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What is the Paris agreement? A breakdown on its importance

What is the Paris Agreement? In a nutshell, it is the most ambitious global climate agreement the world has ever seen. Implementing it successfully will be crucial to avoid the worst effects of climate change. But implementing it is proving to be extremely challenging.  

United Nations and country representatives celebrate the approval of the Paris Agreement at the COP21 in 2015. Credit: Flickr

The world is heating up. We can stick our heads in the sand as much as we want (and many people are doing that), but this is happening, and it’s because of us.

A mountain of studies and reports have shown that man-made greenhouse gases are the cause for the current heating trends. Without massive changes and reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions, we are set for catastrophic climate change, which will affect not only the environment, but also our economy and even our very livelihoods. We are already seeing these devastating effects all around the world, and things will only get worse if we don’t act.

With this in mind, a group of 195 countries (essentially all the countries on Earth) adopted the agreement in 2015 at the COP21 United Nations climate change conference. It is the first-ever universal, (sort of) binding global climate deal, which sets out a global action plan to put the world on track for avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

In order to do that, countries agreed under the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while aiming at 1.5º if possible. This means global emissions will have to reach a peak as soon as possible.

But things aren’t exactly clear and simple.

What’s inside the agreement?

Under the agreement, every country has an individual plan (called “Nationally Determined Contributions”, or NDC) to tackle its greenhouse gas emissions. The tricky part is that the agreement gave each country the flexibility to tailor its climate action plan to its own unique circumstances.

This makes a lot of sense. Take country like Brazil, for instance. It hosts much of the Amazon forest, which is a key part in reducing climate change. Deforestation needs to stop, and reforestation needs to happen — that’s very important for Brazil. Meanwhile, a country such as the Netherlands (much smaller and economically developed) should work to reduce the emissions of its activities and produce more renewable energy. Simply put, every country has its own unique economic and environmental situation, and the NDCs take that into account, providing custom solutions.

All countries have agreed to the Paris Agreement (more on the US declared withdrawal later on). The involvement of all countries means that both developed and developing ones are committed to working in climate action.

However, the Paris Agreement is exactly not legally binding. Strictly speaking, it is a hybrid between some legally binding provisions and (most) other provisions which are only politically encouraged. There are no clear consequences or penalties for countries that fall short of their pledged goals. Parties are, however, legally bound to have their progress tracked by technical expert review to assess achievement toward the NDC and to determine ways to strengthen ambition.

This fact has been considered a major drawback of the agreement. Having a pact, even one that involves all the countries on Earth, isn’t worth all that much when you don’t include the rules and mechanisms to guide progress and hold countries accountable. It’s easy to declare that you care about sustainability and want to shift to renewables (almost everyone is doing it nowadays), but without accountability, the results remain questionable. Without these strong rules and clear mechanisms, there’s the risk of all the critical commitments and goals becoming mostly big words on paper.

As well as seeking to limit global warming, the agreement also included goals in a number of other important areas like climate finance to help developing nations and transparency to ensure countries are living up to their promises.

The pact also includes a number of different frameworks to facilitate a technological transfer from developed countries to developing countries, and numerous projects to accelerate the transition to renewables.

Why is the Paris Agreement necessary?

It’s rare to have a consensus among nearly all nations on a single topic. But the Paris Agreement was an exception, because this is a problem that affects everyone on Earth. Leaders from around the world collectively acknowledged that climate change is driven by human behavior, that it’s a threat to the environment and all of humanity, and that global action is needed to stop it — though some did it with more ethos than others.

Taking action as quickly as possible is also vital. Climate change is the type of problem where a delay is especially costly. It is not like other pollution such as dirty urban air or a putrid stream — greenhouse gases hang around for decades to centuries, and the problem only gets worse. So, if societies delay revising our current practices the total amount in the atmosphere will grow.

Already, scientific information is showing that we have delayed action for too much and we are paying the price — delaying it even more would be downright catastrophic.

The general scientific view is that any rise in global temperatures of more than 2ºC would be an unacceptable risk — potentially resulting in mass extinctions, more severe droughts and hurricanes, and a watery Arctic. It would trigger abrupt and irreversible changes in the earth’s systems.

To avoid major changes to life as we know it, global action must be taken. Hence, the Paris Agreement, which sets the ultimate goal of capping global warming rise this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Indeed, the seemingly small difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees could have a dramatic impact on low-lying nations and coral reefs.

However, there are valid concerns that the Paris Agreement is just not ambitious enough. The 2 degree figure seems somewhat arbitrary and is not truly backed by actual science — but everyone can agree that it’s a starting point that’s better than nothing.

What about money?

Money has been a sticking point throughout the negotiations, as it is so often the case, Developing countries say they need financial and technological help to leapfrog fossil fuels and move straight to renewables.

Meanwhile, developed countries generally became developed by burning fossil fuels, so they have an environmental debt to cover up. Of course, when trying to bring different interests to the table, the solutions are never easy — this is why the Paris Agreement was had such landmark importance, because although imperfect, it managed to bring everyone to the table and get them involved, one way or another.

This is not a new deal. In 2009, developed countries pledged to mobilize jointly $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 for developing countries. The agreement requires rich nations to maintain a $100 billion a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and to use that figure as a “floor” for further support agreed by 2025 — encouraging even more ambitious investments.

The deal says wealthy countries should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change and encourages other countries to join in on a voluntary basis. However, this has not been reached yet.

While climate change has slowly been on the rise, the $100 billion a year was, unfortunately, never taken seriously by developed nations. Recently, a meeting attempting to address this issue was “blocked across the board” by a group of rich nations led by the United States.

So what happened since then?

The agreement went into effect on November 4, 2016 — 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of the world’s global emissions ratified it on October 5, 2016.

The agreement went into effect on November 4, 2016 — 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of the world’s global emissions ratified it on October 5, 2016.

Of the 196 negotiating countries that signed the agreement, 185 parties and the European Union, representing more than 88% of the global emissions, have ratified it as of today.

Virtually every country on the planet has, at least statement-wise, expressed their support of the Paris Agreement, with one exception: the United States of America.

Under the administration of President Donald Trump, the United States expressed its willingness to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Contrary to what Trump and his administration claims, this hasn’t been formalized yet and when it happens it will take up to four years for the decision to be processed. This is an important aspect, but given the fact that the Agreement isn’t legally binding, if the administration doesn’t want to follow the Paris guidelines, they just won’t.

