Review: Climate Justice after Paris talks

FullSizeRenderSeven reasons why the Paris talks are unlikely to deliver climate justice

“A great diplomatic success but it won’t stop climate change” is how James O’Nions summarised the deal struck last December in Paris.

James, Head of Activism at the campaigning organisation Global Justice Now, said it was an achievement in getting 196 countries to sign up to tough targets. But flaws in the agreement mean the targets are unlikely to be reached in time:

  1. 1. We won’t hold the global average temperature below 2° C above pre-industrial levels unless countries make drastic changes

The countries agreed a target of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. In order to do this, they would have to stop burning fossil fuels completely by 2030. But nothing in the Paris deal itself suggests that’s likely to happen. The new agreement doesn’t take effect until 2020 by which time the chance to achieve the 1.5-degree goal will have already gone – unless all of the world’s largest economies dramatically change course. If you add up the commitments to new projects already in the pipeline, they will produce 3% global warming.

  1. 2. No legally-binding targets

It seems incredible, but there are no penalties if any country does not achieve its target. Even the maligned Kyoto agreement had some binding targets. The UK government has decided not to change its policies as a result of Paris. New Zealand has just agreed 9 new projects for gas and oil exploration. The US, Canada and Australia all missed their targets under Kyoto. In short, it looks like business as usual.

  1. 3. No new money for the global south

Developing countries need financial support to develop in climate-friendly ways if they are to avoid burning all the fossil fuels that developed nations burned to achieve their wealth. Earlier climate change treaties agreed the principle. The amount of financial support needed has been estimated at $400 billion every year. The rich nations promised $100 billion. They actually give $2 billion. Again, there is nothing binding in the Paris deal to make the support happen.

  1. 4. Paying for the damage already caused by climate change was off limits

Developing countries also need financial support to pay for the damage already made by climate change. It’s not charity – rich nations have a debt to them. But the US said it would not come to Paris if reparation was discussed. Island nations already being submerged will get no help. Countries where people’s livelihoods have shrunk as their forests and lakes shrivel will get no help.

  1. 5. There was no mention of leaving fossil fuels in the ground

Over 80% of the world’s remaining fossil fuels need to remain in the ground if we are to slow climate change. Stating that clearly would have set a clear goal for governments. But it is not there. Even a call to “reduce international support for high-emissions investments” was struck out at the behest of the big oil producers. All the agreement now aims for is “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”.

  1. 6. Paris has the same carbon trading loopholes that undermined the last global climate deal

Kyoto established the principle of carbon trading, so rich nations could ‘buy’ carbon credits from poor nations – buying the right to emit. It didn’t work and the market in carbon credits collapsed in 2012. There is an attempt to revive it in the Paris treaty but the date to sort it out has been deferred, and anyway there is no evidence it can work.

  1. 7. Carbon pollution from international shipping and flights hasn’t been included

Carbon emissions from international transport already have as much climate impact as emissions from the whole of Germany, or South Korea. Emissions from international flights are on course to triple by 2050, and emissions from shipping emissions are set to quadruple. Yet the shipping and aviation industries have managed to lobby to be excluded from any responsibility. How come?

James answered the question – what can we do? with suggestions including:

  1. Put pressure on the government to stop undermining mechanisms designed to increase availability of renewable energy. For instance they should bring back the Feed-In Tarrif which paid for electricity generated by solar, wind or hydro turbines. The government stopped the scheme recently.
  2. Campaign against TTIP and other trade deals which allow big corporates to sue governments if the government’s policies affect their profits. Such deals give polluting companies more rights, and delay change.
  3. Create alternative infrastructures to bypass governments and corporates. Examples are communities which set up their own energy generation schemes.
  4. Campaign for energy democracy and renewable public energy.
  5. Yes we should all take the steps to reduce our own role in carbon emissions, like turning the heating down, but we also need to lobby and vote for policies which reduce carbon emissions, like building regulations which make ‘heat-free’ houses the norm.

James O’Nions
James heads up the activism team which supports Global Justice Now’s network of local groups, and which organises its main public events. James has a background in anti-globalisation and anti-war activism and has previously worked at the Campaign Against Arms Trade. He was also an editor of Red Pepper magazine for five years. He was involved in getting 150 Global Justice Now activists to Paris to take part in the civil society protests during the talks.