The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in December last year in Paris. Climate change is another area, like global trade and finance, where the dead hand of the Western corporate elites via their countries’ governments chokes the life out of any attempt at a more just, equitable and sustainable world. As they have done in every other sphere requiring global cooperation, the Western elites and their allies continue to deliberately obstruct majority world initiatives for Climate Justice, reneging on previous agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, so as to dishonestly evade paying for their historic responsibilities.
After the comprehensive failure of the 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen, climate change discussions focused on resurrecting some kind of post-Kyoto consensus. The Copenhagen summit failed because the United States and its allies, refused to accept binding commitments associated with the Kyoto Protocol which was agreed in 1997 but only came into effect in 2005. The United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. After the farce in Copenhagen, the COP17 summit in Durban set up the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). Dominated and co-opted by the agenda of rich Western countries, this process ended up promoting a system of non-binding voluntary commitments known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
At the COP21 meeting in Paris last year, the Western powers rigged the summit’s proceedings so as to rubber stamp the INDC system, producing the ridiculously hyped Paris Agreement. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement is non-binding. That is the fundamental reason it will fail. To achieve the proposed targets, the Paris Agreement means that at some point within the next twenty years the world will need to achieve close to zero carbon emissions so as to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2% in the rest of this century. The agreement has to be signed by 55 countries before it comes into effect and will become open for signing on Friday April 22nd 2016 at a ceremony at the UN in New York.
Nicaragua is one country that has explicitly rejected the Paris Agreement. In a visit to Tokyo last March, Dr Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s representative to the COP21 summit, argued that the Paris Agreement will definitely not meet its target limiting global temperature increases to 2oC. Dr. Oquist explained that the operational details of the agreement indicate a likely average increase in the range of 2.7oC to 3.5oC. He was referring to conclusions from reports like one by the UNFCCC Secretariat issued just before the Paris summit last December stating that, based on information of proposed reductions in carbon emissions, “The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7oC by 2100”. For its part, Nicaragua calculates that the country INDC’s submitted for December 2015 will generate a total of 55 gigatons of CO2 by the year 2030, implying an average global temperature increase of 3oC.
Since that is a global average, the Paris Agreement in fact condemns most developing countries to face future temperature increases of over 4oC or perhaps even 5oC. Here’s Paul Oquist talking to a reporter who asked him to comment on one of the preliminary pre-COP meetings early in December last year prior to the Paris summit: “Beautiful speeches but we have to see the mechanism though, because the way things stand now the agreement will take us to a 3oC world and in most of the developing countries that becomes 4oC and quite obviously that’s absolutely unacceptable. That is a threat to our agriculture. That’s a threat to our cattle grazing. That’s a threat to our fisheries, to our forestries.
“So actually we have to see results. And the results need to be something better than to say “Oh we’ll spin the INDC wheel in 5 years and see if it comes up better.” It won’t come up better. And it won’t come up better for the following reasons. If you’re shooting for 2.7oC as the median, you’re not going to come closer to 2oC. You’re going to go further away from 2oC. Also a lot of developing countries have conditioned their INDCs on receiving finance and that finance is nowhere to be seen. Then also you have the fact that the low levels of ambition have led us to this 2.7oC to 3.5oC temperature range instead of the 1.5oC the developing countries want and the 2oC that the developed countries want. So that low level of ambition will lead to under-execution too of the commitments.
“So there has to be another mechanism and that other mechanism has to be based on historical responsibilities. The 10 largest emitters are responsible for 72% of the emissions. The 100 smallest are responsible for 3% of the emissions. If you’re the CEO of a company and you have an overrun that you reckon is in the range of 2.7 to 3.5, let’s say billions of something, and you want to bring it down to the 1.5 to 2 range that’s acceptable: are you going to work on the hundred cases that have 3% or on the 10 cases that have 72%? It’s a no-brainer. The only way you can get that reduction is out of the big emitters.
