Many people watching the proceedings at the Paris Climate Change Conference that took place this December did not have the right expectation. They were disappointed that the 195 or so countries did not legally commit to absolute levels of emissions and penalties they would incur should they fail to achieve the targeted levels. They also reacted negatively to the failure to address the carbon fossil fuel yet to be taken out of the ground. There was no mention of a ban on further mining or extracting fuel from the ground around the world.
The detractors have to understand that all of the representatives were from sovereign nations. Sovereign nations cannot be forced to accept penalties that they would just ignore and not pay. The United Nations has tried the top down imposition of penalties for many years. In 2015 it switched to a bottoms up expression of voluntary cuts on emissions. As unpleasant as it may be, this approach has worked by bringing everyone to the table. India and China both offered reductions of emissions.
One other reason for the change in approach is Obama’s need to get congress to ratify a treaty that requires U.S. approval or additional expenditures. The scuttlebutt is this agreement, since it is voluntary and does not require any approval of additional funds, can be ratified by Obama without the further involvement of congress.
Yes, the emissions do not add up to the low level necessary to avoid a significant increase beyond 2° C. Present commitments add-up to a 2.7° C level. As cited in an earlier article on this blog (see http://iamaguardian.com/1777/will-the-paris-climate-meeting-make-a-difference ) this 2.7° Celsius level converts to a 4.9° Fahrenheit increase.
To deal with the carbon fuel still in the ground the present approach is voluntary to each country. Representatives at the UN will allow the countries themselves to regulate their own energy industries. The betting is that the governments will let the prices of un-pumped oil and un-mined coal fluctuate to a level that is uneconomic. They believe that under this approach the Keystone pipeline project will not be revived.
Of course there were winners and losers at the conference. While the European Union wanted to be perceived as the leader in climate change (and their achievements actually make them a leader) they were not perceived as such. This is while France, a EU country recovering from an attack, showed that it could marshal the world’s nations to reach a major agreement to save the world from climate change in the face of terrorism.
China emerged as a full participant instead of blocking agreement as was perceived at the climate summit six years ago. At the same time India had wanted access to western technology with no restraints from intellectual property rights and did not gain the free access they were seeking.
The big winners of the climate conference were the small islands of the world. They won a commitment from the world’s developed nations to provide funding for emergency efforts in the event of rising seas from climate change. They also received a concession from the world’s nations that the world would actually seek to not go beyond a 1.5° Celsius temperature rise.
This conference was marked by discussion of mass migration due to climate change’s effects. Scientists and scholars have said that a drought in Darfur, Sudan in part caused migration in the last decade. In addition, they cite a drought lasting from 2006 to 2011 in Syria as a factor in the mass migration of the Syrians.
E.U. leaders warned the world about mass migrations as a result of climate change in the future. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission on Climate Change was quoted as warning world leaders that climate change could “destabilize entire regions and start massive forced migrations and conflicts over natural resources.” This quote appeared in an article in the New York Times by Sewell Chan on December 12, 2015.
The same article quoted Marine Franck who works on climate change and migration for the high commissioner for refugees. He stated, “Climate-related displacement is not a future phenomenon. It is a reality; it is already a global concern.”
People who read this blog know that migration and how the world handles immigrants is a continuing topic. Among the prominent mentions of migration, the article appearing on September 8, 2013 comes to mind (see http://www.iamaguardian.com/1488/what-would-you-do-life-or-death/ ). Migration because of drought or other climate change induced calamity should be top of mind for all of us. We need to consider how we relate to distressed migrants from many countries. Do we personally try to help them or resist? Are we sensitive to their plight or not?
This recent conference on climate change represents a new beginning that unfortunately does not lessen our personal workload. While it does signal a worldwide agreement to fight climate change, it also signals continued work within each country to agitate and apply pressure to keep our governments working on lowering emissions.
We need each country to reduce their emissions further than they have committed. Especially the big offenders (USA, China and India) need to continually work the issue to better their performance. This will require further work from each of us and signals a long haul for the world to once and for all control climate change.
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