The coming tragedy of Paris: A disastrous climate deal that will see the planet burn

By: Mary Louise Malig*

Like reading the ancient Greek tragedy of Homer, we are at the pages of the Iliad where we can see what hell ahead shall befall Troy. We are now in that exact moment, seeing in the horizon the fires that will burn for ten years. However, we are not looking in the horizon of the ill-fated Trojans, but rather, we are looking at the future of humanity, nature and the planet.

There are only 5 negotiating days left before the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). From October 19-23, 2015, the UNFCCC is supposed to hammer out the modalities of the Paris deal. At this point, we should have a good sense of what the Paris deal will be. After all, since the COP17 in Durban, South Africa, where the mandate to draft a new climate agreement until 2030 was adopted, there have already been a total of 85 negotiating days, a carbon filled amount of flights for 193 parties to the convention, and at the wayside thousands of dead and displaced from destructively intense typhoons, hurricanes, floods or droughts. In the Philippines alone, the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan, killed 6,000 and left thousands more homeless and without livelihood.

However, at this point, there is no agreed text yet for a Paris deal. Instead, there are a number of documents. First you have a “Co-Chairs Tool”(1) that lays out the possible scenario. At the last intersessional in Bonn in September, the co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) presented a tool for the negotiations that has three parts: The first part includes the issues that can be included in a potential Paris agreement, the second part those issues that will be listed in a decision and the third part includes those issues that need further negotiation and will neither be in the COP21 agreement nor decision. In the Co-Chairs tool, the elements of a Paris deal are clear: emission cuts will be voluntary, flexibility mechanisms will be continued, more market mechanisms will be proposed and accounting loopholes and techno-fixes will abound. Already, the term “net zero” emissions indicates an accounting trick because “net zero” is a term to mean you’ve balanced your accounting columns out. “Net zero” emissions therefore does not translate to zero emissions, which is what the climate urgently needs.

This week, the co-chairs of the ADP, Ahmed Djoghlaf of Algeria and Daniel Reifsnyder of the US, as mandated have produced, in addition to the Co-Chair’s Tool, a non-paper note by the Co-Chairs (2) in time for the coming intersessional in Bonn. There is certainly an element of Greek tragedy in the fact that one of the co-chairs is from one of the biggest emitters and the one who, as a matter of irony, never ratified the last climate protocol. The October 5, 2015 non-paper details a draft agreement and a draft decision for Paris. The Chairs have also issued a draft decision on workstream 2 or the pre-2020 ambition. (3) All these documents are still under negotiation.

Another critical reason as to why we know that Paris is going to be a deal that burns the planet, is that, as of writing, following the October 1 deadline of the UNFCCC, 119 submissions of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) have been made. This includes the 28 member states of the EU as 1. All major emitters are in these 119 submissions. These INDCs are the voluntary pledges of the countries on how much emissions they are targeting to reduce by 2030. (4) An issue of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development reporting on these submissions states, “although some estimates contend that the actions outlined thus far would result in a planetary warming of three degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, overshooting an international commitment by one degree.”(5) A recent study however by Stern etal, details that the reduction pledges from US, EU and China – who together account for 45 percent of global emissions will miss by almost double the 2030 target of 35 gigatons of CO2e emissions.(6) Emissions should be cut by 2030 to 35 gigatons of CO2e and with the current INDCs of the most important countries annual global emissions will be around 60 gigatons of CO2e in 2030.

AS IN THE ILIAD, TROY WILL BURN

This 2 degree target was internationally agreed on in 2007, after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fourth Assessment Report (7) which detailed that to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, that emissions had to be kept to below 2 degrees by 2020. It is now 2015, and the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report has come out to reiterate that danger and has even highlighted that “Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.” (8) This means that the longer the delay in reducing emissions, the higher the danger that the feedback mechanism of the climate system will go beyond the 2 degree “safe” limit.

This is the heart of the problem of the Paris deal. The emission targets of the countries are not under negotiation. They are voluntary promises that they may or may not implement and may even use market mechanisms to cheat their way out of. Emissions need to be cut deeply, at source, without loopholes or market mechanisms, today, not 10 years from now. The decade lost waiting to reduce by 2030, will be a decade lost forever. The climate system does not work like the movies – where warming stops the moment the protagonist saves the day – the emissions put into the system now will burn well beyond 2030. There may not be a planet to “save” by 2030.

