Saving The Planet: The Global Climate Change Perspective After Paris:

Would it be safe to attend COP21? After the November 13th attacks on the Bataclan Concert Hall, nearby cafes and outside the Stade de France, that was an understandable concern for anyone registered for the event at the Le Bourget Conference Centre from 30th November – 11th December.

High-level protection would be provided for the 150 world leaders and other prominent personalities scheduled to make appearances during the two weeks, but what about all the other participants – the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) representatives, the volunteers handing out leaflets at the hundreds of stands in the exhibition hall, the thousands of accredited journalists, as well of course the catering staff?

CNBC (as did much of the world media) queried whether security would “overshadow the summit” and CNN reported that 2,800 gendarmes would be deployed to defend the conference venue located on the northern outskirts of Paris. At the Gare du Nord, the police seemed outnumbered by the groups of students in green COP21 jackets directing delegates to the correct platform – but were rather more in evidence when the train arrived at Le Bourget station, though the special coaches providing transport to the conference centre did feel a little vulnerable. Any lingering anxieties were replaced on arrival by the challenge of finding the way around a site so huge that shuttle buses were available to get from one end to the other.

There were a total of five Halls, comprising the exhibition section, the main media centre, the National Pavilions, the meeting rooms for delegates and the Plenary Auditoriums where the key sessions took place. The presence of some countries – such as Spain and Italy – was limited to offices where they focused on preparing for the negotiations. Others, however, – such as China, Indonesia, India, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and the Scandinavians – had opted for large display areas providing videos, seminars and an extensive range of glossy handouts.

So what exactly did all this achieve? On the 8th December, for example, a series of Ambassadors from (among many others), Trinidad, East Timor, Tajikistan, Kuwait, Venezuela, Tanzania, Guyana, Zambia and the Sami Parliament of Norway, were allocated 3 minutes each (though most took more) at the podium in the Plenary Auditorium where they all without exception demanded “action”. US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a presidential-style speech to the press the following day, likewise exhorted that they should “get the job done”, although he may also have annoyed many developing countries by declaring that they produce 65% of the world’s carbon pollution” – so “if all the industrialised nations went down to zero emissions, it wouldn’t be enough”.

Any offence caused by Kerry will have been at least partly soothed by Article 4 of the Final Draft of the Agreement published on 10th December: This recognises that “it will take longer for developing countries to begin reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and that each of them has to contend with different national circumstances, capabilities and responsibilities”. The same Article also obliges developed countries to “continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”.

The Agreement, though, has received a mixed reaction. Nicholas Stern, author of “The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review”(2006), has described “the commitment to limit the rise in global warming to well below 2 degrees centigrade and to pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees centigrade” as a turning point in the world’s fight against unmanaged climate change. The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has heralded it as “probably the most important international agreement in history”. Governments, he added, “have sent a signal to the private sector that the momentum towards sustainability cannot be stopped”.

Kumi Naidoo, the International Executive Director of Greenpeace, is somewhat less convinced. He considers that the text “contains an inherent, ingrained injustice. The nations which caused this problem have promised too little help to the people who are already losing their livelihoods”. For Leah Lamb of “Climate Justice”, the Paris Agreement “will be known as the Polluters’ Great Escape since it weakens rules on the rich countries, whose refusal to commit to either cuts or necessary finance puts the world on a pathway to 3 degrees centigrade and means we are sleepwalking towards climate chaos.”

Suzanne Dhaliwal of “No-Tar-Sands”, has dismissed the Paris accord as “Nothing more than a trade agreement: It promises to privatise, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes. These provide the mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south”.

President Obama has declared that the Agreement constitutes “The best chance we have to save the one planet we have”. An editorial in the Observer on 11th December acknowledged that “a start has been made”, though with the caution that “ A lot more will be required in the coming decades”. Its counterpart in the Sunday Times the same day was even more pragmatic: “The Paris deal will only work if countries decide it’s in their interest”>

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on December 14th, 2015 by Colin D Gordon

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