January 03, 2016

Paris Climate Summit: How Long Will the Euphoria Last?

Tikender Singh Panwar

IT seemed that Paris would bring nations together to lay their commitment to climate change and reducing the carbon emission to ensure that there is a reduction of global greenhouse gases (GHG) to levels keeping average surface temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Finally the agreement was for 1.5 degrees Celsius. But is that true? Is this going to happen? The world leaders cheered about the outcome of the COP21 which continued for about two weeks, but how long is this going to last? Will this be enough to meet the standards and mitigate the disastrous effects? Whereas there is no second option about the urgency and necessity for reaching an agreement but how far will it address the issues is still to be seen.

The foremost issue about the Paris outcome should have been the direction of the vectors drawn to reduce the global temperature by 2 degrees Celsius (globally approved limit) and sharing the burden with the basis of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). For that to happen, emission of CO2 level needs to be brought down substantially since fossil fuels and the production of cement contribute to the largest share of CO2 emission. Hence one of the important elements should have been the grounding of fossil fuels.

The economies that are developing require energy to meet their basic requirements. For example, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) from India mentioned that the need to provide clean drinking water is still a task and 90 million (nine crore) people are out of it. Similarly more that 60 per cent of the houses are still to be constructed, and for every bag of cement to be used requires 800 kilos of CO2 for 1m3 of construction. So the task is immense and the need too is large.

So this happens to be the necessary requirement for developing nations to ensure that they march with the pace of development but with relatively low carbon development strategies. But how is that going to happen? That happens only if they have the technologies for alternative development. For example, India has coal which will continue for another 100 years but it pollutes more. So to move to renewable energy resources there has to be support from the developed world or industrial countries that have reached a higher level of development in infrastructure through decades of work and have historically emitted large scale emissions. A cursory look at the per capita carbon emissions will prove all. The World Bank website (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC/countries/1W?display=default) shows that that there is a huge gap between countries like India and the US, where the per capita emission is 17 times more.

So to balance this, the concept of CBDR was undertaken but historically the developed nations have refused to let down their emission levels and also have not transferred the technology and the support required in the developing nations. The focus here has to be to not only reduce their emissions but to compensate for the historic loss they have brought about in their pace of development. Hence they must bear the burden of CBDR. Are they prepared to reduce their emissions and contribute financially to the green economy for the developing world. The answer will require in-depth analysis. Let us understand who owns the energy sector in the industrial countries? Is it the state or the private capital?

The private capital owns a sizable volume of the energy sector worldwide. So any discussion about reducing the consumption of fossil fuels also means a reduction in their profits. Will that happen or will they who control the chain be prepared for it. The answer is for all to assess the objective world. The companies that presently control the energy sector would certainly be controlling the production of renewable technology as well. Or may be some more may add to the present lot. So why do they not do it. One simple reason happens to be that for this it requires a large support of the state which will follow in the years to come.

There is a strong relationship between the capital and the whole gamut of renewable energy sector. A recent article on People’s Democracy (http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2015/1213_pd/capital-and-problem-global-warming) aptly explains the relationship between capital and the Paris deal. “This was quite starkly witnessed in Paris with a bunch of big houses assembling there and talking about the shift to renewables.” Also in focus was how to get to it which means from where the capital is to be mobilised. The thrust still happens to be that the developing nations will work with these alternatives technologies. The INDCs focus on eight strategies which explains the point and these are: (1) Sustainable lifestyles; (2) Cleaner economic development; (3) Reducing emissions intensity of GDP; (4) Increasing the share of non-fossil fuel in world electricity; (5) Enhancing carbon junk (forest); (6) Adaptation; (7) Mobilising finance; and (8) Technology transfer and capacity building. The actions will be set accordingly, strategies for cleaner economic development and mobilising finance shall be the key areas of concern as this will require phenomenal capital interventions.

We know the final “cheers” and the outcome of Paris where the rhetoric is more. Instead of making CBDR mandatory, it is left out to voluntary actions, which will require a radical shift that is not seen in the foresight. Though some very unambiguous assertions have been made by a few countries and one amongst these is China. It has stated that it will peak its emissions level by 2030 and then bring it down. But China has a different economy where the state plays a determinant role and above all it is the rising demand of the people living in their big cities like Beijing where the air quality has become extremely injurious for its people. Not to mention that Delhi too faces the same wrath.

People, Planet & Peace over Profit

There was another interesting meeting that took place in Paris and that was with Jill Stein and her team. Jill is the US Presidential candidate from the Green Party and has an extremely radical agenda on climate change, which is quite opposite to that of the US government. Jill intends to build a popular movement on climate change and advocates a national strike in the country as ‘SaturdayMarches’ according to her does not influence the ruling class. The slogan she gave is ‘People, Planet & Peace over Profit’.

The charter that she introduced with her team says that the US will go for cent per cent renewable energy resources by 2030, which no individual or country is prepared to believe. The example of “Granma”, the island in socialist Cuba, is an eye-opener for everyone where they work on 100 per cent renewables.

Another important slogan being raised in the campaign happens to be to shift from ‘war heads to wind heads’. The US is making huge noise about providing Rs 100 billion dollars for climate fund, whereas 1.3 billion US dollars recently was spent on buying nuclear weapons, so the struggle on climate and against war must be seen together. With such a plan and strategy there was a meeting with Chinese negotiators and also with the Russians. While preparing for this a grand strike is planned and the thrust would also lay on the “opposition to privatization of nature”. The lessons of resilience and climate adaptability must be learnt from Cuba where emphasis is laid on renewables.

The global agenda shall be for technology transfer and nationalising energy resources. Jill further explained that the community is being widened for this ambitious strategy and many state and non-state actors are being mobilised for the same.

Apart from this, the COP21 also saw many progressive and democratic people within the open space and in different parts of the city. Philanthropists, passionate people from different parts shared their stories: Two cyclists -- one from Hanoi city and another from the Arctic -- biked to Paris and shared their anecdotes about their journey and what they experienced as climate change is affecting the people.

The cities too had their own pavilion where they focused on a shift from millennium development goals to sustainable development goals (SDGs). John Clos, the executive director of UN Habitat, very aptly and vehemently stated that unless a look at sustainable urbanisation is made, we cannot have SDGs a possibility and for that the present system of economy (world capitalism) has no solutions. Other speakers focused on the strong relationship in governance, climate change and the socio-economic system prevailing in their cities and this just does not differentiate geographically but also within the cities. Speakers from the slum international focused on the deplorable condition and worsening situation where climate change affects them the most and to make them resilient in void shall not help. Economically, they have to be given the opportunities of development. The Mayor of Bristol, Durban and many others too were quite unequivocal in their voices concerning the poor and marginalised in their cities and in working for their sustainability. So climate change and the socio-economic conditions were a strong unity in the discussions.