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Historic event or a fraud? Critical thoughts on the Paris Climate Accord

By Saral Sarkar - posted Monday, 11 January 2016


Considering that so much depends on whether global warming can be arrested soon, it was no wonder that all thinking people had turned their attention to Paris, where on 13th December the COP21 "successfully" ended, with great jubilation. I too followed the process through the media.

Positive and Negative Reactions

A day after, I read the following comments: "Today is a historic day: as tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Paris, politicians finalized a major new global climate agreement". And "It's a fraud really, a fake,"… "It's just bullshit…"1 The first was made by May Boeve, the US national organizer of 350.org, a big NGO, that is playing a leading role in the climate justice movement, the second by James Hansen, a former NASA scientist, considered the father of climate change awareness. Which one can we regard as the correct assessment?

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Given that nobody in my position has the time and energy to read all the reports and comments on the COP21, I hope that my readers would forgive me if I have overlooked some important point in the agreement or an important comment on it. But fairness demands that I also mention a middle position, for example that of Thomas Friedman, a liberal columnist of the New York Times. He wrote:"I had low expectations for the U.N. climate meeting, and it met all of them – beautifully. I say that without cynicism. Any global conference that includes so many countries can't be expected to agree on much more than the lowest common denominator."

That is understandable. As far as I could follow, nobody had big expectations. But then I do not understand how May and other prominent people of big NGOs can be so enthusiastic about it. Bill McKibben wrote: "With the climate talks in Paris now over, the world has set itself a serious goal."  I have doubts. Was the goal really set seriously? Friedman wrote: "But the fact that the lowest common denominator is now so high [he means the target 1.50 Celcius] – a willingness by 188 countries to offer plans to steadily and verifiably reduce their carbon emissions – means we still have a chance."  Again I have doubts. I would very much like to agree with Boeve, McKibben, and Friedman. But at present at least, I cannot, for reasons I shall present below.

Why Call it a Fraud?

I too think, like Hansen, the accord was a fraud, but for reasons very different from those of his. I think it was only because they were afraid of being branded as the guilty in case the COP21 failed to reach an agreement that the major CO2 emitter countries reluctantly decided to sign this very weak paper. But paper, as the Germans say, is patient. If you want evidence, then look at the position with which the government of India went to Paris. Only a few months before the COP21 began, the government of India had announced the policy decision to double India's coal production in the next 5 years. Just a few days before he left for Paris, Mr. Javadekar, India's environment minister, had said in an interview: "I'm asking the developed world to vacate the carbon space so that we can park our development."

Retorting to US Secretary of State John Kerry's criticism of India's decision to double its coal production, Javadekar had remarked it was "absolutely unfair and unacceptable," especially since the CO2 reduction targets announced by the developed countries would fail to arrest the climate change crisis, which they had a historical responsibility of fixing after a century of pumping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.He also warned the Americans against "bullying" India.

Or take the case of Norway, very rich in oil and gas. Just twelve days after they signed the Paris accord, the prime minister of the country said:"We believe that in a situation in which we shall have attained the goal of Paris, there will be demand for Norwegian oil and gas."

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So they are continuing with all the plans and projects for extracting oil and gas from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. While claiming that they want to protect the Arctic from the effects of global warming, they are speculating on the melting of the arctic ice that will make more access to oil and gas possible. It seems they are saying (in German): Wasch mir den Pelz aber mach mich nicht nass, or (in English): We want to eat the cake and have it too.

These are actually irreconcilable positions. We can formulate them as two most fundamental controversial questions:

(1) Should the underdeveloped countries be allowed to develop their economies to the level reached by the USA or Germany?

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About the Author

Saral Sarkar is an Indian academic resident in Germany who writes about Eco-Socialism.

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