COP22: an international conference poised to be much more decisive than predicted
Par Pierre Calame le vendredi 29 janvier 2016, 09:46 - Lien permanent
“The Paris agreement is 'the best possible outcome' given the UN's agenda and the current form of international negotiation, yet it still falls far short in regards to the real challenges that lie before us. It is therefore the terms of international negotiation and the UN's agenda that need to be reviewed, and COP22 in Marrakech could play a decisive role in this regard.”
The final stages of COP21 were entirely consistent with the theatrical spectacle that I outlined in my blog posted several days earlier: on the final night of the conference nobody agreed on anything. The following morning, the conference's president Laurent Fabius whisked a draft agreement out of his hat of which the key features had clearly been negotiated with the leaders of several influential countries, and, since there was no time left for dialogue, the agreement was approved by acclamation – the Nicaraguan troublemaker's attempt to protest was quickly nipped in the bud so as not to spoil the party. Everyone took a second to heartily congratulate each other on this historic agreement, and then jumped on their planes, impatient to move onto the next thing.
According to seasoned veterans of COP and other international conferences, the agreement that was reached in Paris was the “best possible outcome”. The French team – Laurent Fabius, Laurence Tubiana and even François Hollande – did the best they could. That's all very well, but does this mean that the agreement constitutes an historic step and will save the climate? Laurent Fabius believes it does, or at least pretends to believe it does. In an interview with Le Monde on January 12th, he stated that “the term 'historic agreement' is justified (…) it is the first diplomatic pact in the world and for the world (…) without wanting to sound ostentatious, it is, in its purpose, the most important agreement of the early 21st century.”
In its purpose perhaps, but not in its content! The distinction is important. Because there is also another way to see the agreement: it may be the “best possible outcome” given the UN's agenda and the current form of international negotiation, but it still falls far short in regards to the real challenges we face. It is thus the terms of international negotiation and the UN's agenda that need to change.
Nicolas Hulot, media figure and Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet summarised the situation to Le Monde on January 10th: “Only time will tell whether this agreement is the beginning of something extraordinarily ambitious or the end of an ultimate deception”. Whichever it may be, the Paris agreement marks the end of one era and the beginning of another.
What concrete progress has been made? There are three identifiable areas: the climate has become everyone's business; countries' voluntary commitments could potentially become enforceable; and most significantly, the schizophrenic nature of international negotiations, which has characterised them since the 2012 Rio Summit, is now clearly out in the open, with the much-repeated admission that there is a gap between the “international community's” commitment to keeping the average temperature increase well below two degrees and the reality of “countries' voluntary commitments”. But does this admission actually signify any real attempt to change things? And if so, how is this to be achieved? Or is this a new kind of cynicism, a congenital mental illness of the UN that we are growing accustomed to?
Whether it be due to cynicism, irresponsibility or powerlessness, it is unfortunately the latter theory that is most likely to be true. Because if each country is asked to revise their commitments as soon as possible, in order to make them more ambitious, the fact of confining countries' responsibilities to the commitments they have taken obviously does not encourage them to commit to very strong objectives.
As for the promise made by developed countries to provide at least 100 billion dollars per year to support developing countries, making this a floor commitment is not going to miraculously make the money appear. There has been no mention of where this money will come from – whether it will come from the private or public sector, or how this great jackpot will be distributed: progress made in Paris is also of a purely declarative nature.
We might act as if naming and shaming is enough to push countries into commitments that are more in line with curbing global warming, that salvation will come from individual initiatives, or even that the drive of non-governmental bodies will make up for the inertia of governments. But aren't these just new pipe dreams?
Taking a look at the “Lima-Paris Action Agenda” that covers the commitments of non-governmental bodies, there is the feeling that there is a clear gulf between talk and action, especially because the majority of initiatives seem intentionally vague. To cite a few examples:
- There is talk of some thousand investors, representing thirty billion dollars in assets under management, ready to disclose the carbon footprint of their portfolios. Fantastic... But worldwide assets under management represent ninety thousand billion dollars, i.e., three thousand times this amount. And does this concern only the direct carbon footprint of the companies in which the investor holds shares or all of their value chain? Who knows? Yet the distinction is crucial.
- The “divest-invest” movement, which incites foundations and investors to divest from fossil fuels and invest (potentially) in renewables is commendable, and has had a successful snowball effect. Yet who would want to invest in fossil fuels with the current drop in oil prices – which has incidentally also had the effect of boosting car production (in the US, SUV sales rocketed in 2015).
- California and Baden Württemberg's Under2 MOU initiative brings together hundreds of regions and cities committed to limiting greenhouse gas emissions to two tons per capita by 2050. According to the promotors, this figure corresponds to the amount necessary to keep warming under two degrees. Great! But does this commitment include energy embodied in these regions' imported goods? I was unable to find an answer to this question anywhere. And yet this kind of energy now represents a third of Europe's total energy consumption, and this figure will automatically go up as developed countries outsource energy-intensive production and reduce internal energy consumption in line with energy efficiency policies.
Are rich countries ready to change the rules of international trade in order to promote sustainable production chains? The subject remains taboo – as is the subject of recognizing the climate as a global commons, and that of the sovereignty of countries over their natural resources.
I have heard that COP22, to be held in Marrakech in 2016, will not have the lustre that Paris did, that it will be purely technical, as if all that was now needed was to tighten a few bolts in order to make the agreement fully operational. What a joke! The reality is that by November 2016 we will need to acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes, that the Paris agreement is just a list of good intentions and that it is now time to get down to the serious questions.
Marrakech is a good choice. It is the gateway to Africa, a low emitter of GHG and a direct victim of climate change. One of the breakthroughs in recent years has been exposing the fiction of the “G77 and China” coalition, which brought together countries with extremely different economic realities. In this respect, COP22 seems even more important than COP21, provided:
1. A coalition of vulnerable countries is formed, which includes the Sahel region of Africa, the Pacific islands, the Philippines, certain other ASEAN countries, Bangladesh, etc. Such a coalition should be able to together come up with proposals that address:
a) The need for a global tax on fossil fuels, the funds of which should go towards building another development model (see the document attached to the European Commission proposals);
b) The need for countries and governments to assume international responsibility for the climate as a commons, proportional to their responsibility (past and present) for climate change;
c) The need for national GHG emission quotas (this goes hand in hand with the commitment to keep warming well below two degrees).
2. The need for the European Union to wake up and capitalise on the Netherlands presidency of the EU (second half of 2016) and the French presidency of COP (until 30 November 2016) by:
a) Putting forward innovative proposals, such as those I suggested in my letter to the President of the European Commission in 2015;
b) Actively supporting a coalition of poorer countries in order to back their demands;
c) Breathing new life into the European project by assuming a global leadership role in shifting towards sustainable societies;
d) Using its market power to put rules of foreign trade in line with the climate issue.
At a time when the EU Member States no longer share any common vision, such an approach could have a unifying effect.
Are these empty dreams and fairy tales missing a magic wand? I don't think so. The words of Seneca have never been so true: If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.