The World is Broken and the Hypocrisy of COP 21 Isn’t Going to Put it Back Together

December 10, 2015

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image Removed

Signs of the civil society protest inside COP 21, December 9, 2015.  Photo:  Friends of the Earth International.

Hypocrisy can take many forms, but at COP 21 it has one underlying purpose:  to deceive others for one’s own gain.  It comes in sizes both large and small.  Sometimes it is in what is said, sometimes it’s not saying what you know (think ExxonMobil’s own climate science).  Sometimes it means not calling things by their names, or giving things names that mean the opposite of what they say (“climate-smart agriculture”).  Sometimes it’s touting a solution that doesn’t solve the problem (“carbon trading” or the REDD reforestation scheme), or using the same word to refer to diametrically opposed visions for the world economy (“sustainable development”). 

And sometimes it’s just out in the open, a brazen display of power, right in your face.

There is plenty of hypocrisy and deception here in Paris to go around. 

The US plays this game to win.  All the big emitters, led by China, and followed by the European Union, Russia, India, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and the rest, are players.  The dirty energy companies, the banks, big agriculture, and their corporate partners around the world stand off to the side, calling the plays and standing to win big.

The latest version of the proposed Draft Outcome, issued by COP 21 President Laurent Fabius on December 9, has reduced the climate treaty text from 48 to 29 pages.  It consists of a 15 page “Agreement” in the form of 26 Articles, followed by a 14 page proposed draft “Decision” text, which lays out the results of COP 21 and touches on matters that while important to the outcome, have not made it into the Agreement, thus improving the chances that parts of it can be legally binding but watering down the whole.  It is all sleight of hand.

We should look at some of its peculiar propositions with an eye to spotting the planet-killing hypocrisy that the COP is serving up to us as the first big step to save the Earth.

Fossil Fuels:  That Which Cannot be Named

The fossil fuels which are inexorably warming the planet do not appear by name anywhere in the text.  The battle over their future is being fought out in Article 2 where the debate over 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming is going to decide among three options:

Option 1 : below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels,

Option 2 : well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels [and to [rapidly] scale up global efforts to limit temperature increase to below 1.5 °C] [, while recognizing that in some regions and vulnerable ecosystems high risks are projected even for warming above 1.5 °C],

Option 3 : below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Option 2 may well be the winning formula for bringing together intractable foes over options 1 versus 3.

The fate of fossil fuels is also linked to Article 3 of the Agreement which covers “Mitigation” of greenhouse gases under two options for the “Collective long-term goal” of the countries:

Option 1 : Parties collectively aim to reach the global temperature goal referred to in Article 2 through [a peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking requires deeper cuts of emissions of developed countries and will be longer for developing countries; rapid reductions thereafter to [40–70 per cent][70–95 per cent] below 2010 levels by 2050; toward achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions [by the end][after the middle] of the century] informed by best available science, on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Option 2 : Parties collectively aim to reach the global temperature goal referred to in Article 2 through a long-term global low emissions [transformation toward [climate neutrality][decarbonization]] over the course of this century informed by best available science, on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

This is a great example of the significance of bracketed text, which means words that are not yet agreed to by all.  Removing either the brackets or the text is where all the action and drama is now taking place. 

Article 3 asks:  Should we aim for a fixed percentage of emissions reductions and decarbonization, and if so, should this be on the order of the decisive cuts that climate science requires us to choose (70-95 percent by 2050)?

Or, on the other hand, should we accept the fossil fuel corporations and countries that want no mention of any percentage reduction, or the least possible, or failing that, a vague “climate neutrality” or “net zero” for emissions in the global economy?  These formulations would keep the door open for the continued extraction of oil, gas, and coal based on the assumption that we will figure out ways in the future to extract as much greenhouse gases as we produce.  They also want any statements that phase fossil fuels out to take effect only at the end of the century rather than 2050, needless to say.

Both sides in this battle have made sure to soften the effects of the other’s option being preferred, so the negotiations over mitigation targets look to be long and hard.  This matters, but no matter which targets are chosen, the fact remains that current pledges of the countries will take us to 3 degrees or more.

This is the hypocrisy of something not said in the text.

Free Trade and Unfree Governments:  Burning Carbon while the World Fiddles around

Much later on, bracketed Decision item 33 proposes that “Unilateral measures shall not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade.”

This impenetrable formulation implies that free trade and other agreements will continue to hamper countries’ efforts to take climate action should those countries “restrict” a corporation’s freedom to operate.  Among other things, it could be used as grounds for legal action taken against governments, regions, or cities trying to ban or stop particular fossil fuel operations, whether drilling, transportation in pipelines or on trains, or the construction of ports and terminals for their export abroad.

