Will the COP21 negotiations in Paris on climate change really work?

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The Paris negotiations started in mid-November and are expected to reach a conclusion on the 12th of December. What are they for? Who will attend? And who will influence the decisions that are made?

So far, the talks appear to have only been dominated by corporate organisations and world leaders. According to Democracy Now, “the U.N. climate summit has come under scrutiny for its unprecedented level of corporate sponsorship — more than 50 companies, with some of them counted by climate activists as being among the world’s worst industrial polluters. Last Friday [4th December], climate activists gathered at the Grand Palais in Paris protesting the COP21 “Solutions” exhibition, where businesses were pushing for corporate and privatised responses to climate change. Several protesters were evicted from the premises by the large security presence at the event.” What has been the reaction to this?

Global Justice Now, stated “We believe that what is needed is system change, not climate change. This change will not be made by corporations or world leaders. Rather it will be made by us as a global movement of citizens.” How is this possible when the communities which are affected aren’t invited and are evicted by the French police?

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350.org posters for COP21. Photograph: 350.org

With the Paris terrorist attacks so recent, does it make the climate protests more or less significant; and does this affect the agenda of global leaders? Have the series of protests and demonstrations been held back as a result? In absolute terms, the answer is yes; demonstrations have been banned and security has been tightened. However, over 130 heads of state and government that were due to attend have not pulled out. This is a positive. Environmental activists appear to be more mobilised than ever, stating that COP21 is “The Climate Games”. On the last day of the summit, thousands of people are expected to converge around the Le Brouget summit. “Red lines” have been set up, namely ten different blockades dividing the cause upon which protesters feel are the most important for example equitable climate finance for poorer countries, or meaningful emissions reductions.

“It is going to be the largest mass civil disobedience climate justice action that we have ever seen in Europe,” said Prayal Parekh, a campaigner with 350.org. “We’re sensing a lot of excitement and appetite. It’s going to be colourful.”

The goal of the talks is to achieve a new global deal to curb emissions from 2020 and prevent the planet from catastrophic overheating (that is, over two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels resulting in irreversible changes to the weather, including droughts, floods, heatwaves, fiercer storms and sea level rises). So far this decade, every year has been hotter than every year before 1998 (see image below).

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Climate change in graphics: The state of the planet (www.economist.com)

Do the COP21 invitees have an impact on the destiny of our planet? Let me briefly present the proposed situation and you can decide.

According to The Economist, the politicians have set an impossible task which is to persuade developing countries that controlling climate change is more important than, potentially, the economic growth of their country. Heads of state are gathering with what appears to be different agendas. On the one hand those that have been through industrialisation and emerged out the other side, and on the other those who are still experiencing that process. Why should developing countries buy-in to an agenda that suits those that have already experienced this? The argument of the developing world is that there should be a two-fold process: one for those that acknowledge the need to reduce their historical carbon emissions based on their industrialisation experience, and those that are now experiencing such levels of industrialisation. Who is correct?

Now is not the time to be cynical, but to acknowledge the differing economic pressures of the parties involved. Protests are coming exclusively from the developed world, and yet there would possibly be protests from the developing world if these carbon emission restrictions were to be applied across all jurisdictions leading possibly to restrictions on growth, for example power cuts. An answer needs to be found that is satisfactory for all those involved but only the stakeholders in Paris are currently in the position to decide the policies.

So what can we do? How can we influence policy on a global scale and prevent a continued myopic view of the position? Is putting an internationally-accepted price on carbon the answer when the developed world has already taken its fair share? Should we, those who truly care about climate change sit on the side-line awaiting the outcome? Well, yes and no. The real policy-makers in this field are the developed world governments that are voted in by us. We, and those of the populace of the developing world, have a voice and an ability to influence, maybe not the meetings in Paris, but those meetings that follow. We have the ability, as a cross-jurisdictional voting group, to insist that carbon dioxide emissions will shortly reach unsustainable levels, and acknowledge that people, food sources and livelihoods are dying as a result. We that care about such issues have a responsibility to ensure that we at least inform ourselves as to the issues and the implications of doing nothing.

In my next blog I will be looking at how the decisions taken by COP21 impact those of the developing world.

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