But it’s not that simple. Hundreds of cities, regions, and corporations in the US have vowed to follow the Paris Agreement regardless of what the administration wants. At a social level, Americans are also increasingly alarmed by climate change and demand action from politicians. Even so, many high-ranking US politicians are sponsored or lobbied by fossil fuel companies, and it is showing. A new report has found that US carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4% in 2018 after three years of decline.

The rest of the world is also falling short on their progress. Chinese authorities announced that they were making great strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, while Chinese emissions are growing slower than expected, they are still growing, and China is still the number 1 polluter in the world.

In contrast, European Union officials announced in 2018 that all member states had fallen behind on reaching their targets. The EU emissions seem to have peaked, but they should be declining at a rate that’s just not happening.

Few if any countries are achieving their climate goals. As a whole, the world is definitely not achieving the targets set in the Paris Agreement — and keep in mind, some have criticized the agreement as being not ambitious enough.

So, is the Paris Agreement enough to deal with the climate emergency?

No, and that’s the problem. As each country was able to make its own climate pledge, the level of ambition is far below what’s necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

With the current commitments, the temperature would increase between 3º and 4ºC instead of the required 2ºC under the Paris Agreement, according to the most recent analysis. That means countries need to step up their game — and they need to do it fast.

The United Nations is holding a climate summit in New York in September and is asking countries to present there much more ambitious climate pledges. The aim of the UN is for countries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Following COP21, countries held three meetings in 2016, 2017 and 2018 to work on the rules and mechanisms of the Paris Agreement. This hasn’t yet been completed and is supposed to be done this year at COP25 in Chile, one of the big climate gatherings of the year.

Should we panic?

The world should definitely feel a sense of urgency, but we shouldn’t panic. The collective sum of our decisions is what brought climate heating in the first place, and the collective sum of our decisions can be what limits it.

Make no mistake — temperatures will continue to rise. We are already seeing this, and we can expect more of this to come. But taking action to reduce and mitigate these impacts can be extremely impactful. It’s up to each of us to bring this forth, by making sustainable changes in our lives, supporting companies which truly value sustainability, and voting for politicians which actually want to tackle the climate emergency.

India

India, world’s 3rd biggest polluter, ratifies Paris Agreement — vows to reach 40% renewables by 2030

India

Credit: Flickr

India helped the world make another small step on its path to avoid catastrophic global warming. Yesterday, the nation ratified the Paris Agreement signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015. As part of the deal, India committed itself that by 2030 it would generate 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources.

Last month, the United States and China, the two biggest polluters in the world, set off an avalanche of ratifications of the historic Paris Agreement — a text that says signatories vow to reduce or cap greenhouse emissions under a ratchet system in hopes of avoiding two degrees Celsius warming past average-Industrial age levels. Some climatologists say the world is already locked in for 1.5 degrees C warming.

“The Secretary-General calls on all Parties to accelerate their domestic procedures in order to join the agreement as soon as possible this year,” said a spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General in a statement.

Last week, 31 other countries ratified the Paris Agreement bringing us half way there. India, though populated by more than 1.25 billion people, is responsible for only 4.5% of global emissions. But for the text to come into force, the second half of Article 21, paragraph 1 of the Paris Agreement needs to be verified. The article states the pact officially enters into force when at least 55 countries that collectively sum at least 55% of the world’s carbon emissions register their instruments of ratification. As of today, including India’s ratified pledge, the UNFCCC official tally counts 62 ratified parties, which account for 51.89% of global emissions.

unfccc-tally

Credit: UNFCCC

That’s just shy of the goal, and inside sources suggest the Paris Agreement might enter into force next week when the European Union is expected to join the pact. Summing 10.9% of the world’s emissions, the E.U. ratification will be more than enough to seal the most important climate pact in history — and right in time for the next round of climate talks in November, in Marrakech, Morocco.

While today marks a celebration, world leaders shouldn’t rest on their laurels. Splashing some ink on a piece of paper won’t instantly cancel all the damage we’ve done so far. Ratifying Paris is the easy part — many challenges lie ahead and the world’s capacity to band together under the common good will be put to the test like never before.

For instance, India’s environment ministry said that the Paris Agreement only laid out a ‘broad framework’, but the exact details that will see the pact reach its goals have yet to be outlined. That’s expected, in part, to happen in Morroco in November.

India said it will be crucial for world leaders, especially those representing developed countries, to agree how to transfer money and technology to developing countries. Back in Paris, leaders agreed to finance developing countries with $100bn a year by 2020, with a commitment to finance them further in the future.

“At Morocco India will insist on a concrete roadmap from developed countries,” the ministry said.

Heads of state cheer after the Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed at COP21, 2015, by 197 parties. Credit: Wikipedia

We’re half way there: key threshold crossed for Paris Climate Change Agreement to come into force

Heads of state cheer after the Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed at COP21, 2015, by 197 parties. Credit: Wikipedia

Heads of state cheer after the Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed at COP21, 2015, by 197 parties. Credit: Wikipedia

During a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York destined for the history books, 31 governments ratified the agreement they signed in Paris last year for COP21. The so-called Paris Climate Change Agreement involves action that would limit warming to well below two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. Now, the number of parties who have ratified the agreement has crossed the “55 nations” threshold which is one of two key thresholds required for the text to come into force.

“As of 21 September we have 60 Parties who have deposited the relevant instruments adding to the 29 who deposited their instruments over the past few months—this is an extraordinary momentum by nations and a clear signal of their determination to implement Paris now and raise ambition over the decades to come,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a statement. 
 
“We now look forward to the final threshold that will, 30 days later, trigger entry into force. Namely, at least 55 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions also being covered by Parties who have ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to the Paris Agreement with the UN’s Depositary,” added Ms Espinosa.
At today’s special U.N. meeting, Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Dominica, Ghana, Guinea, Honduras, Iceland, Kiribati, Madagascar, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Thailand, Tonga, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Vanuatu, all agreed to deposit their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession of the Paris agreement.
The outcome of the meeting was to be expected, as I reported earlier in an optimistic article where I suggest the Paris Agreement might come into force as early as this year, and no later than the first half of 2017. What’s pulling us down at the moment? That would be the second half of Article 21, paragraph 1 of the Paris Agreement which states the pact will come into force when at least 55 countries that collectively sum at least 55% of the world’s carbon emissions. Right now, the covered emissions by the ratified partners total 47.76 percent, so just a shy away from the this stated threshold.
“Today we can say with ever more confidence that this historic moment is likely to come very soon, perhaps even by the time governments meet for the next round of climate negotiations in Marrakech, Morocco in November,” Espinosa said.