The whole process being captured by corporations especially by the fossil fuel and extractive industry – the main source of emissions – is most evident in the support of business as usual. In the entire 88 pages of the Co-Chair’s Tool, “fossil fuel” is only mentioned once and only to encourage governments to reduce or eliminate incentives for fossil fuel subsidies: “52 a. [Parties [are encouraged] to [take steps to] [reduce][eliminate] [international support][public incentives] [for][phase down] high-carbon investments[, [including][and] international fossil fuel subsidies];] {paras 102, 103 and 113 bis d. SCT}” (9)

In the statement of the Climate Space, it reiterates the demand of social movements for 80 percent of the fossil fuel reserves to be left underground in order to stay below the 2 degree limit. (10) And how will this demand be met if the sponsors of the COP21 are from fossil fuel and large carbon emitting corporations such as EDF, Engie, Air France, Renault-Nissan and BNP Paribas? (11)

THE TROJAN HORSE OF CARBON ACCOUNTING & CLIMATE SMART AGRICULTURE

In addition to not addressing the main sources of emissions, the climate agreement, since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, has allowed the use of market mechanisms. The creation of this carbon market has led to the massive cheating by Annex 1 countries (37 industrialized countries), escaping their legal commitment to cut emissions by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008-2012. The Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanism allowed Annex 1 countries to “offset” their emissions by doing “clean development” projects in developing countries or by buying and selling their carbon credits.

The Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus (REDD+) scheme, the final rules of which are supposed to be formally adopted in Paris, adds significantly to this cheating by allowing countries to present any kind of tree planting or protection as a contribution to mitigation, even when such activities are not additional or permanent, or when they trigger deforestation in other areas or countries or are otherwise environmentally or socially damaging. It allows countries to commodify or even sell their forests as carbon sinks, ignores the real drivers of forest loss, but blames indigenous peoples and small farmers for deforestation instead. As the NO-REDD in Africa Network has stated, “Reports show that deforestation and the related emissions continue, and that REDD+, instead of reducing them, is harming and vilifying forest-dependent communities and those who produce the majority of the world’s food – small scale farmers.” (12)

The belief in carbon markets as panacea extends to the proposed Paris agreement, with proposals on the inclusion of land use related emissions and emission reductions. Already a loophole by itself in the flawed accounting approaches it proposes, combined with market mechanisms, will create an entire new grab for land as it creates a REDD+ for agriculture and soils.

The impermanence of land in the first place, makes it a far more theoretical carbon sink for emissions compared to the very real continued burning of fossil fuels. More importantly, the logic of carbon accounting determining agricultural policy means that agriculture will prioritize the needs of the carbon market rather than feeding people and that of food sovereignty.

The World Bank and other transnational corporations (TNCs) in the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture are pushing for this Climate Smart Agriculture – a system that produces more food on less land, while being weather resistant and absorbing carbon. The production of more food on less land is clearly supported by corporations pushing the use of GM seeds. But it is the creation of a new market for soils and agriculture that poses the greatest attraction to TNCs. Just how the monetary incentive of REDD+ displaced Indigenous Peoples, the potential financial gains will displace small farmers and add further to the already existing land grab. As La Via Campesina, the world’s largest movement of small farmers states, “Climate smart agriculture will lead to further consolidation of land, pushing peasant and family farmers towards World Bank Projects, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other institutions, creating dependency on so-called new technologies through their complete packages that include prescriptions of “climate smart varieties”, inputs, and credit, while ignoring traditional tried and true adaptive farming techniques and stewardship of seed varieties in practice by farmers.” (13) It continues, “The possibility of big profits with investments in carbon credits generated from farmlands involved in climate smart agriculture projects will increase speculation in the carbon market, leading to further “carbon land grabs” by large-scale investors and producers, and the further displacement of peasant and smallholder farmers, just as REDD displaces indigenous people. Under this climate smart agriculture framework, there is little hope of reducing and removing greenhouse gases, trying to solve food insecurity or any significant rural economic and social development.” (14)

CHANGE THE STORY, CHANGE THE SYSTEM

This story does not need to end in tragedy. In fact, it is being challenged valiantly, everyday, with all the daily struggles being carried out by frontline communities, Indigenous Peoples, small farmers, women, workers, students, activists and heroes and heroines of Mother Nature. The future needs to be reclaimed, the system changed and peoples alternatives be pushed forward.