The counter to this vision of unchecked free trade is a bracketed proposal for an addendum known as Article 3 ter, titled “Mechanism to Support Sustainable Development.”

It is highly significant that a competing clause from the previous draft that had caused concern among climate justice activists has been dropped from the negotiating text here.  The deleted text called for a mechanism to “Provide for net global emission reductions through the cancellation of a share of units generated, transferred, used or acquired,” a proxy for carbon markets and other offset programs which have so far done little to reduce emissions.

Whether this is a substantive victory of course remains to be seen.  Things have a way of sneaking in through the back door or behind closed doors at a COP.  Maybe not prohibiting something explicitly is as good as including it in the text.

The draft article 3 ter does contain text that appears to be intended as an alternative to the abuses that market mechanisms inevitably bring with them:

A mechanism is hereby established to support holistic and integrated approaches to sustainable development in harmony with nature, to be available to assist [developing country] Parties … including, in a balanced manner, mitigation, adaptation, provision of finance, technology transfer and capacity building [emphasis added].

This seems more in keeping with the climate justice demand for a different kind of development that is ecologically sound and protected from rapacious corporate designs, although one must doubt that the wording is strong enough to prevent its abuse by governments and corporations.

US hypocrisy on Loss and Damage

Although references to “the needs of developing countries” abound, sometimes together with reference to those that are “extremely vulnerable,” the text on Loss and Damage was unchanged as of Wednesday and reported as still under deliberation.  This promises to be a major sticking point in the final hours of negotiations, made all the harder because the US has been telling small island states and others behind closed doors that it cannot accept a Loss and Damage mechanism with real teeth.  Nitin Sethi,senior associate editor at the Business Standard in India, reports that the US will only accept language on this subject that states:  “The Parties recognize the importance of averting and minimizing loss and damage from climate change… The Parties commit to continued implementation of the Warsaw International Mechanism under the Convention, in accordance with decisions of the Conference of the Parties and on a cooperative basis that does not involve liability and compensation” [emphasis added].

Sethi reports:

“Midway through the negotiations, the US is showing its true colours by proposing a specific exclusion of any future compensation for loss and damage.  Such a move belies the US’ empty rhetoric of solidarity with vulnerable nations,” said Harjeet Singh, Climate Policy Manager at ActionAid International and an observer focused on this element of the climate negotiations.

“From their point of view, in the shape of Loss and Damage the developed countries see a tiger cub in the room and they want to break its teeth before it learns to hunt,” said a developing country negotiator.

In other words, the US, EU, and other wealthy countries refuse and fear the notion that they bear any legal (let alone moral) responsibility for the extreme weather that has proven especially deadly when it strikes the poorest, most vulnerable nations and people.  But this is precisely what “climate justice” entails:  that those who are responsible for climate change are responsible for the damages it causes to those who are not responsible for causing the problem.

Thus, the one achievement of the negotiations at COP 19 in Warsaw with any potential to provide relief for those millions of people whose lives will be shattered in an instant by devastating weather in the future, would not survive the negotiations in any meaningful sense.  Sethi told Democracy Now! that “ as per all countries, I think there’s a big degree of game that they all play, a theatric that they play.”

How to Turn $10 Billion into $62 Billion

The Green Climate Fund was a face-saving promise made at Copenhagen in 2009 for the wealthy countries of the global North to come up with $100 billion annually by 2020.  Its purpose is to help others make the necessary infrastructural investments to avoid burning fossil fuels in their efforts to bring millions of people out of poverty, but it remains embarrassingly short of the necessary funds as the talks race toward their conclusion.

In fact, parties are not even in agreement as to how much money has been pledged, or is being transferred currently.  Wealthy nations cite a report issued earlier this fall by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (basically, Europe plus the US and Canada) that in 2014, $62 billion was devoted to this purpose.  But critics have noted that this sum includes loans, private funding, and export credits, whose “ultimate beneficiaries … are actors in rich countries – not developing countries, much less poor and vulnerable communities,” according to Senior Policy Analyst Brandon Wu of ActionAid, who represents developed country NGOs on the board of the Green Climate Fund. 

Laurent Fabius, who as President of COP 21 is the person at the center of the process, accepts this figure, saying there is only $40 billion to go.  India, China, and South Africa, on the other hand, strongly disputed the $62 billion figure on Tuesday, with India’s Economic Ministry claiming that the amount of real money transferred in 2014 could be as low as $2.2 billion, and with firm country pledges for 2020 stuck at the $10 billion level, according to the Green Climate Fund itself.

