Bumpy Road to Paris

Climate change is a global reality. And Climate denial too is a global reality. People from Seattle to Fiji are filing lawsuits over global warming. But finally climate action withers away before it takes off. 2014 was the hottest year on record. If governments fail to find a way to stop global warming, people are likely to be cooked, not in the distant future. True, it has become somewhat fashionable for environmental intelligentsia—liberal intellectuals, public interest litigation-oriented lawyers, human rights activists and concerned scientists—to bend themselves with much expression of urgency to the challenge of global warming. But most of them seem constitutionally and functionally incapable of dealing with the underlying situation that derives it. In the end it is business as usual, only to hope against hope that government leaders around the world will respond positively. US officials began to fret about climate change by 1965 and yet America remained the biggest source of global warming. Fifty years ago, they knew exactly what was happening and how to stop it. But they didn’t react. Even today they just ignore the timetable of catastrophe.

A new climate change agreement is to be adopted in Paris in December, but there are big differences on how to reach a fair deal, and the negotiations are tough.

No doubt one of the biggest global events this year is the UN Climate Summit in Paris in December.

Negotiations for the Paris agreement are now taking place in Bonn. Old unresolved issues have re-surfaced, with sharp divisions between developed countries (the North) and developing countries (the South).

It's hard to see how they can be settled in the remaining three meetings, including the Paris conference. But a deal in Paris is a political necessity, so somehow the differences have to be bridged, or else papered over.

There are two requisites for a good climate deal. It has to be environmentally ambitious, meaning that it leads the world to reduce emissions so that the average global temperature does not increase by more than 2°C (or 1 .5°C, according to some) above the pre-industrial period.

That present temperature has now exceeded by 0.8°C. With global emissions increasing by about 50 billion tonnes a year, the remaining "space" in the atmosphere to absorb more emissions (before the 2°C limit is reached) will be exhausted in three decades or so.

The deal also has to be fair and equitable. The North, having been mainly responsible for the historical emissions and being more economically advanced, has to take the lead in cutting emissions as well as transferring funds and technology to the South to help it switch to low-carbon sustainable development pathways. Whenever this issue is raised they just keep the South in good humour by talking turkey.

This equity principle is indeed embedded in the UN Climate Convention, which will house the new Paris agreement, and which is now conducting the negotiations.

The South countries insist that this principle be at the centre of the new agreement, and that indeed it has to be since it comes under the Convention.

But the North countries are most reluctant. They claim the world has changed, and all countries (except the least developed) should be treated the same way.

By this they mean that a new regime should be created in which all countries should undertake the same emissions reduction obligations now, or in the near future.

In the interim, all countries should contribute in various ways to cut their present and future emissions. And they should do this, even if they do not get funds and technology they ask for.

The developing countries are concerned that this is aimed at shifting the burden of change away from the North to the South. Moving from the present cheap oil-based energy system to one based on renewable energy, and other transformations, requires a social, economic and technological revolution that is costly. And the South cannot afford it.
The fate of climate and humanity's future, depends quite a lot on the Paris Conference. But if past experience is any guide nothing dramatic and positive will emerge from the Paris Meet.

The reason is simple. Today corporates dominate everything and there is none to stop them. They enchain humanity to the task of their continuance. They reproduce continually through exploitation of natural resources—forests, wildlife, soil—burn fuels insatiably—coal, oil, natural gas—and ultimately spits their foul wastes into the air and waters in a cycle of production that is unrelenting. World environmentalists identify the problem variously as corporate greeds, political corruption, scientific invetability and all that. But the real problem lies in allowing the corporates to do unfair business this way—they have been doing it for so long. Corporatisation is a global mode of production that is inherently, structurally, inescapably ever-expanding. Its sole aim is constant loot and accumulation—people are merely collateral damage.

Climate change mashes up environmental, moral, meteorological, economic, political, scientific and industrial challenges. It took more than 25 years of international climate talks for global emissions to even stabilise. Slashing climate pollution may take even more time, Paris Summit or no Summit.

Vol. 48, No. 19, Nov 15 - 21, 2015