Paris agreement pledges nothing for the climate

The media hailed the Paris climate conference as delivering an “historic” global agreement. But there is nothing to celebrate. The agreement is a sham.

World leaders were determined to avoid the appearance of failure, even stage-managing a standing ovation. But the deal is voluntary, non-binding, and contains no penalties for failing to reach targets. The deal was there was no deal, just worthless words.

Whereas the Kyoto Protocols were supposed to be legally binding, in Paris they didn’t even try. Countries were allowed to pledge their own emissions reduction targets, for review five years from now.

In all, 176 countries made a pledge to reduce their emissions. But if you add these up, global temperatures will rise by 2.7 – 4 degrees. This is not safe. And nothing stops governments breaking even these promises.

World leaders agree on one thing: putting profits before the planet. They are not prepared to confront the power of the fossil fuel industry, or corporations that want cheap electricity to stay “competitive”. G20 governments give $120 billion a year to oil, gas and coal companies. The logic of capitalist competition means politicians always put profits first.

Much was made of the aspiration to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a step beyond the usual 2 degrees. And there is some symbolic value, given low-lying island nations have long argued that they cannot survive more than a 1.5 degree rise. But in the end it is all hot air. The agreement only says it will “pursue efforts” for 1.5 degrees. They are actually letting the planet warm by at least twice this.

Global emissions are allowed to continue to rise until a peak as far out as 2050. Emissions from shipping and airlines were excluded altogether, despite making up 10 per cent of global emissions.

And the agreement continues to advocate market-based carbon pricing and trading schemes as the key to emissions cuts. This includes the dodgy practice of funding “offset” schemes in third world countries instead of actually cutting emissions.

Fossil fuels

The document specifically makes no mention of coal, oil, gas or fossil fuels—let alone any promises to phase them out. Early in the conference Malcolm Turnbull made a point of refusing to sign on to an agreement initiated by New Zealand to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

World Coal Organisation chief Benjamin Sporton predicted no “massive change at the moment”. BHP Billiton predicted an agreement in Paris would not hit their mining profits, which they plan to double by 2030. The Australian government is continuing with the mega Shenhua mine in NSW, and the Carmichael mine in Queensland. Turnbull is clinging to Abbott’s old do-nothing “Direct Action” plan. Japan and South Korea will continue with plans to open over 61 new coal-fired power stations in the next ten years.

As prominent climate scientist James Hansen said, “It’s just bullshit…As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will continue to be burned”.

No justice, no money

Nearly every justice-based issue, from indigenous and migrant rights, food sovereignty, intergenerational justice, and a just transition, were pushed into an unenforceable preamble.

And developed countries continued to shirk historical responsibility, failing to assist developing nations to transition to renewable energy.

In 2009 they agreed to give US$100 billion per year by 2020 to developing nations for transition and adaptation. So far, the fund has only raised US$10.2 billion in pledges for the period up to 2018, and almost half of this has not been signed off. Only US$2 billion is actually available.

The OECD recently reported that US$62 billion has been pledged in 2014—but this is deeply misleading. Most of this money is dubious loans and schemes from the private sector.

Australia promised a pathetic $200 million, out of existing aid. Julie Bishop won the “fossil of the day” award on day ten for saying, “coal will remain critical to promoting prosperity, growing economies and alleviating hunger for years to come.”


Outside, 20,000 people defied the ban on protests to rally on the final day with red fabric to symbolise the “red lines” being crossed by the agreement.

France banned demonstrations overnight in response to a terrorist attack, but cannot fathom a real emergency response to the coming climate catastrophe. This task is up to us.

Around the world three-quarters-of-a-million people marched in the largest-ever global climate demonstration. There is a long way to go—but this is where the hope lies. Nothing short of a mass struggle will overcome the fossil fuel addiction of world leaders and businesses. Paris was a reminder of this.

By Erima Dall


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