Friday 30. July 2021
#189 - January 2016

COP 21 – the long way from enthusiasm to implementation

The agreement reached by the COP 21 in Paris on december 12th was greeted with enthusiasm and recognised in general as positive, very positive even. José Ignacio García shares a first analysis.

Conférence des Nations unies sur les changements climatiques - COP21 (Paris, Le Bourget)

After several years of what has been called "the climate impasse" reaching an agreement is a very positive signal. While we are witnessing a world convulsed by conflicts, and where there is no real progress towards the global governance judged by many to be necessary, we must recognise that a unanimous agreement by 195 countries, on such a sensitive topic as the climate impacts, it is indeed a very positive step. We know already what it means when agreement is lacking: no capacity to develop effective policies, inability to generate the necessary funds, more chaos, uncertainty, and in the end, the imposition by the most powerful. This is never to the benefit of the most vulnerable. A deal like this, with all its imperfections, reminds us of the moral superiority of consensus, and the importance of the processes that generate it.


The aspirative limit to global warming is below 1.5 ° C, and certainly below 2 ° C. This is basically what the agreement says, that we are already at the limit of what is tolerable. When setting 2 ° C, and clearly pointing the desirable threshold of 1.5 ° C the agreement is acknowledging that the only possible path of security for the planet is the total reduction of the emissions of greenhouse gases. And this means that we should move towards a world where fossil fuels can no longer be part of our energy mix. We may or many not succeed, but with more patience than we currently think we can summon, all is possible. But now at least we know where the limits are.


Common but differentiated responsibilities

Political recognition of the different responsibilities cannot any longer be understood as an exemption from such responsibilities. And we are talking about responsibilities at many different levels: national, regional but also local. The Paris agreement allows a double, and even a triple speed, both in proposing the objectives and to monitor them. It will not be easy: with oil prices below the $50,00,[US] much political courage will be needed to promote renewable energies in the required amount, and this is something that oil-producing countries know very well. It happens, in a similar way, with those countries that spend millions subsidising an inefficient production of coal. The energy transition will need very courageous governments, and yes, although different everybody has its own responsibility.

An agreement of this kind is obviously very fragile, and not only because of internal failures (to establish very low targets, the lack of homogeneous monitoring mechanisms or simply if any state do not meet the objectives) but also other international agreements (on trade, biodiversity, patents) can limit, or reduce, the ambition of this agreement and even make it irrelevant. This is a piece of the global governance that needs to be inserted into a coherent framework of the international relationships. Only this coherence will allow the parties to implement the agreement with the required ambition.


Transparency and monitoring

It is not enough to set up a fund. It is not even enough to fulfil the financial engagements. There must be a system to ensure transparency in the use of these funds. Moreover, it is essential that these funds positively impact the life of the communities, especially of the most vulnerable. We cannot permit these resources to be spent on huge infrastructures, that only profit the western constructors companies; or even worse, to keep in power cruel and dictatorial rulers. The Green Fund cannot be a mechanism to perpetuate situations of poverty, it has to be a vector of social and environmental transformation. To follow all these processes we need a strong and cohesive civil society that can make the necessary monitoring.


At the end of these two weeks the question that remains in the air is that whether all this was necessary. And by "all" we mean a costly and stressful conference that gathers thousands of people, and that sometimes looks more like an spectacle than a political event. The question is that if we could develop a more harmonious, dynamic and efficient mechanism where problems could be solved without going through the drama and the intensity of these days in Paris. Maybe this catharsis is needed, this feeling of being close to the abyss is what forces us to react and to change the direction. But this this type purification, a leitmotif of Greek theatre, will only be successful if it makes a difference in the lives of those who already live in the abyss of poverty, exclusion, and vulnerability.  


José Ignacio García




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