Negotiating a Catastrophe

The Paris climate talks created hope and little else

by Juda Jelinek

Everyone knows the value of a politician’s word. The promises made at the Paris Climate Change convention are no different. The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (COP21) concluded on December 12 to great celebrations. “With a small hammer you can achieve great things,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as he announced that the final draft had been accepted by delegates of all 196 represented countries.

The agreement is being referred to as a “landmark deal” and an “historic moment”. U.S. President Barack Obama said the accord shows what is possible when the world stands as one: “This agreement represents the best chance we’ve had to save the one planet that we’ve got.” But COP21 may be both the first and the worst possible legally-binding deal of its kind. What cheering delegates have considered a “success” is only the first step to tackling climate change, and it comes much too late.

The biggest climate conference in history, COP21’s aim was to bring about international resolution on two major issues: whether the rise in global temperatures should be halted at 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels, and how much funding should be given out by rich nations to developing countries to help tackle the burden imposed by the effects of climate change such as rising sea-levels and extreme weather events.

1.5C or 2C?

Triggered by fossil fuel use, the meat industry, and mass deforestation, temperatures last year were already, on average, one degree warmer than before the Industrial Revolution. Consequently, 2015 is the new hottest year on record. How much hotter will nations let the Earth become?

The COP21 agreement reached a compromise between the two targets. According to the final draft, parties will be “pursuing efforts” to keep rising global temperatures below 1.5C, but in the preamble of the text, the objective is described as keeping global average temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees. It has been widely suggested the climate effects of 2C warming would be unacceptably catastrophic.

As yet, there is no clear plan on …

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