The Paris Paradox

Daniel Mittler, Greenpeace International

We face a paradox post COP21: On the one hand, we now have a global agreement to fight climate change. It is good news that the world has come together to say: climate change must be tackled. Parts of the Paris Agreement are also real progress: a safer target of only 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is now the yardstick by which climate action will be judged. If achieved, such a target would keep many threatened countries safe. We congratulate the most climate vulnerable countries for the leadership they have shown in Paris, starting with an impressive resolution from the Climate Vulnerable Forum calling for 1.5°C and 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 on the very first day of the COP. While governments chose ridiculous convoluted language, they did, in the end, recognise the 1.5°C limit and translate it into a 'long term goal' that leaves no doubt about the direction we are going in. After Paris, we know that it is only a question of time until the age of fossil fuels is over.

But this question of time is a fundamental question of survival. The Paris agreement does not mandate the world to achieve the very target it proclaims. We knew before COP21 started that the emission targets currently on the table will not keep us below 1.5 - or even 2 - degrees of warming but set us up for a dangerous 3°C world. Indeed, if governments don´t ramp up ambition, we will use up all the carbon we can still use before we exceed 1.5°C before 2030 at the latest. The powerful, big emitters, in particular, must do much more than currently agreed over the next 15 years.

But while the deal fails to force governments to bring their actions in line with their rhetoric before 2020 – it does build momentum for more – and more immediate – action, formally and informally. Formally, there will be a review of targets in 2018 – and a clear expectation that they will be improved. There will also be a review of ambition every five years. Informally, President Holland in his closing speech announced that France would increase ambition and finance available for developing countries before 2020. That is the dynamic we hope to see following Paris. Other leaders must follow because we really do not have any time to waste.

While it is good that the deal confirms that the shift towards renewable energy we need is indeed inevitable now, it is disturbing to see that under the continuing influence of corporate polluters governments have failed to commit to a ‘just transition’ respecting workers rights and have failed to enshrine Indigenous Peoples rights as a key principle for climate action. Human rights were mentioned in an environmental treaty of this nature for the first time. But there is a long way to go to governments meeting their human rights obligations, which climate change undermines, as Amnesty and Greenpeace jointly pointed out in Paris.

However, Paris was never going to deliver climate justice. The fundamental economic rules of our planet are still hard-wired against sustainability and drive us to limitless growth without respect for planetary boundaries. Today, the World Trade Organisation Ministerial ends in Nairobi. That event will not get the media attention COP21 did, because they will have nothing historic and new to announce. But every day, existing WTO rules work to undermine sustainable development. And every day they are more powerful than the environmental agreements we negotiate at great length and pain. With free trade agreements such as the Trans Atlantic Investment Partnership or the Trans Pacific Partnership, this bad situation risks getting even worse. One of the tasks of the climate movement after Paris is therefore to stop these free trade threats! We must not allow corporate-dominated investment courts in particular to undermine the positive steps forward that Paris did bring.

The key issue, in short, is not what is in this deal but what will happen next. But we can enter that next fight with confidence.

The climate movement has shown its strength in the run up to – and in – Paris. It has to keep winning like it has been doing recently. Out there in the real world, coal demand is in terminal decline worldwide and after a dramatic change of energy policy in China we may have reached the global peak of emissions already. People power has also brought real trouble for the oil polluters: Shell and Statoil have had to retreat from the Alaskan Arctic, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. And while fossil fuels are in trouble, renewables are booming; more cities and companies than ever before have signed up for a 100 per cent renewable future in Paris – a true sign of hope, and of change.

We have a long way to go, and many fundamental obstacles, such as free trade agreements, are still in our way. Paris leaves us with a paradox, no more.

But following Paris, it is our job as civil society to hold our governments to the rhetoric and commitments they did make in Paris. In 2016, therefore, the entire climate movement will escalate the opposition to fossil fuels all over the world and drive the solutions needed. After Paris, I am confident we will make further progress towards a just transition to 100 per cent renewables for all in coming months. We are on the right side of history.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International