During the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) that recently took place in Paris, the governments of more than 190 nations reached an agreement on climate change. After two weeks of negotiation, 196 ministers agreed to a new global deal to tackle climate change, reducing carbon emissions and limit global warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” .
This achievement, which has been described as “historic, durable and ambitious”, clearly represents a historical success: in 2009, the last global attempt to resolve climate change failed miserably, into chaos and recrimination. As observed in the Financial Times by Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, this Paris agreement can be seen as a “ diplomatic triumph ”. The text is balanced and comprehensive, and includes real issues; the 2°C upper limit is a feasible goal. Diplomats have undoubtedly done a really good job. However, bringing all sides together came at a price. Again, this is not a binding agreement; it is just an expression of good intentions.
Now, the challenge of implementation begins. But we get off on the wrong foot: there are no economic incentives either sanctions (except the always available ‘naming and shaming’); each country can set its own target of carbon emission; the contribution of Western countries to help developing economies switching to renewable sources of energies are voluntary too.
Reaching the long-term goal of changing the nature of progress is a complex matter. Besides having weak tools to limit climate change, as we have seen so far, some countries behave in a contradictory way. For instance, on October 5 th the US and 11 other Pacific Rim nations have reached a controversial agreement ( the Trans-Pacific Partnership – TPP ), after more than 5 years of closed negotiation.
It has not received the news coverage of the Paris agreement, but it is likely to compromise the commitments taken in the latter. Environmental organizations heavily criticized it. Why? An entire chapter of the document is dedicated to the Environment: they do recognize the presence of an array of environmental challenges, from wildlife trafficking to marine pollution. However, Article 20.2.3 says:
“The Parties further recognise that it is inappropriate to establish or use their environmental laws or other measures in a manner which would constitute a disguised restriction on trade or investment between the Parties.”
Indeed, the countries that signed the deal recognize the importance of mutually supportive trade and environmental polices and practice, but seem to put them on two different levels: on the upper level, trade policies; on the lower level, environmental policies, which are acceptable if not conflicting with trade. The TPP will empower big polluters to challenge environmental policies in private trade courts. As Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth , said: “ The TPP investment chapter would allow firms to sue governments for billions if climate or environmental rules interfere with corporate profits ”.
U.S. Climate Plan Executive Director, Evan Weber, gives a clear judgement on the deal:
“The TPP is likely to provide fossil fuel companies and other polluters new tools to avoid regulations and fight policies designed to protect our climate and our communities. Negotiated in secret by corporations and governments, with public oversight and input expressly prohibited, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which this corporate giveaway gets us any closer to preserving a liveable planet for future generations ."
At the end of the day, the future of our planet is still unclear. And uncertainty reigns: on the one hand, we see an increasing attention of the wide public on environmental issues, followed by the declared efforts of politicians to come to a global resolution; on the other hand, countries still replicate the same old schemes of progress, promoting businesses that do harm our environment and health.
In this schizophrenic world, nothing is clear, but the fact that the Paris agreement, despite its words of hope, won’t have any tangible effect on climate issues.