Why the COP21 Agreement Falls Way Short of What is Needed

By Oliver Ward

Last weekend’s gruelling late night talks concluded in La Bourget and Paris was finally able to celebrate something as COP21 talks resulted in an agreement signed by 195 nations.

Politicians linked hands, people were hugging and standing on desks. Like a work Christmas party, all that was missing was François Hollande with his tie round his head dragging everyone to the middle of the dance floor to boogie to Come on Eileen.

There was much to celebrate; a pledge to limit the rise in global temperatures to no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, an extra $100 billion to invest in cleaner energy solutions in developing countries and even 5,000 private global companies pledged to cut emissions.

The agreement was packaged as a milestone and a victory, but to sell it as this is dangerous. What is missing from the climate agreement in Paris is far more telling of the real situation. There is no mention of explicit emissions targets. In fact the words “oil” and “gas” do not even appear in the thirty-one page edifice. We are set to hit a one degree rise in temperature this year so you would think that to keep global temperatures below two degrees there would be no punches pulled and great scythes would be taken to the fossil fuels industry; unfortunately not. In fact if everyone in the agreement delivers their voluntary contributions we are still on course for a 3.5 degree temperature rise.

The omission shows the marriage to a magical ‘negative emission technologies’ which will reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere still exists in government. Projects like filling the ocean with Iron and blasting Sulfur Dioxide into the atmosphere have not reached workable efficiency yet, and the side effects are still unknown. Effective negative emission technologies have eluded us so far despite investment from advocates like Richard Branson. If these fail us then even just a two-degree rise looks almost inevitable.Similarly shipping and aviation are not mentioned making them exempt from any emission reducing commitments.

The important omissions give the whole agreement a feeling of giving just enough to sell the environmentalists a package to silence them, but leaving the fossil fuel burners to maintain a state of business as usual.

There were some positives to take from Paris. The agreement represents a change in mentality from previous COPs, Copenhagen saw delegates have to return home empty handed, and despite a senate full of climate deniers the US agreed to something. But the real source for optimism has to come from the public. The 29N protests saw the biggest global turn out to protest climate change yet, despite the governmental ban on protests, thousands still filled the streets around the Arc de Triomphe, and the knowledge shared at the Village of Alternatives in Montreuil a fortnight ago will stay with me for a long time.

Paris showed that politicians can talk the talk and turn their eloquent speeches to the topic of climate change but the time for rhetoric is almost over and the Paris agreement needs to be seen as a catalyst not as a solution. Let the politicians hug and link arms, but I doubt the residents of Lancashire nor for that matter in Chennai in India, or the Marshall Islands will.

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