Simon Buckle, head of climate change at the OECD and lead author on the climate finance report acknowledged that “The question of what counts or doesn’t count in the $100bn is not for the OECD to determine.”  In a possibly ironic understatement, he noted: “We understand this is a hugely political issue.”

All of this makes plain that there is a huge gap on climate finance at the heart of the treaty text  that will need to be bridged by parties that are at odds on the issue of how much money there will be, what form it should take to constitute a real transfer of funds, and who will provide it.

Oh, and for some large-scale hypocrisy, let’s observe that $100 billion a year won’t even begin to address the adaptation problems of all the countries who need funds, which would be on the order of a trillion dollars annually at the very least, to start immediately, not in 2020.  Thus the debate is shifted from a just accounting of the North’s climate debt to the South to a fight over “crumbs,” according to some climate activists.  Compare this sum with the equivalent amount the US found very quickly to bail out its failed financial institutions in 2008-9, or the trillions it has spent on waging war for oil in Iraq.

A Coalition of the Ambitious?

One of the meeting’s big surprises so far has been the announcement on Tuesday of an informal new grouping of countries that is being called “the high ambition coalition,” consisting of the EU and many nations of the global South, whose numbers swelled to more than 100 when the United States and other countries joined the next day.  China and India remain outside it, and it may make problems for the Alliance of Small Island States to hold together, as some of its members have not joined, perhaps out of suspicion of EU and US motives. 

Such a coalition was originally proposed in July and has been kept secret until this critical stage in the talks.  One of its chief architects, Tony De Brum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, said : “We will be fighting for some very basic issues…. Strong recognition of the below 1.5-degree temperature goal, a clear pathway for a low-carbon future, five-yearly updates and a strong package of support for developing countries, including delivery of $100bn per annum.”

Whether this grouping really makes a difference remains to be seen (see the discussion of funding above), but it can be seen as a political coup for the United States and the EU, and it is certainly good cover for other US sins of omission and commission here. 

Like the groundswell for a 1.5 degree temperature rise limit, this development provides a glimpse into the frantic closed-door bargaining that must now be going on.

The Hypocrisy of the State of Emergency

When the French state decided the public demonstrations around the COP would be banned, it committed the ultimate hypocrisy of making free political expression illegal.  There is no justification for banning political expression in a democracy, and the hypocrisy of doing so under the ridiculous excuse that it couldn’t guarantee our safety was plainly shown when it started to arrest, teargas, and jail nonviolent activists in the streets of Paris.

To criminalize in advance any expression of criticism at the outcome of the COP on December 12 is to create a state of emergency, an emergency for the right to publically participate and voice an opinion in a democratic state. 

Ultimately, such an action is a dismissal of the basic well-being of humanity, in direct contradiction with the stated goals of the UN and the UNFCCC themselves, and only serves to illuminate the inconvenient truth that only radical social change will be up to the challenge posed by climate change.

The Big Lie:  COP 21 will Save Us

In the proposed draft “Decision” text, item 17 addresses the elephant in the room.  It “Notes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels resulting from the INDCs in 2025 and 2030 do not fall within least-cost 2oC scenarios, and that much greater emission reduction efforts than those associated with the INDCs will be required in the period after 2025 and 2030 in order to hold the temperature rise to below 2oC or 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels.”

What about Unintended Nationally Determined Contributions?  These are pledges, they are not commitments.  They are nationally determined, not collectively and equitably decided upon.  What happens when they are not adhered to?

Meanwhile, Article 10 on “The Global Stock Take” puts off till 2023 or 2024 the next such exercise, meaning we will live under the current INDCs’ unambitious 3 degrees of warming for another eight years before we even revisit the situation.  By then, more windows will be closed and thresholds of warming far greater than we should countenance will be facts on the ground, under the waters and in the air.  We will then be in a situation of chasing after incrementally smaller, more costly, more difficult improvements in reducing the odds our emissions efforts will enter into unpredictable and extremely dangerous (i.e. over 2 degrees of warming) territory. Here not only all bets are off, but runaway climate change becomes increasingly likely.

We are gambling with the future so that profits can continue to be made in a system incapable of meeting its minimum responsibilities to humans and to nature.  This is the big lie which voids the legitimacy of the treaty from the start.

The time to stop this climate game is now, the place is here, in Paris.

With the clock ticking down, and pressure growing to make bad decisions among poor options, the right thing to do is to declare timeout for a visionary change in the process.

The chances for this outcome – the great No that says yes to life – are dwindling, passing through our hands like sand in a glass, but they remain alive at the edge of the table and in the halls, or perhaps off the site, out of sight, waiting for their moment.


Tags: climate justice movements, COP21, international climate change agreements, social movements