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Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Andreas Sieber, who has worked for several NGOs and the Saxon State Chancellery in Germany, is part of the Climatetracker project. Giselle Bernard is a Franco-British social sciences student based in London and works as a journalist with a keen interest in international and climate politics. Ivo Bantel is an environmental journalist and part of the Climatetracker project.
“Every government seems to recognize now that the fossil fuel era must end and soon”, said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. Two months after the deal was reached at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties 21 (COP21), it is time to see to which extent these words have translated into concrete action.
World leaders agreed to limit global warming below 2°C and to aim for 1.5°C. They also decided to achieve carbon neutrality in the second half of this century – an obvious blow to the fossil fuel industry.
Brian Ricketts, Eurocoal’s Secretary General, said that his industry will be “hated and vilified in the same way that slave-traders were”.
Since the climate climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the prices for solar panels droped by about 80%.
“All of a sudden, it is really easy to see what we should do instead of burning oil, gas and coal” McKibben told IPS. But according to him, the Paris agreement is far from enough: “I hope no one came away from Paris with the idea that we’ve won such big victories that we won’t have to do anything anymore”, he told IPS. “The problem of course is that we are way behind.”
This becomes especially clear looking at the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), i.e. the countries’ pledged contributions. They will only bend the warming curve — from 3.6°C with current policies to 2.7°C. But the contributions are far from enough to limit global warming to 2°C or 1.5°C.
According to Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent scientific analysis group, only five countries submitted INDCs fully consistent with the 2°C limit. Major emitters such as the USA, the EU, China or Brazil, especially have to revise their INDCs, since they will most likely cause global warming exceeding 2°C. Globally scaled, the climate pledges of many countries such as Australia, Canada or the Russian Federation would actually lead to global warming of more than 3°C.
Also troubling, is the lack of ambition for climate finance. It is a matter of justice that rich nations provide financial support, especially to developing countries struggling against climate change. Copenhagen set the target of $100 billion to be provided by developed countries. The Paris agreement, in contrast, contains no quantitative target. It merely states that there should be a progression beyond previous efforts, but postpones the revision of the already insufficient $100 bn target to 2025.
Crucially, a framework for accounting and reporting is also missing. Discussions on such a framework were again pushed back to 2018, effectively leaving the intervening years a “Wild West” in climate finance.
The silver lining here is the call for voluntary contributions, to which countries seem to have been responsive. In September 2015 already, China had made a pledge of $3.1 bn to support developing countries in their action against climate change and in terms of greenhouse gas reduction, the Paris agreement already seems to be making an impact.
Until recently, Vietnam had the biggest coal development plans in Southeast Asia — about 70 new coal power stations. This matched the operating coal capacity of Japan. But in January, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the any further coal power projects would be cancelled. In his statement, Nguyen referred to the Paris agreement and assured he would “responsibly implement all international commitments in cutting down greenhouse gas emissions”. China also imposed a moratorium on coal mining for the next three years and US president Barack Obama halted coal mining on public land.
Even if the INDCs are not enough, they should at least be implemented. After all, COP21 is just the beginning, rather than the world’s final attempt at combating climate change.
The Paris agreement is hardly sufficient to meet its own long term goals, but it contains a so called ambition mechanism. Starting in 2020, countries have to update their climate pledges every five years and make new pledges which are more ambitious. Climate Interactive has calculated how much the climate pledges have to be scaled up to limit global warming to 2°C or even 1.5°C: All countries emissions have to peak before 2030 and industrialized countries have to cut their emissions far more deeply than they are currently planning.
Beyond the legal document that COP21 produced, it was also an event which mobilized international civil society. “There was not that much follow-through if you add up all the voluntary pledges countries made. But at least they gave us this tool to work with.” Bill McKibben said.
Civil society’s mobilization is perhaps the component that will bring about more ambitious climate action or, as former United Nations’ Secretary General Kofi Annan put it: “ordinary citizens” can “help bring about the change we need and encourage our leaders to actually lead”.
For Bill McKibben the fight against fossil fuel companies as he calls it has just begun in Paris: “From now on, when anyone wants to propose a new coalmine or a new pipeline, we’re going to say “you can’t do this because you’ve said you’ll try to keep the temperature from going up more than a degree and a half and clearly that’s not compatible.”