Kirstine Rysbjerg Munk
When COP15, The United Nations’ World Climate conference, was hosted in Copenhagen in 2009, environmentalists from all around the world gathered in a substantial protest. The addressed message was unavoidable: “There Is No Planet B", “It is now or never”. A movement was shaped, buzzing with hope and expectation. There was hope for the rise of a better and more united world, and the expectation that COP15 would respond seriously to climate change. But despite of 50,000 protesters and the assembly of over 100 countries a consensus around a world climate agreement was far from reached.
Three days ago, on December 12 at COP21 in Paris, 196 countries finally met the aspiration of an agreement on climate change. World leaders such as American President Obama and United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and climate specialists such as the European Union climate chief Miguel Arias Cañete have subsequently celebrated the results of COP21 as historic and ambitious. So far this characterisation has equally dominated the media.
Nonetheless, this is not necessarily the view of all world leaders, academics or those within the climate change movement, many of whom rightly argue that this agreement might be a good start, but most significantly, that it is also not enough.
Jamie Peters, an anti-fracking campaigner from Friends of the Earth, a non-governmental organisation, described the notion of a successful COP21 as “ludicrous”. Speaking to The Manchester Magazine, he said: “This agreement is not enough to stop runaway climate change. The outcome of COP21 takes us on the road to a 3 or 4-degree warmer world. The best part [of the agreement] is the inclusion of 1.5 degrees as a target to limit warming but it is not strong and is an aspirational target rather than a binding one.
“Historically responsible countries should be clearly mandated to respond to their historical carbon debt by leading on emissions reductions and making financial transfers to aid the developing world to respond to climate change.”
Joel Smith, Activities and Development Officer at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, and who has been widely involved with local environmental campaigning, has similar points of critique towards the outcome of COP21. In an email to The Manchester Magazine, he wrote: “The worst outcome is for climate justice in that the proposed funds for mitigation – made available by the worst historic polluters – are drastically lower than required by developing countries.
“This [agreement] is a glimmer of hope. In the meantime it's down to people to keep pushing governments and industry to create the change we need for the planet to survive.”
If we aspire to conquer climate change, more serious commitment is needed.
James Hansen, a former NASA scientist and now an academic at Columbia University, told the Guardian: “It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
Internationally, nationally and on a community level the climate change movement seems to agree. COP21 proved that a world agreement was feasible. But suggesting COP21 solely as a victory is not only risky but also wrong.
The agreement mostly depends on whether or not each country decides to act with respect to the world agreement. The past has shown that even binding international agreements on carbon emission cuts such as the Kyoto Protocol 1997 can fail. Thus, the fact that most of the COP21 agreement is not legally binding but instead voluntary effectively weakens the strength of the agreement.
While the results of COP 21 are promising, the ideal agreement should have included clear, binding penalties for those countries not fulfilling their quotas. Furthermore, incentives that would ensure the diminishing value of fossil fuels should be implemented on an international legally binding level.
If we aspire to conquer climate change, more serious commitment is needed. Unless this commitment becomes evident in the near future, COP21 in Paris this year risks becoming just another failed climate agreement in the line of Kyoto 1997 and Copenhagen 2009. And such a scenario is unacceptable. TMM