“Daily, positive announcements of climate action by nations but also companies, investors and cities, regions, territories and states have been a hallmark of 2016. The urgency is to evolve this ever higher in the years and decades to come,” she add.
COP21_participants_-_30_Nov_2015_23430273715

How COP21 can become ratified — the small steps required for a global victory

At a high-level signing ceremony in New York, more than 170 countries signed up to the landmark COP21 climate change deal first adopted last December in Paris. Many media outlets praised the signing event, where 60 heads of state were in attendance as were celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio. It is indeed a great achievement in fighting climate change on a global level, but only a small step in many yet to come.

COP21_participants_-_30_Nov_2015_23430273715

Credit: Wikipedia

Climate change negotiations have been going on for more than twenty years, but it was only at last year’s 21st edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference that both rich and poor countries agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions, part of an internationally binding pact. In Paris, 189 countries representing 98% of the world’s emissions were listed in the agreement, each pledging to reduce or cap emissions based on their historical responsibility. Each country proposed the amount of CO2 it would reduce as written in documents called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs. This way, delegates from each country came with a plan from home that it was ready to accept, with only some fine tweaks made in Le Bourget, France.

Previously, other UN climate change conferences failed because negotiations followed a top-down approach, instead of bottom-up, and some players were always unsatisfied with the terms and conditions. This brilliant negotiating framework was one of the key features that made the event so successful.

paris_deal

For the COP21 deal to become legally binding, it needs to be ratified by each country’s government which can be complicated and takes time. It was only “adopted” in Paris, and “signed” in New York last Friday.  To come into force, the pact needs to be ratified by at least 5f countries that collectively sum at least 55% of the world’s carbon emissions. This is where it gets complicated because it differs on a case by case basis. In the United States, the agreement can be ratified by executive action, namely the President without consent from Congress, which is opposed to the historical pact. The current Democrat leading nominee, Hilary Clinton, is in favor of continuing President Obama’s legacy, whose leadership was essential to making COP21 successful. The leading republican nominee, Donald Trump, is a climate change denier and is woefully opposed to the deal. In Mexico and India, however, the consent of the Parliament is required. When a country fulfills its necessary domestic processes, it will come back and deposit an “instrument of ratification, acceptance or approval.”  Once all these conditions are met, only then will the agreement come into force. This could happen as early as 2017 or as late as 2020.

To keep this short, it’s a long and complicated process with many steps ahead before the agreement can come into force.

Another reason why we shouldn’t feel too good about ourselves, despite the good news from New York, has to do with the INDCs. As they stand now, the planned emission cuts like China capping emission by 2030 and the U.S. cutting 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, are not enough to meet the convention’s stated goal of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius past the industrial age average. Right now, this would only limit warming to about 3 degrees Celsius.

Every five years, once the agreement comes into force, each country is expected to submit a revised, more ambitious INDC. There are no guarantees that progress will be made at the pace the world needs and expects, though. Still, if there’s a will, there are many places where governments can make significant progress. Specifically, if two key issues are addressed, the returns would be fantastic:

  • Cut subsidies. If 20 major countries abandoned their subsidies, global carbon dioxide emissions in those countries would decline nearly 11% by 2020, compared with a business-as-usual scenario. If only 30% of these funds currently allocated towards subsidies are invested into clean energy tech, then emissions might drop by as much as 18% in the countries covered by the study.
  • Tax carbon. Always debatable and up for political scrutiny, a tax on carbon is very difficult to implement but yields significant returns in limiting global warming. Taxing carbon would also mean we are finally accepting the hidden costs of using fossil fuels, which tallies in the hundreds of billions. These costs include damage suffered at the hand of climate change like cataclysmic events, droughts and sea level rise, as well as the health risks due to pollution.

It would be naive to think that such an ambitious goal can be achieved by state action alone. Each of us needs to play our part. Consume responsibility and press your representatives for more urgent action. If you have stocks in fossil fuels, divest. Thankfully, there’s a massive potential for change in the private sector too. As the price of solar is constantly being slashed year in year out, the market will soon move to a massive adoption of solar energy simply because it makes economic sense. If fossil subsidies were cut, this paradigm shift would become accelerated.

The coming decade will prove to be crucial. It will prove whether or not the world is capable of uniting to address the greatest threat life on Earth is currently facing.

 

Fiji becomes the first country in the world to ratify the Paris climate deal

This Friday, the tiny island nation of Fiji put up a big flag on the map by becoming the first country in the world to ratify the UN climate deal put together last December at the Paris COP21.

Global warming? More like global tanning, amirite?!
But no seriously, it’s gonna flood if we don’t get our act together.
Image via flickr

Most of you reading this already (hopefully) agree that human-induced global warming is real and that we need to stop it until it stop us. But for most of us climate change is still…out there. Very real, just not very palpable.

Not so if you happen to live in Fiji or a host of other pacific island nations; here, rising sea levels are already eating into the limited available land, causing major concern among both the people and the governing bodies. Fiji’s prime minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, told the nation’s parliament it was important to act now to protect the archipelago from floods, increasingly destructive tropical storms, and the loss of fish stocks as the surrounding seas warm.

Thankfully, there’s already a plan set up. At the Paris COP21 talks the nation of Fiji committed to a national plan meant to drastically cut into its carbon emissions. In this plan, the country pledged to have 100% of its electricity generated via renewable sources by 2030 and reduce its emissions by 30% in the meantime.

A pretty lofty goal for Fiji. For the island nation to be able to keep up its end of the agreement, more developed countries will have to offer financial. Should they be unable to secure the funds it needs to rebuild its energy production infrastructure, Fiji will still commit to a 10% cut in emissions.

The island nation of Fiji is now the first country in the world to ratify the new Paris climate agreement.
Image via wikimedia

While 195 nations agreed to the deal set up in Paris, it still needs to be formally ratified by at least 55 countries to take effect. While the document itself isn’t due to be signed until April, Fiji took the lead and officially ratified the deal.

Since all of the world’s major economies have already approved the agreement, it’s expected that more nations will soon follow Fiji’s suit.

Graph: Carbon Brief

Developing countries need at least $3.5 trillion to oblige their COP21 pledges by 2030

Image: Bamboo Finance

Image: Bamboo Finance

Carbon Brief published an analysis in which it summed how much money developing countries need to respect their “intended nationally determined contributions” or INDCs as submitted and accepted part of the COP21 UN summit, which just finished last week. The report estimates the 73 developing and least developed nations require at least $3.5tn to build a new energy infrastructure to reduce emissions — and that’s only up to 2030. What’s more, this estimates is only a fraction of the real cost since not all nations were specific about the investments required to meet their stated goals.