The draft Chairman proposals for the Paris deal: the agreement and the decision – need to be squarely rejected. The real danger of a bad deal is the fact that it will lock us into a permanent agreement of business as usual of burning the planet. The extreme hype around the Paris deal being desperately needed to “save the world” is scaremongering people into accepting a disastrously bad deal. Reminiscent of the days campaigning against the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Agenda, the call for no deal is better than a bad deal, rings true. No Paris deal is better than a bad and false Paris deal – exactly because just like the WTO Doha Development Agenda has locked the world into unfair trade rules on food and agriculture; will a false Paris Climate Agreement lock the world into a laissez faire regime of polluting as always, countries making cuts when they feel like it, manipulating accounting loopholes to cheat their way out of emissions cuts, and using and creating even more market mechanisms to commodify, financialize and profit from the remaining resources of the planet. If we are to make Paris about saving the planet, then it should be about rejecting the false deal that is on the table.

The original Climate Convention that was adopted in 1992 and ratified by practically every country in the world, including the US and other big polluters, is a rather generic but important agreement. It obliges countries to prevent dangerous climate change and is firmly based on the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities. Ever since the Kyoto Protocol was established and introduced a cap and trade regime based on quantified accounting and flexibility mechanisms, the climate negotiations have moved nowhere but backwards. Legally binding commitments have turned into voluntary pledges, and then into intended nationally determined contributions. Common but differentiated responsibility has turned into a vague regime applicable to all parties, disregarding both historical accountability and responsibility of Annex 1 countries and the fact that those who have done the least are least responsible. The long-standing demand of real compensation for loss and damage has just been paid lip service with the acknowledgement of the impacts of climate change.

A no Paris deal scenario in December is not a disaster – it is an opportunity. It will create the space for a recuperation to the original goals of the climate convention to halt dangerous climate change by holding polluters to account. It would also create the space for community-driven solutions some of which are already in practice and are cooling the planet – from peasant agroecology and community-based sustainable energy solutions to community forest conservation. It would allow for alternative proposals such as holistic policies and measures that are not centered on carbon accounting and markets. It will give space for transformative measures to be implemented to accomplish the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals including the historical zero deforestation by 2020 target. There are many more alternatives and proposals that can be given space for – rights of nature, climate jobs, “buen vivir”, food sovereignty, degrowth, deglobalization, and many more.

A world without a Paris deal is not only possible, it is necessary if we are to avoid tragedy. There are no limits to the alternatives.

*Mary Louise Malig, a researcher and trade analyst, is Campaigns Coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition.

ENDNOTES
(1) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/adp2/eng/4infnot.pdf
(2) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/adp2/eng/8infnot.pdf
(3) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/adp2/eng/9infnot.pdf
(4) http://www4.unfccc.int/submissions/indc/Submission%20Pages/submissions.aspx
(5) http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/biores/news/un-members-adopt-post-2015-development-agenda-prepare-climate-talks
(6)http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Boyd_et_al_policy_paper_May_2015.pdf
(7) https://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_ipcc_fourth_assessment_report_synthesis_report.htm
(8) https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/
(9) http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/adp2/eng/4infnot.pdf
(10) https://climatespace2013.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/fight-for-system-change-now-why-we-need-to-build-alternatives-and-dismantle-a-process-that-will-lock-us-into-another-decade-of-burning-the-planet/
(11) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/29/paris-climate-summit-sponsors-include-fossil-fuel-firms-and-big-carbon-emitters
(12) http://www.no-redd-africa.org/index.php/declarations/147-durban-declaration-on-redd
(13) http://viacampesina.org/en/index.php/main-issues-mainmenu-27/sustainable-peasants-agriculture-mainmenu-42/1670-un-masking-climate-smart-agriculture
(14) ibid

One comment

  1. Thanks for writing all this up, and posting. Am trying to really understand “Climate Smart Agriculture.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: