By J Nastranis
Ban Ki-moon has reason to be sure that when he completes his second term as the Secretary-General of the United Nations end of December 2016, he would have left behind a proud legacy.
Climate change has been “one of the defining priorities” of his tenure since January 2007, when he took over as Secretary-General. In his remarks at the closing of COP21, Ban stressed: “Over the past nine years, I have spoken repeatedly with nearly every world leader. I have visited the climate front lines, from the Arctic to Antarctica and to the Amazon, from the Sahel to the Aral Sea. I have been to Pacific Islands that are sinking under the waves.”
He added: “Most of all, I have listened to people – the young, the poor and the vulnerable, including indigenous peoples, from every corner of the globe. They have demanded that world leaders act to safeguard their well-being and that of generations to come. Here in Paris, we have heeded their voices – as was our duty.”
The Paris Agreement on December 12, which Ban described in a tweet as “a monumental triumph for people and planet”, adding that “it sets the stage for progress in ending poverty, strengthening peace and ensuring a life of dignity and opportunity for all”, was greeted with loud applause and cheers. In fact, according to reports, “many delegates hugged, while others had tears in their eyes”.
If joy was writ large on Ban’s face it was no surprise. He joined the People’s Climate March with the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio as well as the French sustainable development minister, Ségolène Royal – ahead of the UN Climate Summit on September 23, 2014 to galvanize action on climate change. He told the marchers that there is no “Plan B” for action as there is no “Planet B”.
Though the Paris Agreement has not elicited positive response from all quarters, the overwhelming view is that COP21 for the first time brings all nations into a common cause based on their historic, current and future responsibilities.
“The Paris Agreement allows each delegation and group of countries to go back home with their heads held high. Our collective effort is worth more than the sum of our individual effort. Our responsibility to history is immense,” said Laurent Fabius, President of the COP 21 UN Climate change conference and French Foreign Minister.
The global web movement Avaaz – meaning ‘Voice’ – to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere, said in a media release December 12: “World leaders at the UN climate talks have just set a landmark goal that can save everything we love! This is what we marched for, what we signed, called, donated, messaged, and hoped for: a brilliant and massive turning point in human history.
“It’s called net-zero human emissions — a balancing of what we release into the air and what is taken out — and when the dust settles and the Paris Agreement is in the hands of lawmakers, clean energy will be the best, cheapest, and most effective way to keep their promise. This gives us the platform we need to realize the dream of a safe future for generations!”
A turning point
Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) agreed that the Paris Agreement is a “turning point”. He said: “The spirits of Paris have defeated the ghosts of Copenhagen! (The climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 failed because “everyone talked; but no-one really listened”.)
“Reason and moral combined at the COP21 to deliver a historical climate agreement that finally transcends national egotisms. The target of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees and aiming at 1.5 degrees is more ambitious than expected, yet fully in line with the scientific risk assessment.”
Schellnhuber added: If sincerely operationalized, the Paris Agreement will induce the de-carbonization of the world economy by the middle of this century. “The current emissions reduction pledges (INDCs) of most countries, however, are insufficient and have to be adapted to the new level of ambition in the next few years. Still, this is a turning point in the human enterprise where the great transformation towards sustainability begins.”
Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change said: “The Paris Agreement is a breakthrough. Earth’s fate now depends on how fast and how strong we implement policy instruments to actually reach the great target of strictly limiting global temperature increase and the resulting climate risks.”
The agreement explicitly acknowledges that the current emission reduction pledges, the so-called INDCs, will lead to increasing global emissions by 2030. Nevertheless, he said, the aspirational goal of staying below 2 degrees is not consistent with the pledges unless deep emission cuts at rates of about 6 percent per year between 2030 and 2050 are pursued.
“We need short-term entry points for climate policies that allow emissions to peak well before 2030. However, the institutional mechanisms in the Paris Agreement for emission reduction rates are vague: The monitoring and review process has to be clearly defined.”
The Paris Agreement mentions short-term entry points: carbon pricing and carbon markets. Edenhofer wants the Group of 20 industrial and developing countries to elaborate next steps to implement carbon prices. Financing and transfers provide the means to harmonize these carbon prices, he said.
“Whoever is building more coal power plants, however, is shutting the door to reaching the two-degree-target. We now more than ever need to avoid a global renaissance of coal – so we can transform the treaty into reality, and ultimately a better future for all,” Edenhofer added.
Dr Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics also described the Paris Agreement “a historic turning point for the whole world”. One of the most remarkable outcomes of the agreement is that its objective is to “pursue efforts to limit” global warming to 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial, while holding warming “well below 2 degrees C”.
In doing so, he added, the global community has recognised that the risks of global warming are far greater than previously understood, and that the scientific basis compelling very urgent action has never been stronger.
He added: “It is a victory for the most vulnerable countries, the small islands, the least developed countries and all those with the most to lose, who came to Paris and said they didn’t want sympathy, they wanted action.”
Paris has failed but the window not quite closed
Responding to the Paris deal, Lucy Cadena, Climate Justice and Energy Coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, said: “If the outcome of the Paris climate Summit was meant to keep the window open for a 1.5 degree temperature limit – crucial if we are to protect the most vulnerable people from the worst impacts, and to avoid runaway climate change – then Paris has failed.”
Cadena added: “But we must remember that the window is not quite closed. The energy transformation has long been underway and the huge mobilisations on the streets of Paris today show us who is truly leading us towards climate justice.”
Cadena continued: “Friends of the Earth International commends the work of communities and people everywhere resisting dirty energy and implementing real solutions to the climate crisis. Now, the climate justice movement has come of age. December 12th 2015 marks a turning point for the balance of power. We move into 2016 strengthened, united and more determined than ever to hold our national governments to account.”
The Paris Agreement calls for all the world’s nations to cooperate to peak global emissions as soon as possible and to undertake rapid greenhouse gas emission reductions bringing emissions to net zero in the second half of the century. Cardena added. “Importantly, this is to be done taking the best available science into account.”
However, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance did not share such positive perspectives. It declared: “The Paris Accord failed humanity and now we have to take things into our own hands and push at all levels of government. We know that the extraction of fossil fuels must end completely by 2050 to keep the earth from warming more than 1.5 degrees.
“The Paris Accord will now be moved into implementation at the national, regional, and local levels and we need to be organized to remain vigilant around the demand to keep fossil fuels in the ground, because anything short of that equals destruction.”
Via Campesina, representing farmers from around the world said: “COP21 has come up with an agreement that many worried in advance would offer nothing good for the peoples of the world. There is nothing binding for states, national contributions lead us towards a global warming of over 3 degrees Celsius – and multinationals are the main beneficiaries. It was essentially a media circus.”
However, it added, states know how to make binding commitments when it comes to signing free trade agreements. Those agreements threaten the democratic functioning of countries by merely serving the interests of multinationals. “Once more, it is clear that money dictates the law, even taking precedence over the future of humanity.”