Of $3.5tn, $2.5tn were requested by India alone. Carbon Brief found  $420bn is explicitly requested to come from international sources of finance, and only $81bn from their domestic budgets. This means there’s a gap of $3tn worth of financial assistance to fight climate change that isn’t accounted for. (The real money required to meet the collective INDCs of developing nations might actually be over $10tn.)

There’s a great deal of investment that can be offset by private entities and carbon markets, yet there’s still a lot of money that needs to be invested, and this money needs to come from international aid otherwise countries like those in Sub-Sahara Africa or much of Asia could not possibly balance the two major responsibilities these now face: 1) cater to the needs of their people (India has 300 million people who live ‘in the dark’ with no electricity); 2) peak or reduce emissions to help the world achieve a global goal of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius past industrial levels, as agreed by over 190 countries in Paris.

Graph: Carbon Brief

Graph: Carbon Brief

it’s worth mentioning that the INDCs each country submitted prior to joining Paris limit global warming to 3 degrees Celsius, not 1.5. This means at least doubling efforts and investment to meet stay in the 1.5 range. The terms of the agreement are valid from 2020, which gives developed and developing nations five years time to find the required funding.

 

Reactions to the Paris Climate Deal

A crucial date, or another point in a long line of failures? History will certainly judge the Paris Climate Agreement, but until then, reactions to it have generally been positive. It’s a monumental achievement, if only for being unanimously supported.

I found remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry to be highly relevant:

“For a long time we have known that climate change is real, that it’s happening now, and that unless we come together as global community – because no one country can solve the problem – we’re not going to have a chance of doing what we need to do.  It’s clear that the impacts all around the planet are beginning to manifest themselves increasingly. “

The called COP21 a “breaking of the cycle”, a cycle of half measures and empty promises. So, does this mean that the promises made here won’t be hollow?

“[T]hose of us who have been attending these things called COPs – Conference of the Parties – for many years have recognized that half-measures, empty promises, and intransigent positions which we have seen in the past at these events were just not going to cut it.  They weren’t going to get the job done. So we had to come here and break that cycle.”

In his view, this binding agreement is different and successful because it also takes into consideration the financial part of the deal.

“I think that we’ve reached an agreement here that is the strongest, most ambitious global climate change agreement ever negotiated.  And many of us here in Paris have recognized that we were going to have to do that in order to send a signal to the marketplace that can change the direction that the world is on with respect to dependency on carbon fossil fuels. “

The very fact that the US Secretary of State was in Paris, working intensively and making himself available for comment basically every day after negotiations sent a very clear signal, and one that personally I wasn’t expecting – the US is serious about this. The US basically killed the Kyoto Protocol, but unless I’m missing something, they’re damn serious about making Paris work. This was also highlighted by Kerry, as he received a question about domestic opposition. Earlier this week, Senator James Inhofe vowed to block every effort that the US made in Paris. Kerry commented:

“Well, it’s already happening.  I have news for Senator Inhofe.  The United States of America has already reduced our emissions more than any other country in the world under President Obama’s plans.[..] o I think that – I regret to say Senator Inhofe is just wrong.  This has to happen and I believe this will continue, because I don’t – I just personally do not believe that any person who doesn’t understand the science and isn’t prepared to do for the next generations what we did here today and follow through on it cannot and will not be elected president of the United States.  It’s that simple.”

He even went on to say that this agreement received much more backing than he’d expected.

“Now in truth, I didn’t anticipate 186 countries.  I thought we’d be doing great if we hit 100 or somewhere – this far surpassed that.  But because we got together and it became serious as a result for a lot of countries, and because you had a developing country and somebody who had been leading the efforts against us in Copenhagen, that opened up the door.  And it was a sea change.”

But not everyone was so happy about the results. Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo stated that this “won’t dig us out of the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep”.

“The deal sets out the objective of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, but the emissions targets on the table take us closer to 3 degrees. That’s a critical problem, but it’s one with a solution. Renewable energy is already doing heavy-lifting across the globe, but now its moment must come. It’s the only technology mentioned in the Paris Agreement. There’s a yawning gap in this deal, but it can be bridged by clean technology. We’re in a race between the roll-out of renewables and rising temperatures, and the Paris Agreement could give renewables a vital boost. The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned.”

He also made a very important point: it’s not the time to celebrate our triumph – it’s time to start working.

“This is not a moment for triumphalism given the lives that have been lost already as a result of climate impacts, and the lives that are on the precipice as temperatures rise. This is a time for urgent action. The climate clock is ticking and the window of opportunity is closing fast.”

There are also some things which aren’t encouraging about the pact. The agreement itself is a Treaty under international law, which makes it legally binding. However, the national targets (NDCs), are not. This was one of the things basically veto-ed down by the US – they wouldn’t be a part of the pact without this.

Bill McKibben, Co-founder of 350.org argued that the change is pushed so far down the line that the damage will already be done by the time we transition to a carbon-free economy:

“Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry. This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

But even so, the solution has been praised. The B Team, a group of eminent business and civil society leaders praised the agreement. Sir Richard Branson, B-team co-founder and founder of Virgin, stated:

“Today, the course of history has shifted.  Paris will be remembered for generations as a watershed moment when the people of the world came together and set us on a pathway to net-zero emissions, economic justice and shared prosperity.  We have an opportunity to build a new economy, and business is poised to help make it happen. The “Paris effect” will ensure the economy of the future is driven by clean energy.”

For better or for worse, this is the agreement will have – and it has every change of becoming more ambitious. We can all play our tiny part and start making a difference. As said above, we have a chance to save the planet, but the window is closing fast.

The one word that almost ruined climate negotiations

The agreement in Paris is not a cure for the world’s environmental problems, but it’s definitely more than a band-aid. It provides a framework on which to build future global and national efforts, but one word came close to ruining everything.

Visibly exhausted, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius cracked a smile – probably the first one in days, as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon seemed close to crying. Even Julie Bishop, known for not giving overt displays of sentimentality described it as a “historic moment.” But they, as many other negotiators, will take home not only the sweet success of a successful negotiation, but also many a crisis averted at the last moment. Perhaps the most notable such crisis, as noted by one of the negotiators, took place on the very last session of the negotiations. The final version of the draft read:

“Developed Parties [countries] shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.”

The word “shall” was almost a game-breaker, because unlike the word “should”, it indicates direct legal responsibility, and ratifying such a thing is borderline impossible on a hostile US Senate riddled with climate change deniers. Nicaragua’s chief negotiator stepped in to ask some modifications of his own, and it was only after US Secretary of State John Kerry made a phone call to Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega that things called down. It was a very nervous 90 minutes, that could have brought the entire negotiations crashing down.

But for all the fine tuned diplomacy from both French representatives and John Kerry, the pact falls short in several aspects. It won’t solve all our problems, it may not even be what we need to actively reduce global greenhouse gases. It almost certainly isn’t ambitious enough, and it puts only a vague responsibility on developed countries – yet it’s the best we have. It’s the first, and therefore the best global climate pact in the history of the planet. We’ll stick by it, and we’ll improve it. We’ll do our best to help preserve the climate and limit our damage as much as possible. The power lies in our hands, just as it lies in our leaders’ hands.

By the urban poor, from the urban poor: fighting climate change

If we want to tackle climate change, we have to fight it from all sides; one of the things I liked about the COP21 climate summit was that people from all around the world came  to present their ideas for fighting climate change locally, with tailored solutions. The UN recently highlighted the projects in the Change Urban Poor category:

E-waste: From Toxic to Green

Image via GreenPeace.

The initiative targets electronic waste, while also improving working conditions and benefits for waste gatherers. E-Waste will train waste pickers in India to safely collect electronic waste for recycling and disposal. By recycling this waste directly from landfills, natural resources are conserved and air and water pollution caused by hazardous disposal is avoided. Also, less methane emissions will go into the atmosphere.

In a way, it’s sad that it had to come to this, but picking up trash from landfills will be done either way – training people to do it will increase their income by up to 30% while also reducing risk of health hazards – and reducing emissions in the process. It’s creating jobs and recycling trash.

Solvatten Solar Safe Water Heater

Solvatten is a hybrid system – with water treatment and solar water heating system. Solvatten is already improving lives in the Kenyan urban slums, by reducing the need to heat and boil water, by burning firewood or charcoal.

Even highly contaminated water is completely cleared in a few hours, with available sunlight. If the water is cleaned already, it can be heated even faster. So far, 2,592 Solvatten systems have been distributed and sold at a subsidized price in Kenya, benefitting 12,900 people in Nairobi’s urban slums; 22,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions have been avoided in Nairobi’s urban slums after four years of Solvatten use and some 62 million liters have been cleaned with the system.

Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative

Image via UNFCCC

The Latin American and Caribbean region (LAC) is the second most urbanized on the planet. It has gone from a 64% urbanization rate in 1980 to 79% in 2010. Despite its growth, the quality of life for newly urbanized citizens has not increased, and there are daunting challenges to be overcome.

The initiative is tackling climate change by creating planning tools and action plans to put Latin American cities on a low-carbon, highly resilient pathway. Thanks to it, 40 cities in Latin America and the Caribbean have developed climate vulnerability assessments, greenhouse gas inventories, climate mitigation studies and action plans, benefiting 41 million people.

 

New COP draft on the table… but is it good enough?!

After hundreds of hours of negotiations and discourse, it seems that the parties involved are finally settled and can agree to a new draft for a binding climate agreement. But with one day left to go, is that enough – can we call it a success?

The pact is a top-bottom approach; it’s an international agreement that countries will ratify and then implement measures at a national, regional and local level. The ultimate objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations and limit global warming as much as possible, and the success of the pact will ultimately lie in its binding capacity – but ambition should not be overlooked for the sake of compromise.

What’s on the table now is pretty vague. Some limits are fixed, but you get a feeling of kicking the can down the road, instead of taking the bull by the horns. Reactions have been mixed. Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace said:

“This thing isn’t over until the conference closes, but what’s on the table just isn’t good enough. It’s a very big problem that the emissions targets on the table will not keep us below 1.5 degrees of warming and this draft deal does absolutely nothing to change that. Right now we’re witnessing a display of international impotence. This text should say that countries have to come back soon with better numbers but instead it kicks that can down the road, saying we’ll sort it in ten or fifteen years. That’s too late, they’re closing the door on our best chance to dodge dangerous warming. Right now, if you were planning on investing in a new coal mine this deal might not be enough to make you put your chequebook away. The negotiators have got twenty-four hours to change that simple fact.”

Among the most worrying things is the lack of mention of renewable energy – how can we be expected to phase out our emissions without replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy?

“The text talks about ‘greenhouse gas emissions neutrality’. Why can’t this conference just say it like it is, that we need to quit oil, coal and gas by 2050 at the latest? And why is there only one mention of the word renewables, and only in relation to Africa, when renewables will clearly come to dominate this century?”

It’s hard to draw some conclusions now. ideally, it won’t be the final draft, and the last hours of COP21 will be well spent and fruitful, preparing a better draft – a more ambitious one, if you may. Then, the real work starts: enforcing it.

rio20-green-washing-capitalism

Big Oil is hiding behind the scenes of COP21 — what does it hope to gain?

In Paris, more than 40,000 delegates, journalists, NGOs and policy experts have gathered at the Le Bourget conference center to hammer out a climate change deal — one that might see the world avert at least 2 degrees C of warming. Among them are also corporate executives from the fossil fuel industry, yet unlike other COPs (Conference of the Parties) where these companies were very vocal renting booths and speaking at high profile events, at COP21 things are a lot more quiet. The narrative has changed as well. Most oil companies now have no issue admitting climate change is real and caused by combustion of fossil fuels (which they supply). Instead, companies like Shell or BP have positioned themselves as part of the solution, and not the problem. But how can their interests possibly align with the state goal of COP21? In short – they don’t.

rio20-green-washing-capitalism

Illustration: http://oneplanet-sustainability.org/

There are two main points that fossil fuel companies are lobbying at this conference and, most of all behind the doors back home where they enjoy exclusive consideration from governments. 1) Tax carbon and 2) use gas instead of coal. Then, there’s talks of how energy companies now work hard to lower their operational emissions and invest in renewable energy. These are always welcomed, but when you consider just how much renewable energy these companies are actually feeding the mix compared to how many emissions they generate with their other operations, it’s just eye glitter — an attempt to stay relevant in a changing world where these companies won’t have a place anymore. But while they’re still holding on strongly to past paradigms, fossil fuel companies risk killing any consensus in Paris.

Unholy alliance

There are more than 50 corporate sponsors paying to keep the lights on at COP21, which costs $200 million to organize. Among these are companies which don’t have a perfect sustainability history, to use an euphemism, like: EDF and Engie (both own coal plants responsible for huge emissions around the world), Air France (who has actively opposed emission reduction targets), GDF Suez (pro-fracking lobbying and another huge emitter) or BNP Paribas (a multinational bank with billions of dollars invested in coal mines and coal-fired power plants).

