As world leaders gather in New York for the signing of the COP21 climate agreement, here are five things you should know about the deal and what it means for the climate.
1. The stakes are exceptionally high with climate change poised to unleash devastating impacts around the world.
The impact of climate change is already being felt across the globe. From severe droughts parching California and Central America, repeated super typhoons rocking the Philippines, extreme heat waves scorching India and Pakistan, heavy rains flooding the Chilean desert, and many more examples. Extreme weather events are living proof that global climate action is more urgent than ever.
Record levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in 2014 have launched the climate into “uncharted territory” while 2015 is on track to become the hottest year on record. Scientists say extreme weather events like floods, wildfires, and superstorms will only continue to increase in frequency and intensity with climate change.
What’s more, experts say that increasingly inhospitable weather conditions and resource shortages brought on by climate change could worsen global food insecurity and fuel violent conflicts.
2. The goal of COP21 is to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
Scientists say that globel temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius is a crucial threshold that could be the breaking point to end human life as we know it and lead to irreversible and catastrophic damage. So far, national emission reduction pledges fall far short of keeping the world in this less-destructive warming range, with the world on track to hit at least 3 degrees Celsius warming.
A recent U.N. Environment Program report found that the voluntary pledges of 146 nations to cut emissions would only produce one-third of the reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030 needed to prevent the planet from overheating, and that is only if the pledges are “respected.”
That’s why it is critical that the COP21 deal be legally and universally binding to ensure that countries are held accountable for their reduction commitments. The COP16 summit in Copenhagen in 2009 was largely seen as a failure because it did not result in a binding agreement. Many are now criticizing the COP21 for not going far enough, arguing that temperatures need to fall to 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to protect human and non-human life on the planet.
3. Climate justice and climate reparations have never been on the COP21 agenda.
Wealthy industrialized countries and big corporations are mostly responsible for causing global warming, yet poorer nations in the global south are bearing the brunt of climate change’s impacts. That’s why social movements and movements in the global south are also pushing for a deal that recognizes historically unequal contributions to climate change through the framework of climate justice.
Ecuador and Bolivia, for example, argue that wealthy countries and corporations responsible for fueling climate change should fulfill their climate debts and help poorer countries transition away from dirty energy. These climate reparations would give to economies relying on progressive extractivism the necessary resources to transition to clean energy without having to sacrifice their social and redistributive policies.
Demonstrators march in Colombia on the eve of COP21. I Photo: Reuters
But climate reparations were not on the agenda at COP21 in Paris and global heavyweights like the G-7 do not factor in the idea of climate justice when drafting internationals deal. Many countries, especially some of the biggest climate change culprits, are likely to want to commit to emissions reductions they think they can achieve rather than what’s globally necessary.
4. Big polluters with no vested interest in tackling climate changing are backing COP21.
COP21 is guilty of a huge contradiction and potential conflict of interest with fossil fuel giants and other climate change culprits bankrolling the summit. Many of the corporations sponsoring COP21 have a “filthy” record on climate change, according to a recent report released by Corporate Accountability International.
Corporate sponsors of COP21 include Engie (formerly GDF Suez), Suez Environnement, BNP Paribas, and Electricite de France, which have holdings in oil sands extraction, coal power, gas fracking, and water privatization. In short, COP21’s biggest financial backers profit from climate change.
A report called “Fueling the Fire:The Big Polluters Bankrolling COP21” details a history of “interference politics” that have long hung over COP summits and undermined meaningful climate action by greenwashing government inaction and promoting more of the polluting policies.
As Corporate Accountability International argued, with fossil fuels conglomerates and other big climate culprits enjoying a privileged presence at COP21, the summit “runs the risk of ratifying an agreement that supports profits over people and the planet.”
5. There is resistance
As Tortilla con Sal points out on teleSUR, the COP21 agreement signed in Paris last year is non-binding and to achieve the proposed targets the world needs to achieve close to zero carbon emissions within the next 20 years.
This contradiction has not been lost on everybody, with social movements ranging from environmentalist and anti-capitalist groups to non-governmental organizations such as Friends of the Earth challenging the deal.
If climate change continues on its current trajectory, extreme global instability is inevitable.
Back in December Cindy Weisner, the national coordinator for the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, branded the deal a "death warrant" for the planet. Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, a U.K.-based social justice organization, described the deal as "outrageous." Center for International Environmental Law President Carroll Muffett said the deal is the result of a corporate "chokehold" over U.S. politics, describing it as an "empty vessel."
Nicaragua is one of the few countries that has explicitly rejected the deal. Meanwhile, India, Bolivia, Venezuela and El Salvador have all agreed in principle with the arguments made by the Nicaraguan government's team. But it remains to be seen how many countries will go as far as Nicaragua and refuse to submit to the demands of the agreement.