Deal or No Deal: The Perils of Climate Talks

There was a poignant reminder of our ingenuity at the beginning of the climate talks in Paris. Just a few short weeks after the atrocities at Bataclan and other venues around the city, protesters who had arranged to gather and demonstrate against government inertia over climate change were told they couldn’t for security reasons.

Instead, they laid thousands of shoes in the Place de la Republique.

As we step into the second week of climate change talks at COP2015, sceptics would be forgiven for thinking that we have all been here before. Last time in Copenhagen, talks fell apart and little or no agreement was reached, leaving delegates frustrated and the public at large pretty angry.

Of course, it’s difficult to bring 195 disparate parties together to sign an agreement that suits everyone and actually saves the planet.

Much was made of the major leaders stepping up to the podium on the first Sunday of the talks, each getting their five or ten minutes to say how important this moment was. They all sang from the same hymn sheet, raising the hopes of those watching from a distance that we had reached the tipping point and something, at last, was going to be done.

Of course, it’s one thing agreeing a protocol, it’s another thing altogether implementing it, even for some of the countries higher up the food chain. America is one of the leading polluters in the world and President Obama’s commitment to his environmental agenda was backed by the appearance of several democratic disciples who said they were determined to push things through and ‘watch the President’s back’.

According to Senator Ed Mackey:

“What you see here are people who are going to protect what the president is putting on the table here in Paris as a promise from the American people to the world. We are going to back up the president every step of the way.”

This kind of belligerence on the climate talks cat walk is welcome but back at home Obama faces tough opposition from mostly Republican representatives who have found ways to block and confound his climate change agenda, recently voting, for instance, to repeal his clean power plant rules. In other words, whatever the COP comes up with in this next week, whether it is a fully fledged attack on climate change or a watered down compromise, most governments are going to have trouble implementing their strategies.

These two weeks in Paris is the culmination of talks throughout the last year as various parties with hugely different priorities try to reach a coherent agreement. To us on the outside it seems like bureaucracy gone mad!

The much lauded draft document that has been produced at COP2015 is some 48 pages, but is made longer because of the inclusion of bracketed sentences, caveats that one country or another has wanted to include to signify their reticence about a particular stance or proposed protocol. What will undoubtedly be left then, once all the twilight wrangling is over, is a watered down version of a climate change agreement that isn’t fit for purpose.

There are plenty of splits that could consign any potential deal to the waste bin. There is a split on the goal of reducing global warming by 2 or 1.5°C and there’s concern that poor countries are having to take on too much of the load to simply help rich countries get richer. While the economic powerhouse of China, one of the major contributors to global warming along with the US, has come to the table and is doing its bit for the cause, others are concerned that poor countries are being asked to choose between starvation and saving the planet. And then there are issues over the contributions each country should make and how savings on things like carbon emissions should be made, measured and monitored.

While crowds gather and march in the streets, waving their banners and chanting at the inaction of our governments, behind closed doors earnest politicians and climate change representatives try to reach an accord. As delegates battle fatigue by working into the early hours there is a widespread sense that this agreement will be reached.

It will be different from Copenhagen.

The problem is, as always, whether this climate agreement will be too weak to make a significant difference. And, of course, it may all fall apart like before in the last few moments. After all, in Copenhagen they said an agreement would be reached and that hopes were high, until, of course, they suddenly decided there was no agreement at all.

Unfortunately for our children and their future generations, this is the last chance to ensure their prosperity on this planet and possibly their very existence. For those who seek to derail these talks and mortgage our futures over semantics and greed, may they be consigned to the history books for committing the most heinous crimes against humanity possible.

 By Steven M.

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