Friday 30. July 2021
#189 - January 2016

The Paris treaty : a historic moment for humankind

For many people who have been engaged in climate negotiations or those who have reported on the yearly Conference of the Parties (COPs) to the UNFCCC, the Paris Conference was a historic moment.

There are so many different and complex aspects to the treaty. These include commitments to reducing or eliminating greenhouse gases from our industries, transport and our homes in the 21st century. It also envisages helping poor countries adapt to the reality of climate change through establishing a General Climate Fund of $100 billion annually. Finally, rich countries have committed themselves to making clean, non-fossil fuel technologies available to poor countries.


Major compromises

Towards the end of the second week of the negotiations, it became clear that no country would get everything it wanted. In fact, major compromises had to be made. A lot of credit for the agreement must go to the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius and French diplomats. Since COP 20 in Lima in December 2014, they had lobbied every single country in pursuit of a deal. They took time to ensure that the three major pollutants, the United States, China and India would sign up to the deal. During the final negotiations, French diplomats worked tirelessly to achieve compromises. The food was good and each person was given a re-usable water bottle to refill from coolers to help prevent waste.

Many of us who have attended previous COPs, especially the failed COP in Copenhagen in 2009, remember the frustration and anger we experienced when two weeks of negotiation failed to produce any viable treaty.

At most of the COPs which I attended during the past decade, the Catholic Church was barely visible, but at COP21 in Paris, the reverberations from Pope Francis’ powerful encyclical Laudato Si’ could be heard. Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told the COP-21 UN Climate Change Summit in Paris we “cannot remain blind to the grave damage done to the planet, nor can we remain indifferent to the plight of the millions of people who most bear the burden of such destruction.


In order to show his own support for an agreement in Paris, Pope Francis sent two black shoes to Paris to be displayed with thousands of other at the beginning to the Paris conference.


A significant outcome

So, significant progress in addressing climate change was achieved at COP 21st in Paris. According to Professor John Sweeney, climatologist and emeritus professor of geography in Maynooth, Co. Kildare, “the 31 pages of the Paris treaty provide a roadmap for tackling the worst extremes of global climate change. The future pathway to sustainability has been laid out for 195 countries, virtually the entire global community, to offer present and future inhabitants of Earth hope that human-induced climate change can be contained.”

According to Lord Nicholas Stern, a British economist who has worked tirelessly on the economics of climate change, the Paris treaty is “ a turning point in the world’s fight against unmanaged climate change which threatens prosperity. It creates enormous opportunities as countries begin to accelerate along the path to low-carbon economic development and growth.”


Still much work needs to be done

The agreement which each nation had made to cut greenhouse gases before they arrived in Paris, would result in a 3.7 degree Celsius rise and not a 2 degree rise. So, there is a huge amount of work which needs to be done in this area. The deal encourages countries to reach the global peak of greenhouse gases emissions (GGE) as soon as possible. But there is still a lack of clarity about what this might mean precisely.


Regrettably, aviation fuel and bunker fuel for ships are however absent from the agreement. Currently these account for the emission equivalents of Germany and South Korea combined. Both of these sources account for more than 7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. They need to be included in the text in COP 22 which will take place in Morocco from 7-18 November 2016.


Also a lack of adequate consideration of human rights is also apparent, an ironic omission occurring in the draft issued on UN Human Rights Day! There was also no real acknowledgement of the fact that climate change makes life much more difficult for many of the women of the world, especially those living in poorer countries.


Despite major omissions, the Paris agreement demonstrates that global cooperation has the potential to steer everyone on a safer path for both people and the planet.


Fr Sean McDonagh, SSC

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