compliance and implementation mechanism
Article 16: The conference of the parties and its role as meeting and communicating body
Article 17: Secretariat
Article 18: Subsidiary body for scientific and technological advice
Article 19: Other bodies must gain further approval
Article 20: Ropes in regional economic integrated organizations, interested parties may go to New York to sign
Article 21: This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.
Article 22: The provisions of Article 15 of the Convention on the adoption of amendments to the Convention shall apply mutatis mutandis to this Agreement.
Article 23: Article 16 mutatis
Article 24: Article 14 mutatis
Article 25: Each party one vote, regional organizations
Article 26: Secretary general of UN shall be depositary of agreement
Article 27: No reservations to agreement
Article 28: Terms of leaving agreement
Article 29: Different languages are available, which is certainly helpful.
All in all, it is a pretty solid plan, the trick is following through. Criticism should be brought up though around its lack of focus on those suffering directly from climate change. The agreement acknowledges ‘that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, 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’. This is the only mention of migrants in the treaty, probably one of the most recognizable groups of non-party actors that are directly suffering from rising global temperature. There is still a lot of red-tape in the way of true progress. Some of the poorest nations that require climate aid are being refused the money they need from the funds because of accreditation issues. Unfortunately, this line of action may be the only way to combat global pollution. In fact, while the meetings were held 300 people were arrested in Paris for protesting and clashing with police in the streets. Sorry hippie eco-terrorists, states’ interests first, the fire hasn’t risen yet.
As for charging ahead, CNN’s John Sutter offers five important next steps. 1. Ratify the Agreement 2. End fossil fuel subsidies 3. Utilize Global Carbon Tax 4. Work Toward Political Consensus 5. Invest in Green Technologies. This is the kind of creative, optimistic, and apparently practical solutions that could be adopted. But some say it is not even close to enough.
James Hansen, an atmospheric scientist, had this to say about Paris. “It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “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.” In the Guardian article he argues it will be too little too late to stop the major effects of climate change. He further supposes that only massive action against carbon burning could help now.
Maybe Hansen is right. Maybe even if these countries could really band together, achieve net zero emissions and hold emitters responsible the worst will still arrive. Although looking forward to some beach front property being destroyed might be comforting, more damage will always be done to those that are thought of least when the negotiations are going on. We should not give up on them or the future so easily.
We live in an interesting time. We have, and maybe always have had, the tools to sustain a healthy environment. But there is something holding us back from achieving that. We are actively being pressured into inaction. How can we believe that fierce steps must be taken to tackle climate change when we have articles like this, touting how we have never lived in such peaceful and safe times, when we may be living in one of the most dangerous moments in human history?
G20 countries are spending $452 billion US a year subsidizing their fossil fuel industries and are undermining the world’s effort to combat climate change in the process, according to a new international report by an environmental advocacy group Oil Change International. Getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies, however scary for the economy, may be completely necessary to avoid global crisis. And here we have states destroying their own progress. Spain recently approved a Sun Tax. ¿De verdad? ¿Estas loco? Tax the sun?! Which basically ruins any advantage the solar renewable industry had over competing energy sources.
Apparently it also isn’t enough that they are ignoring efforts to stop burning fossil fuels, they are also attacking those who would change this mindset. In France before the summit 24 environmental activists were put under house arrest. And if house arrest isn’t scary enough for you, last year the number of green activist deaths per year rose to 116. Why is there a triple digit death counter for activists? The group Global Witness has pointed out that this number could even be higher. “In Honduras and across the world environmental defenders are being shot dead in broad daylight, kidnapped, threatened, or tried as terrorists for standing in the way of so-called development,” said Billy Kyte, a campaigner at Global Witness. “The true authors of these crimes – a powerful nexus of corporate and state interests – are escaping unpunished. Urgent action is needed to protect citizens and bring perpetrators to justice.”
Ah yes, the powerful nexus. The shadow businessmen, with grey suits, smooth cigarettes, and quaaludes. The Bruce Waynes of the world, running around in capes. However, it is you picture them they continue to insist that economic security comes before environmental security. This bold and cold assertion may be the biggest road block to a convention or agreement that works. It is also ironically contradictory to the Pentagon’s January report over global warming and potential risks it will cause as a ‘threat multiplier’. From terrorism to disease we will be facing a new world of fear in the near future. The Department of Defense is willing to admit it. The money junkies are all too ready to deny it. The politicians are ready to ignore it. So it looks like it is up to the people (again) to bring about the ideal change we need.
If you are reading this, you at least understand English. A perfectly adequate language to communicate ideas. And through language we acknowledge history. We can understand that humans are awesome machines capable of making the very planet they inhabit uninhabitable, from Easter Island to the Dust Bowl. And all people of all nations can cooperate and find solutions that work for everybody. Many countries, like Germany and other in the EU, are leading the way in green technology. Unfortunately, in the USA we have a House of Representatives barely willing to admit that global warming is a threat, not to mention possibly one of our generation’s greatest challenges. Fortunately, there is a bright side to globalization. NGOs and individuals are organizing and sharing information and strategies across borders on how to get better results and better domestic policy when it comes to climate change action.
To find a model for appropriate climate change action one should no longer look up to the shining capitol on the hill, but at the bottom of the hill. Closer to the water. Ask; what would Fiji do? Under its national climate action plan, Fiji pledged to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It also promised to cut overall emissions from its energy sector by 30% by 2030 compared to business-as-usual, conditional on it receiving climate finance from industrialized nations.
And if you think that high ground will save you remember that global warming is a threat to all ecosystems, but it is an even greater threat to colder climates in the Northern Hemisphere. If you still are not convinced you need to vote for a climate aware representative let us say for a laugh, that pollution, emissions, reliability on non-renewables, that all this does not in fact cause climate change. Let us pretend the kids will be alright. Any human being still shouldn’t have their water poisoned, their daily commute turned into a choking hazard, and their children’s future and their own wellbeing beholden to an economic model that can’t possibly sustain itself in any real sense of the word. We are still waiting for McGovern’s 1972 revolution and for Obama’s change, but only we can give ourselves that through democratic participation and institutional change. There is no reason the USA can’t make an amendment calling for the protection of earth and her shared and fragile ecosystems. As the earth continues to warm we must not give into the fear of the free hand of the do what-ever-the-hell-it-wants market. The fire is rising, but now is not the time for fear…