“It’s greenwashing,” Corporate Accountability International spokesperson Jesse Bragg said. “Those corporations are able to say they’re part of the solution just because they write a check.”

Scientists agree that for the world to avert 2 degrees warming — again the stated goal of this conference and anything above this threshold is nothing short of a climate disaster — then 80% of all fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground. Yes, a transition won’t happen overnight and we’ll still need to burn fossil fuels until we’ve completely phased them out by 2050. In the meantime, taxing carbon – maybe under a tax revenue neutral framework, as suggested by Elon Musk – will be essential to meeting this goal. But taxing carbon is just another licence for fossil fuel companies to go about business as usual. They’ll just pay to pollute, not shut down.

Concerning the taunting of gas over coal, this is yet another manipulative measure. The industry says that burning gas instead of coal is a lot cleaner or, let’s say, less damaging. The statement is true in this form, but from a life cycle perspective gas is actually worse, since there’s a lot of methane leaking during the extraction process.

During the couple of side events fossil fuel executives moderated here in Paris at the COP, they slyly dodged any sensitive questions. Adam Ramsay from Open Democracy was in the audience of such an event last week. When asked if the industry agrees on the UN set target of 2C, Liz Rogers, representative of the oil industry group IPIECA, confirmed ‘yes’. But behind the scene, when Ramsay spoke in private with Shell’s climate change adviser David Hone, something entirely different came out:

“The presumption of your question is that the 2°C is a given. But I think that to answer the question, you have to… say this is not a given. And of course that immediately disenfranchises a lot of people, because that’s the model… they’re all discussing that over there… (gestures towards negotiation room)”.

Before COP started, the CEOs of some of the biggest oil & gas companies in the world, including BP, Shell and Total, held a press conference asking for immediate action against climate change and urging world readers to reach an agreement in Paris.

“We recognize the rising environmental, social, economic, and security risks posed by climate change, and that delaying action will result in greater risks and costs,” according to the statement. “An effective response to climate change requires strong government leadership, and presents both enormous challenges and significant economic opportunities for the private sector.”
“Our shared ambition is for a 2°C future. It is a challenge for the whole of society. We are committed to playing our part. Over the coming years we will collectively strengthen our actions and investments to contribute to reducing the GHG (greenhouse gas) intensity of the global energy mix. Our companies will collaborate in a number of areas, with the aim of going beyond the sum of our individual efforts.”

Greenwashing, again. It’s no wonder that fossil fuel companies prefer keeping a lower profile here at COP21. Instead, they’ve resorted to ad campaigns and sponsorships. Media interviews are regularly refused and, when executives do speak at one of the countless conference events, the moderator is either part of an energy company or at the very least an industry-friendly voice. Sometimes, corporate executives come clean (not by intent), like when Gérard Moutet, a vice-president with oil and gas company Total, took the stage at Press Conference 1 right after Al Gore made an emotional speech, saying: “Oil and gas … will still be an important part of the mix for the foreseeable future. If we look to 2030, oil pollution will be about the same today and more gas pollution.” This veil is kept by recent developments in the United States, where New York’s attorney general is investigating Exxon over allegation that the company failed to warn its investors of climate change related risks. If 80% of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground, these become stranded assets and shares will plummet, but this isn’t disclosed anywhere. That’s what likely got Hone to react so dodgy. No fossil fuel company wants to be in Exxon’s place right now, but all of them might face similar charges next year.

These developments, of course, have not gone unnoticed by civil society. Some we’ve featured here on ZME, like the faux ads raising awareness on corporate greenwashing or the hundreds gathered in front of the Louvre protesting against oil sponsorship of COP.

Saudi Arabia accused of derailing Paris talks

With only three days left from the Paris Climate Summit, the time for populist talks has passed, and we’re expecting concrete solutions. But one of the largest oil producers in the world is getting in the way of a deal, making implausible objections.

Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi, minister of petroleum and mineral resources

More and more fingers are being pointed at Saudi Arabia, who stands accused of trying to wreck the climate deal. More and more groups from the conference are becoming vocal about what the kingdom is doing, and why they’re doing it:

“They are seeing the writing on the wall,” said Wael Hmaidan , director of Climate Action Network, the global campaign group. “The world is changing and it’s making them very nervous.”

Their concern is that their economy is based strictly on oil, and couldn’t adapt to a renewable future.

“Anything that would increase ambition or fast forward this energy transition that is already taking place is something that they try to block,” Hmaidan said.

Saudi Arabia at COP21

No one was available for comment regarding this issue, but the Saudis had a very nice (and large) pavilion, and many representatives were eager to tell us about their projects for a sustainable future. We had our doubts about this – how could the inhabitants of a country where water is more expensive than oil be expected to support a shift from fossil fuels? Was it all nation-wide greenwashing, or was it serious talk? Last month Saudi Arabia proposed a “significant deviation” in emissions, but was the last G20 country to submit its offer to the United Nations – and many have regarded their targets as opaque.

In many ways, they hold a very complicated position; on one hand, they hold very large oil reserves and would financially have much to lose if people stop buying oil from them, but on the other hand, they are geographically very vulnerable to the adverse effects of global warming and other climate change-induced extreme weather phenomena. In addition, as a fast-growing economy, Saudi Arabia is experiencing a rapid growth in demand for energy, as well as demands to diversity their energy sources.

So, on stage, at a discourse level, they’ve made efforts to be perceived as a country with vast resources that wants to change for a sustainable future, but behind closed doors, they’ve vehemently opposed any climate pact.

“It is unacceptable for developing countries, like my own, to be asked to participate in this so called ratchet mechanism,” the Saudis were reported to have told the session. “It was tough, we had to go to every ministry, every part of government. We developing countries don’t have the capacity to do this every five years. We are too poor, we have too many other priorities. It’s unacceptable,” a Saudi delegate said.

gdp

First of all, they’re not as “developing” as they’d want people to think. With a GDP per capita of over $24.000 / year, they’re doing better than European countries like Portugal or the Czech Republic, and way better than Brazil or Russia. Their GPD/capita is 5 times larger than that of Iran – heck, they’re the 15th largest economy in the world! They’re hardly in a position to complain about being poor and not affording to do something most countries in the world, especially those much poorer than them have already agreed to do.

