The Paris Pact

Hailed as the first truly ‘Global Climate Deal’ committing both developed and developing countries to reining in rising emissions blamed for warming the planet, the Paris Pact on Climate, sets out a sweeping, long-term goal of eliminating net man-made greenhouse gas output this century. But the underlying thrust remains to shift the burden of reducing carbon emissions to emerging economies. The final agreement was essentially unchanged from a draft unveiled earlier during negotiations, including a more ambitious objective of restricting the rise in temperatures to ‘‘well below’’ 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, a mark, scientists in general believe could be a tipping point for the climate. Until now the line was drawn only at 2 degrees.

The Pact envisages a system to encourage countries to step up voluntary domestic efforts to curb emissions and provides billion more dollars to help developing countries cope with the transition to a greener economy, powered by renewable energy. The agreement requires each country to set its own goals for greenhouse gas reduction, and to ratchet up those commitments every five years. Many its provisions are not binding—especially on the United States. Whether ‘voluntary efforts’ will work or not is open to question though 187 participants from as many governments submitted their national plans for how they would contain the rise in greenhouse gas emissions before the climate summit began.

Six years after the previous climate summit in Copenhagen ended in failure and acrimony, the Paris Pact appears to have created a unified global stance, a mere stance, to combat climate crisis. Maybe, cheerleaders are too optimistic about huge scope for climate business as they have already begun to count on how to spend trillions of dollars to replace coal-fired power with solar panels and windmills. But the sceptics don’t see a positive action plan to decarbonise the global economy anytime soon.

True, some climate activists across the globe reacted favourably while warning it was only the first step of many. In other words, they think and quite rightly, it is just not enough. Not many people are in agreement with UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon that ‘the Paris agreement is a victory for the people, it is a health insurance policy for the planet’. In many respects the deal is still vague and not for nothing from the outset some climate crusaders criticised the draft for setting too low a bar for success. And scientists warned that the envisaged national emission cuts will not be sufficient to keep warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Vulnerable low-lying nations who are facing the existential threat of rising seas hoped that the summiteers would try to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). For them the threat is very imminent and real as Olai Uludong, ambassador on climate change for the Pacific island state of Palau, said, ‘‘Our head is above water’’.

Some developing countries are happy that rich nations have made a pledge to pump a $100 billion a year funding beyond 2020, to arrest global warming. But climate business will be done by climate multinationals of developed countries—the donors—and at worst politicians and government functionaries in Third World countries will benefit.

They call the Paris Pact a landmark climate accord. But the crux of the matter lies elsewhere : Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the last major climate deal clinched in 1997, the Paris Pact will also not be fully legally binding treaty, something that would almost certainly fail to pass the US Congress. But before the beginning of the Summit US President made it clear that the Paris Pact would be legally binding. In the end big polluters and emitters have no reason to worry because the pact is ‘historic’ with a lot of loopholes. If a Republican President is elected in America next year, he may seem the Pact as dangerous and detrimental to American interests. Then it will be back to square one.

Vol. 48, No. 25, Dec 27, 2015 - Jan 2, 2016