As the COP21 Paris climate change summit moves into its final hours, the French presidency at the talks has been steadily increasing the pressure on negotiators to get a final deal by the anticipated close of business on Friday evening. But with new drafts of the latest text being circulated every few hours it is becoming clear that this declaration is going to fall far short of what had been anticipated.
Climate change summits are notorious for running over time and achieving far less than over-hyped press releases had led observers to expect. In that, Paris may be little different from many previous summits. In the measured words of Pope Francis in Laudato Si, his encyclical on the earth as our common home, “Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world.”
As campaigners, NGOs and civil society observers meet in the margins in Paris waiting for the outcome, and with the memory of the 2009 the Copenhagen summit failure fresh in many memories, it’s easy to lose hope. That’s why it’s important to emphasise that Paris is nothing like Copenhagen. Each summit may be a milestone - some less significant than others - but it is the campaign which is the journey and the climate justice movement has travelled a long way in the six years since Copenhagen. While we need to make clear what we believe are the shortcomings of Paris we must not allow whatever comes out of Paris this weekend to determine the campaign’s ambition for the future. There will still be a long way to go so here are just a few broad headings which will still be on the “to-do” list after Paris.
- There was progress before Paris in the acceptance that a two degree Celsius increase in global warming represented the threshold of dangerous and irreversible climate change (and the extinction of some island states) and that 1.5 degrees should be the limit. There was also progress before Paris in the voluntary pledges to cut emissions (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs) from over 160 countries who together account for 90 percent of global emissions. But with the INDCs breaching the global warming limit at well over two degrees, the post-Paris work to scale up emission reductions in the short term will still be a priority.
- Also, with climate change affecting the poorest and the most vulnerable, it’s clear that another big post-Paris task will be the battle over recognition of the centrality of human rights in climate justice. In the words in Paris this week of former Irish President Mary Robinson, who now runs her own climate justice foundation, "We have to be on a pathway post-Paris that heads us in the right direction."
- It’s also clear that post-Paris there will be a massive amount of work to be done on climate finance and what differentiates the obligations of the developed and the developing world. Whatever the final language of the Paris document, the provision of climate finance by richer countries to poorer countries must ultimately become an obligation and not an option.
- There must also be an obligatory emissions-cutting review mechanism after Paris. Simply “inviting” countries to go further and review cuts in their emissions in 2018 will allow officials and negotiators to postpone tough decisions. Having made good progress on their targets already, the EU is one grouping which could represent low hanging fruit under this heading.
- After Paris it will be vital to campaign to make any gains under these headings legally binding. If this doesn’t happen, trade deals like the TTIP (currently under negotiation between the United States and the EU) and the latest round of World Trade Organisation negotiations could ultimately open the way to legal challenges against any future progress on climate justice.
In the draft versions of the text of the Paris agreement there are brackets around what is not agreed. Even if there are no brackets in the final Paris text, there will be much still not agreed but it won’t be the first – or the last - summit that has not lived up to expectations. So here’s a quote we should all be able to agree on:
“Worldwide, the ecological movement has made significant advances, thanks also to the efforts of many organisations of civil society. Thanks to their efforts, environmental questions have increasingly found a place on public agendas and encouraged more far-sighted approaches.”
That’s a thank-you from Pope Francis in Laudato Si (166). So whatever is in - or not in - the Paris text this weekend, let’s give ourselves a pat on the back anyway, take our selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower – and get back to work.
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