Unreasonable objections

As if that wasn’t enough, they came up with another unreasonable claim: if Pacific islands are to be compensated for the damage they suffer due to climate change, Saudi Arabia also wants to be compensated for loss of future oil income! It doesn’t work like that, guys. The idea is to compensate the areas that suffering from climate change that is none of their fault – not to reward those who have been pushing the usage of fossil fuels for decades. Saudi Arabia even asked for financial support to develop renewable technologies – after they told the press that they are already developing these technologies.

Their objections are becoming so absurd that even other countries from the Arab bloc are distancing themselves. Egypt officially embraced the 1.5C goal at the start of the talks, something which the Saudis were opposed to.

“We feel Saudi Arabia is playing a bully role in undermining the position of other Arab countries,” Hmaidan said. “It is unfortunate that the Arab group is the only group opposing 1.5C.”

 

COP21

COP21 Live Blog: Day 10

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from COP21, in Paris — Day 10.

What polar inhabitants want from a climate deal

While the climate talks in Paris are carrying on in full force, it’s important to keep in mind that most of climate change isn’t actually affecting the ones causing it. The polar regions, the south Pacific and small islands are the ones suffering the most. The governments of Nunavut (Canada) and Greenland (Denmark) and the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) released a joint statement on climate change at the COP21 climate meeting in Paris today.

“We are here to deliver an urgent message on behalf of the people of the North. When it comes to climate change, Nunavut is one of the most vulnerable areas on earth,” said Nunavut Premier, Peter Taptuna. We are deeply concerned about the impacts of climate change on sea ice and our way of life. We therefore stand before you today, with the Government of Greenland and the Inuit Circumpolar Council, asking the United Nations to reach an agreement that accounts for the impacts of climate change on the Arctic.”

Nunavut is the largest but least populous district of Canada, with a population of about 31.000 people. Greenland has almost twice as more people, and it also has significant scientific importance, with a permanent HQ set up there.

“Greenland has an important responsibility in promoting international climate research. Greenlandic climate research combines international cutting-edge research with an Arctic human dimension. Our joint Inuit voice and our traditional know-how from across the Arctic should be heard and included in international policy-making. Most importantly, Arctic indigenous peoples have to be ensured an equal access to the right to development. Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests must be included in the COP21 outcome document.” – Greenland Minister, Vittus Qujaukitsoq

Climate change isn’t uniform throughout the globe, and some areas are suffering more than others. The Arctic is already experiencing acute impacts related to climate change, with significant rise in temperatures, permafrost thaw, loss of glacier ice and disruptions to wildlife. Furthermore, the areas in the Arctic are virtually without fault, considering the scale of global emissions. With this in mind, they proposed a climate deal that:

 

  • Strongly reconfirms the principle of a common but differentiated responsibility in tackling climate change.
  • Takes enhanced measures to stabilize global greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations below ~450 parts per million by volume to make certain global temperature increases will remain between 1.5°C and 2°C.
  • Recognizes and protects the rights of Indigenous peoples and the values, interests, culture and traditions of the peoples of the Arctic.
  • Ensures equal access to the right to development, also for the peoples of the Arctic.
  • Acknowledges the extremely high cost of living in the Arctic and does not impose further financial burden to Arctic regions.
  • Advocates the development and expansion of energy solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, also for areas like the Arctic.
  • Ensures that Inuit food security is protected.
  • Promotes the need for adaptation action in areas that are disproportionately affected by climate change, such as the Arctic, and for sustainable funding to support such initiatives.
  • Recognizes the importance of indigenous knowledge, its significant contribution to our understanding of climate change, and acknowledges its value being on par with scientific data.

While some of the points are definitely debatable, ensuring the people’s food security and supporting their sustainable development should definitely be a priority, especially considering how disproportionately they are affected.

 

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to terminate climate change – and promote vegetarianism

“I don’t give a damn if we agree about climate change” – this is how a post on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Facebook page opened up yesterday, one day before his talk at the COP21 climate summit.

Fighting for climate

schw

We don’t have the time to debate and convince everyone, as every day, as 19,000 people die from pollution from fossil fuels. “Do you accept those deaths? Do you accept that children all over the world have to grow up breathing with inhalers?,” he continued. “Besides the fact that fossil fuels destroy our lungs, everyone agrees that eventually they will run out. What’s your plan then?.” Today, the former governor of California pushed that message even more, saying that the world has to unite in tackling climate change – and not point fingers.

“The whole world is (asking) China to produce their products so therefore we’re basically sending all the pollution to China and so now they have to deal with it and we all have to work together with them. It’s not like finger-pointing (at China) or like ‘them versus us,’ it’s more like ‘how can we do this together?'” he said.

Arnold expressed his views at the “Five Year Vision” launch, a move that hopes to align local actions and commitments around collective ambitions by 2020, thereby making rapid urbanization and regional dynamics an opportunity for massive change with environmental, health and economic benefits. Schwarzenegger remains one of the very few Republicans who supports movements to fight climate change.

“I’m a big believer in the message and that we have to re-do our message. Talking about something that’s going to happen in 20 years’ time is not going to sink in the same way as when you talk about today.”

While discussions regarding a climate agreement seem to have stagnated in Paris, social pressure grows more and more, pushing for a deal. In particular, China and the US are expected to sign the deal as the two largest polluters in the world. The US has long pointed its finger at China, rejecting such a pact due to China’s actions, but now, the tables could finally turn for the better. An initial draft has already been put together a few days ago, but since then, there was no report on any progress. The conference will last until Sunday, 13 December.

Schwarzenegger: ‘Go part-time vegetarian to protect the planet’

In an interview with the BBC, the former governor went on to discuss what each of us can do to protect the planet – most notably: eat less meat!

Farming creates an estimated 28% of global greenhouse gases, but asking people to go full-time vegetarian is too demanding and impractical. What he suggests, instead, is just giving up meat one or a few times a week.

“You can get your protein many different ways,” he stated. “I have seen many body-builders and (weight) lifters that are vegetarians. My friend recommends stop eating meat. I think that’s a good idea but people won’t buy in. People will buy in to stop eating meat one or two days a week – you have to start slowly. It’s a very big challenge but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”

Eating meat is much more demanding on the environment. Producing 1 kg of meat protein takes in between 3 and 10 kg of vegetable protein – notwithstanding the land and water use, as well as the massive emissions caused by producing meat.