“Prince Charles said something very interesting today, that it would only take a 1.7% reduction in consumption to put us on track. That would indicate that it’s doable. But it’s not doable because there’s no willingness to make any sacrifices on the policy sphere and that’s why we have this very poor level of ambition….It’s a matter of the developing countries surviving. 4oC is not a survival track for Africa, but a track for hell, with the Sahara advancing. 4oC is not a survival track for India and Pakistan with the glaciers melting in the Himalayas. 4oC is not a survival track for South East Asia with the typhoons. Remember that just this week, the World Meteorological Organization’s Secretary General Michel Jarraud told us we’re already at 1oC. ”
Nicaragua has received support from several other countries for the uncompromising stand it has taken against the Paris Agreement. India, Bolivia, Venezuela and El Salvador all agreed in principle with the arguments made by the Nicaraguan government’s team. It remains to be seen how many countries will go as far as Nicaragua and refuse to submit an INDC as part of the follow up to the Paris Agreement. When asked if Nicaragua would, after all, submit an INDC, Paul Oquist replied, “We’re not going to submit because voluntary responsibilities is a path to failure. It’s a failed mechanism that’s leading us down the road to 3oC, 4oC, 5oC. It’s a mechanism to let the target float. It’s like if you have a fixed interest rate and a floating interest rate and this will float according to whatever comes out of the INDCs. We don’t want to be accomplices to taking the world to 3oC to 4oC and the death and destruction that that represents.”
Apart from the fundamental built in failure of the mechanism of INDCs, Nicaragua also criticized the Paris Summit’s failure to create a mechanism to ensure the creation of the proposed US$100 billion fund to be contributed by wealthy developed countries to finance the costs of adaptation to climate change by impoverished developing countries. In Nicaragua’s case, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has estimated the cost of adaptation at almost US$2 billion, just under 20% of the country’s gross domestic product or more than a whole year of the Nicaraguan government’s budget. That is without the additional costs of increasingly more frequent natural catastrophes. The cost to Nicaragua of recovering from Hurricane Mitch in 1998 ended up being around US$3 billion, the same amount calculated by President Rafael Correa to rebuild following last weekend’s devastating earthquake in Ecuador.
Recent history shows that the wealthy Western nations never fulfill the commitments they make to fund multilateral initiatives, like the proposed fund to help less developed countries adapt to climate change. On the contrary, rich country attempts to manipulate the COP21 summit in Paris included brazen efforts to strong-arm weaker countries into accepting the concept of Universal Responsibility in addressing Climate Change to replace the concept proposed over many years by less developed countries of Shared but Differentiated Responsibilities. The impoverished countries of the majority world argue against the obvious injustice of expecting them to assume proportionately similar historical and current responsibilities and their costs as those of the great industrial manufacturing powers of North America and Western Europe in order to address Climate Change.
For that reason, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega insisted in his message to the United Nations General Assembly last year, “The government and people of Nicaragua hope that from the Paris COP21 Conference will emerge a commitment to Climate Justice along with an indispensable Indemnification Policy, converted into direct and unconditional Cooperation. Those responsible for the emissions, and responsible for the climate depredation, degradation and dislocation must recognize our losses and contribute to recovery so as to reinstate the Right to Health and to Life of our Mother Earth and of the peoples of the world.”
All the signs are that the Western corporate and allied elites, via their governmental proxies, will in fact intensify their unending assault on the impoverished majority world. As Paul Oquist noted in an interview immediately following the COP21 summit in Paris, the rich country organizers deliberately gerrymandered the timetable of the summit’s proceedings precisely so as to prevent any discussion of issues relating to Climate Justice: “In the end, lamentably, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius quickly closed the Meeting of the Paris Committee, opening the COP21 Meeting and then approved the COP21 Document by acclamation…We protested this antidemocratic procedure of the COP21 presidency, which is an attack on multilateralism and above all on the right of small countries to participate, not just on behalf of Nicaragua but a series of other developing countries that Fabius did not recognize, by closing the Committee of Paris and the COP21 in the way he did.”
The antidemocratic, purposefully built-in failure of the Paris Agreement will become increasingly more obvious over the next couple of years. It will be the countries of the majority world that pay the highest costs of climate change. In the same way, that the Doha Round of trade talks seeking global trade justice have been rendered irrelevant by Western corporate elites imposing their agenda by means of mega-trade deals, the Paris Agreement will be rendered irrelevant too. The Western powers will never willingly contribute to climate justice for the majority world. Climate justice, as well as trade and economic justice, will only come about when the countries of the majority world finally combine in a determined way to defend their common interests against the endless aggression of the global corporate elites and their bought and paid-for, anti-democratic, rich country governments.