Montag, 21. Dezember 2015

The end of fossil fuels is near - but where is justice?

We at Greenpeace had three key expectation for the Paris Agreement. We wanted

  1. a signal that the age of fossil fuels is over
  2. a commitment to soon - and continuously - improve national climate action and
  3. global solidarity including a way to make polluters pay for the damage they cause

Today, we can say that we got 1, achieved progress on 2, and that governments mostly failed us on 3. Justice and corporate accountability were the weakest points of the Paris deal.

Let me explain.

  1. Replacing fossil fuels with 100% Renewable Energy

After Paris, there can be no doubt that the time is up for fossil fuels.  
Even The Economist concludes that after Paris “the idea of investing in a coal mine will seem more risky“. Governments chose convoluted language, but the only realistic way to achieve the new “long term goal” they agreed is to phase out fossil fuels by 2050. The deal leaves the door open for some bad things - such as plantations. We will be vigilant and ensure that the real solutions - sustainable renewable energy, forest protection etc. - are the winners as governments implement the deal. Politically speaking, the language is in fact surprisingly strong. The Paris Agreement goes further than the G7 summit commitment to “decarbonize” earlier this year. They did not yet commit to the just transition to a world run on 100% renewable energy for all that we seek. But the Paris deal will drive the energy revolution in the real world - it´s already making shares in renewable companies go up.

2. Commitment to improve national targets

We already know that the pledges governments took to Paris are not good enough and will still lead to a very dangerous and destructive world (between 2.7 and 3.7 degrees warmer than in preindustrial times - the estimates vary). The Paris agreement does not force governments to change them, and change them fast. That is a blatant contradiction to the new 1,5 degree goal, which can only be achieved if we make drastic emission cuts in the next 10 to 15 years already. Indeed, if government don´t ram up ambition, we will use up the entire carbon we can still use before we exceed 1,5 degrees before 2030 at the latest.

The agreement does help a bit by setting a review date of current commitments - 2018. It also makes it clear that there will be regular reviews of ambition every 5 years and that countries will always have to improve what they commit to. President Hollande in his final speech at the conference also promised more emission cuts and more financial support for developing countries before 2020. That´s the dynamic we hope to see following Paris. Other leaders must follow. Because we have no time to waste.

3. Global solidarity

Overall the Paris Agreement fails the justice test. Fine words like “climate justice” and human rights are included only in the non-binding part of the text. Indigenous Peoples rights (while also mentioned in the legal text) are not given the protection they deserve. Just as with emission cuts, we know that the current money available to help the impacted adapt to climate change is not enough. The Paris deal does too little to change that. “Loss and damage” - which refers to negative climate impacts that can’t be adapted to - has however been included in the agreement. That is welcome (it was one of our sub tests). But the Paris Agreement fails to support the idea that major carbon polluters should be made accountable for the damage they have caused. We will have to continue to pursue such justice elsewhere. For us one of the best things of the last two weeks therefore did not happen in Paris but in Manila. The Phillipines Human Rights Commission on December 10th launched a probe into 50 major polluters for potential human rights violations. That´s a major new step - and right on, as inaction on climate change does indeed violate human rights.

All in all, governments took us a step forward in Paris, especially on making it clear that fossil fuels will be history soon. But even if the Paris Agreement had met all our criteria, it would still only have been one stop on the long road to climate justice.
The key issue is not what is in this deal but what will happen next. And that is why I am optimistic. The climate movement has shown it´s strength in Paris. Out there in the real world, coal demand is in terminal decline worldwide and after a dramatic change of energy policy in China we may have reached the global peak of emissions already. People power has also brought real trouble for the oil polluters: Shell had to retreat from the Alaskan Arctic, for example, and President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline.

In 2016 we - the entire climate movement - will escalate the opposition to fossil fuels all over the world and drive the solutions needed. I leave Paris encouraged. People power will drive the change we need. If you join us!

P.S. This post was published on and Huffington Post

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