Sunday 13 December 2015

Climate justice cannot be achieved simply by addressing 'environmental' issues

By Brian O'Connell, volunteer, CAFOD

The pale, dim sentiment in the language of the final Paris agreement does not even begin to reflect the spectacular and dazzling opening lightshow from the Eiffel Tower two weeks ago. But the outcome of this summit was never going to match the expectation generated by the pre-conference spin and campaigners should celebrate the small progress which has been made. When you put nearly two hundred countries around a negotiating table, any progress is going to be slow. Nevertheless, this is the first time in history all the nations of the world have agreed a single document on how to tackle climate change.

It is good news that the agreement acknowledges that voluntary climate change commitments - INDCs given by many countries before the opening of the conference - simply aren’t enough to keep global warming to below the two degrees Celsius limit. But organisations like Cafod (which welcomed the Paris agreement saying it “opens a new chapter for action on climate change”) wanted a fair and just legally binding deal that limited temperature increases to no more than 1.5C. What the document says is global temperatures should be kept “well below” 2.0C and that countries should “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C. However the agreement allows for an increase in ambition by opening the door to five yearly reviews with the first global stock-take to take place in 2018.

Cafod also advocated for an agreement which would phase out fossil fuels entirely in favour of 100% renewable energy by 2050. While this deal does not set a mid-century deadline for full phase out of fossil fuels, it does make clear that the world must transition to a low carbon future. But taking more than 35 years to decarbonise is too long: a deadline of sometime in the second half of this century does not reflect the urgency with which governments will need to act in order to avert disaster.

Finance to help poorer countries to adapt to climate change had been a sticking point throughout the negotiations. Developed countries have reaffirmed their commitment in the deal and recognised their historical responsibility. The agreement requires rich nations to maintain their $100bn a year funding pledge beyond 2020 and to use that figure as a "floor" for further support agreed by 2025. Other countries are invited to join in on a voluntary basis. This represents progress on money but it’s still under 8% of worldwide declared military spending each year.

Perhaps most worryingly, human rights has not been included in the binding part of the agreement. A key message from campaigners and advocates here in Paris had been that climate justice cannot be achieved simply by addressing “environmental” issues. Climate change is directly linked to poverty, hunger, food insecurity, injustice and inequality. This message was heard inside COP21 over the past two weeks but it has been sidelined in the final agreement.

However, for the campaigners who have gathered in their thousands in Paris over the past two weeks, the non-binding part of the text does give some hope for the future. They certainly wanted a lot more from the negotiators – what they got was a roadmap. And despite the fact that the words “fossil fuels”, “oil” or “coal” do not even appear in the text, there is an acknowledgement that damage has been done. The climate justice movement must now be radical in leveraging that acknowledgement to make it clear that those still promoting fossil fuels are on the wrong side of history.

Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD, said: “For poor people living on the front-line of climate change this deal offers hope for a brighter future, but not yet the security that we’ll get there quick enough.”

There’s no doubt the shortage of binding obligations in the deal means it will still be a race to abandon fossil fuels and to slow global warming before irreversible damage is done. But the starting gun has been fired in Paris. And that in itself is a good enough reason to light up the Eiffel Tower.

Brian O’Connell is a volunteer with CAFOD

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