In recent years, many commentators have seen Schwarzenegger as moving away from the right and towards the center of the political spectrum. Since he began his political career, his views on the issue have constantly diverged from that of fellow party members on this issue. On September 27, 2006 Schwarzenegger signed a bill creating the nation’s first cap on greenhouse gas emissions and in the same year, he signed a deal which allowed California to work with the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – an initiative that wants to limit CO2 emissions. In 2011, Schwarzenegger founded the R20 Regions of Climate Action to develop a sustainable, low carbon economy

COP21 Live Blog: Day 9

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from the COP21 Conference in Paris, Day 5

COP21

COP21 Live Blog: Day 5

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from the COP21 Conference in Paris, Day 5

COP talks tackle the issue of biggest polluters — wolves in sheep’s clothing

Should dirty energy companies have a voice in climate talks? Can government figures, known to receive money from the oil and gas industry, be trusted to represent the best interests of the planet over those of the people that fund their campaigns? That was one of the key points that today’s conference on great polluters debated on.

Left to right:  Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, Olivier Hoedeman, Asad Rehman speaking at today's conference.

Left to right:
Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, Olivier Hoedeman, Asad Rehman speaking at today’s conference.

Traditionally, fossil fuel companies are invited to participate in climate and energy talks being viewed as central figures in the process of climate change.

“75% of the meetings of the EU comissions with energy companies were with fossil fuel companies,” said Campaign Coordinator Olivier Hoedeman from the Corporate Europe Observatory earlier today at the conference.

They’re not only some of the biggest economic entities embroiled in it, but also from scientific point of view. Boasting some of the most advanced understanding of the substances they work with, their research teams have been called upon time and time again to come up with solutions to address the issue, trusting them to have the interest of humanity as a whole at heart, and not to company profits. Unsurprisingly, that was a loosing bet.

“That’s the opposite of what should happen,” he added.

A strong parallel was drawn between Big Oil today and Big Tobacco in its glory days by Corporate Accountability International‘s Associate Research Director Tamar Lawrence-Samuel. She warned that just as the case was then, until fossil fuel companies aren’t kicked out of the talks, a real consensus can’t be reached and an efficient solution to climate change won’t be agreed upon. Fossil fuel companies will continue (very efficiently) to delay, weaken and even block progress in these talks for one very simple reason, she says: they make a huge amount of money, a paradigm shift away from fossil would stop them from making said money, and they’re willing to spend — gaining them a lot of pull in the political world.

“Senators who voted against an amendment that expressed the view that human activities were significantly contributing to climate change received on average 7.1 more money from Oil and Gas industry than those voting yes on that amendment,” she added.

We’ve recently covered how climate denial groups’ funding can be traced back to Big Oil, ExxonMobile and Kock in particular, and I agree with Tamar. There’s no way anyone would agree to policy that directly undermines their income.There’s an old saying, warning one “not to cut the branch from under your feet,” and those on fossil fuel payrolls know fully well who their branch is.

“So, one of the reasons why we can’t agree on a fair and just climate change is that there are forces fighting against this goal, and corporations and fossil fuel companies in particular play a key role,” Tamar concluded.

Asad Rehman, representing Friends of the Earth also advocated for removal of fossil fuel companies from the negotiation table, and expresses his concers even regarding the current talks:

“You see Engie and BNP sponsoring this COP, and they are responsible for many of today’s emissions!” he said.

“Putting corporates in the driving seat for climate negotiations is like putting Dracula in a blood bank,” concluded Asad.

That’s a good line, but don’t let his humor fool you — fossil fuel companies will do their damned best to keep their product in demand. And hey, that’s understandable, they’re companies after all, and profit is the only god that companies bow to.

But we have to wake up, and see this for what it is — an irreconcilable conflict of interests. Take dirty energy corporates out of the talks, find a workable solution, and implement is as fast as we possibly can or start looking for deals on boats.

Chinese artist vacuumed smog and turned it into a brick

As China’s cities struggle with smog more and more, one man has started an interesting project to raise awareness: he wandered the streets of Beijing with a vacuum cleaner gathering smog and turned it into a brick.

Day 98, cloudy, Wangjing Soho. Image credits: Nut Brother.

Meet “Nut Brother,” a 34-year-old artist and activist from Shenzhen. Of course, he understands vacuuming smog will do nothing to change the quality of air in the city, but that’s not his aim – he wants to raise awareness about the fight against climate change, especially in the context of the COP21 climate summit in Paris.

“I want to show this absurdity to more people,” Wang, 34, said on Tuesday as pollution levels in the Chinese capital soared to levels 40 times higher than those deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. “I want people to see that we cannot avoid or ignore this problem [and] that we must take real action.”

Image credits: Nut Brother.

Ironically, while he was walking on the streets of Beijing, people would often ask him if he was an air cleaner and they were glad that efforts are being done to clean the air. Both environmentalists and local citizens are disheartened by the situation, especially as no solution seems to be in order.

“The shocking levels of air pollution we have seen in the last few days are a serious danger to the health of hundreds of millions of citizens,” said Dong Liansai, Greenpeace’s climate campaigner in China. “Moreover, the Beijing city government’s insufficient alerting system has compounded the problem.”

Day 36, sunny, Tiananmen Square. Image credits: Nut Brother.

It took him 100 days to plan and gather enough smog with his vacuum; after that, he mixed what he collected with clay and took it to a brick factory. The brick is now drying up, and it will be ready for display in a couple of days. In total, he gathered about 100 grams, and added a few kilograms of clay, which means that his brick isn’t that different from other bricks, but it’s a symbol.

The next step, he says, is to give the new brick to a building in Beijing, just like “just like putting a drop of water in the ocean.”

 

After the climate talks in Paris, the real work begins

The Climate Summit in Paris may or may not create a binding agreement for countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, but either way, the real work will begin after the talks.

Image credits: Nature.

Image credits: Nature.

“When the meetings in Paris are done, the real business of decarbonization must begin,” write climate-policy experts David Victor and James Leape in a Comment piece in this week’s Nature. They call on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to hold companies to the emissions-cuts promises that they will make in the glare of the world’s media at December’s international climate talks in Paris. NGOs should also help businesses to make the wide-ranging changes needed to their structures and supply chains, they suggest.

The role of NGOs in dealing with climate change has often been controversial; while many see them as a much needed force that can make a difference in the fight against climate change, some see them as dangerous, loose cannons that only spark public interest without truly making a positive impact in the greater scheme of things. But if anything, as Victor and Leape say, they can hold companies responsible for the promises they make (and way too often, break).

But who can do that for governments? What kind of binding agreement can be … binding? What external organization can play the role on this scale? The two suggest that it’s vital to set up a system that enforces the rules and makes sure that even the big players like US or China respect the agreements – an external organization, like the World Bank or the OECD.

In the mean time, we as individuals can still do our part and limit, as much as possible, our impact on the environment – change has to come both from above, and from the grassroots.