A Different Point of View....: Climate controls ‘slip slidin’ away’ following weak Paris agreement

 “World agrees to historic climate accord” 
The Toronto Star.
“Nearly 200 countries agree to historic pact in Paris
to reduce emissions and fight climate change”

The Vancouver Sun.
 “Climate deal: World praises France’s diplomacy, showing it’s still a master of the art”
The Winnipeg Free Press.

With these headlines appearing in newspapers across the country, Canadians must have been relieved that they don’t need to worry about climate change nearly as much now that everything has been worked out in Paris.

Unfortunately, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

The politicians meeting in Paris, faced with the possibility of total failure, were extremely excited to reach any kind of an agreement. As politicians will do, they convinced themselves and the compliant mainstream media that the accord all 195 countries signed was an amazing break through document.

The agreement is jam-packed with lofty language and idealistic goals. However, it is totally lacking in legally binding mechanism that will hold governments to emission limits that will stop global warming from reaching devastatingly high levels.

May & Klein have strongly different opinions

Even so, there are strong differences of opinion among environmental leaders concerning the value of the pact.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May is not concerned that the temperature goals in the agreement are not binding.

“It’s an historic and potentially life-saving agreement,” May writes in her blog.  . . . . “it may save the lives of millions.  It may lead to the survival of many small nations close to sea level.  It may give our grandchildren a far more stable climate and thus a more prosperous and healthy society.”

Two of the world’s leading climate activists disagree strongly with May.

Responding to the cheering going on in the meeting room when the deal was signed, Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org commented: “All the serious people in there in suits are playing fantasy games.”

Activist and author Naomi Klein said the agreed upon targets are far too weak. “They don’t lead us to 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees. They lead us to warming of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, which is beyond catastrophic.”


This year global warming, compared to the pre-industrial age temperature, is expected to reach 1 degree Celsius. Scientists say that warming must be kept to 1.5 degrees if hundreds of islands are to be saved. If countries do not improve on the promises they made in Paris global warming could reach 3.5 degrees by 2100 or earlier.

In Paris, rich countries, instead of stepping forward and coming up with firm commitments to fight warming, abdicated their responsibility to powerful multi-national corporations.

Corporations were involved in just about every aspect of COP21, including helping to pay for the summit. Meanwhile, a few select non-governmental organizations were permitted only to look over the draft of the agreement at the end of each day. Organizers kept thousands of protestors away from the delegates.

Most of the actions that can come out of the agreement are left to the marketplace, and activities many will be carried out by the same corporations that have polluted the planet.

Incidentally, it was no surprise that none of the words “fossil fuels”, “oil” or “coal” appear in the agreement.

Carbon trading, which allow companies to make huge profits but that are slow to reduce emissions, are looked upon favourably. Because no action was taken against fracking, the practice, which produces highly damaging methane gas, will increase.

Financial institutions are already making large profits from financing many activities related to global warming. The most common funding is for clean energy solutions, underwriting green bonds and structuring catastrophe-linked securities to help clients manage climate change risks.

It is a bitter irony that the banks financed corporations as they destroyed our climate, and now they’ll provide the financing for many of the same companies to try to clean it up.

Rich North betrays developing nations

The lack of substantial outcomes from Paris for countries with the least ability to defend themselves from global warming has caused rifts that may not be overcome for years.

Helen Szoke, of Oxfam Australia, denounced the agreement as “a frayed lifeline to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific Region contribute just 0.3 per cent   of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet residents of many islands have had to leave their homes, and dozens of islands will disappear under water if strong actions to slow emissions in the developed world are not taken.

There was a lot of fancy talk in Paris about transporting millions of tonnes of earth to restore the most threatened islands, but residents aren’t holding their breath.

The strongest condemnation of the Paris agreement came from Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace, one of the world’s most influential environmental groups.

It’s “climate apartheid,” says Naidoo.

“Most of the people in the countries that emitted the most carbon are white and most people in the countries who are paying first and the most are people of colour,” says Naidoo. “There is no doubt in my mind that subliminal racism is at play in these negotiations.”

Environmentalists must pick up the slack

So with governments failing to move ahead the cause of a cleaner environment in any meaningful way, what can be done to pick up the slack?

The world’s many climate change groups need to organize a huge lobby movement – one that can match the power of the fossil fuel industry. The tobacco industry was not brought under some control until it was banned from lobbying governments, and the same needs to happen with the fossil fuel industry.

Across the globe, NGOs, civil society and all kinds of organizations need to work together lobbying all levels of government. It seems they may be the only segments of society – for now at least – willing to fight for climate justice.

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A Different Point of View....: Fossil fuel lobby seen as main threat to meaningful progress in Paris

In the early-1950s, when it became widely known that smoking caused cancer, giant tobacco companies formed the Tobacco Industry Research Council (TIRC). Its main goal was to deny the harmful effects of tobacco and confuse the public.

The tobacco lobby wormed its way into the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), wreaking havoc and slowing the WHO’s efforts to reduce the growing number of cancer deaths. 

Realizing that the tobacco corporations were obstructing progress, the WHO finally built a firewall between public health officials and industry lobbyists. Only then was it possible to better control tobacco.

Flash forward to Paris and the 21st annual UN Climate Conference, November 30 to December 11   The 190 participating countries are charged with trying to hold carbon emissions to liveable limits between the years 2020 and 2030.

But – just like when the tobacco lobby was powerful – the fossil fuel lobby is strongly influencing decisions to be made in Paris.

Pointing to the struggling world economic situation, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) says climate change is important, but it should not jeopardize economic growth.

Fossil fuel corporations have spent billions-of-dollars over the years funding front organizations that mislead and confuse the public by claiming that climate change is not serious threat.

But scientists say that the human race cannot continue to function in a near-normal way unless about 80 per cent of the remaining fossil fuels are left in the ground.

The corporations oppose government regulations, and their main goal is to have the marketplace determine the amount of carbon emissions. However, public interest groups believe that industry will serve its own interests for profits instead of prioritizing the reduction of carbon emissions.

The public interest group Corporate Europe Observatory, located in Brussels, has compiled information on the agenda the corporations will be pushing at COP21:  
  •  Instead of governments taxing emitters – a simple and inexpensive system to operate – corporations want to create a world market where polluters and investors can buy and sell carbon credits. They claim the system would help spur investments in low-carbon energy However, this system has worked poorly in Europe and is vulnerable to abuse.
  • The fossil fuel industry wants governments and the public to acknowledge natural gas as a “clean energy source.” This would result in significant increases of fracking in many parts of the world. It’s true that gas, when burnt, has low emissions, but the fracking process leaks methane into the atmosphere, which is 80 times worse than carbon.
  • The ‘net zero’ proposal: Rather than attempting to reduce emissions to zero, ’net zero’ means that some emissions can keep rising. The industry says this would be offset in the future via the removal of emissions from the atmosphere when yet-to-be developed technologies make the removal possible.
  • According to Shell, going to net zero would allow them to keep burning fossil fuels for the rest of this Century. This would be balanced off by the – so far – theoretical removal of carbon from the atmosphere at some point in the future.

While public interest groups will be kept mainly on the sidelines, corporations are being allowed to hold at least 10 special events for government officials. Names of some of the sessions: “Business and Climate: A positive revolution for companies?”; “The Future is Looking Up”; and “Energy for Tomorrow.”

In addition, some of France’s dirtiest corporations are official sponsors and donors for COP21.  Included are nuclear and coal giants EDF, energy utility corporation Engie, coal-financing bank BNP Paribas, and airline Air France.

Some of the very corporations driving global warming will be represented in Paris. Included will be Shell, BP, Volkswagen, Monsanto, Total, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Syngenta, Nestles, McDonalds, Walmart and others.

Fossil fuel companies have not managed to get a much coveted seat at the actual negotiating table during COP decision-making. But they are lobbying so hard that they hope politicians will come up with pro-industry solutions.

Meanwhile, a growing number of public interest groups want the fossil fuel lobby barred from the UN process. 

“When you’re trying to burn down the table,” says HodaBaraka of the protect group 350.org, “you don’t deserve a seat at it.” 

NGOs have launched a campaign, Kick the Polluters Out  and are planning demonstrations in Paris. Close to a half-million people signed the protest document over a short period of time.

But, at the present time at least, it would be very difficult to get the fuel lobby organizations out of the climate change process.  

The corporations are so powerful in the UN climate talks process they appear to be the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), scolded those who claim the fossil fuel industry is not part of the solution, telling them to “stop demonizing oil and gas companies.”

In what critics consider a betrayal of the climate control effort, after a few years inside the system, UN experts move over to the private sector. According to the Corporate Europe Observatory, this revolving door helps business to control the process in the COP process. 

At the national level, because oil, coal and other fossil fuel corporations are so wealthy and so important to national economies, corporationsare able to intimidate governments from taking the best possible carbon reduction pledges to Paris. Energy corporations are successful in compromising the policies of the U.S. government. 

In October, the European Parliament expressed concern that an early analysis government pledges indicated the temperature would increase between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius.  An increase within this range would be disastrous for humankind.

The European Parliament has now called on governments to agree in Paris to revise the projections downward before 2020 to keep the increase to 2 degrees Celsius, which is the target recommended by scientists.

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