17 Dec 2015

Climate controls ‘slip slidin’ away’
following weak Paris agreement

 “World agrees to historic climate accord” 
The Toronto Star.
“Nearly 200 countries agree to historic pact in Paris
to reduce emissions and fight climate change”

The Vancouver Sun.
 “Climate deal: World praises France's diplomacy, showing it's still a master of the art”
The Winnipeg Free Press.

With these headlines appearing in newspapers across the country, Canadians must have been relieved that they don’t need to worry about climate change nearly as much now that everything has been worked out in Paris.

Unfortunately, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

The politicians meeting in Paris, faced with the possibility of total failure, were extremely excited to reach any kind of an agreement. As politicians will do, they convinced themselves and the compliant mainstream media that the accord all 195 countries signed was an amazing break through document.

The agreement is jam-packed with lofty language and idealistic goals. However, it is totally lacking in legally binding mechanism that will hold governments to emission limits that will stop global warming from reaching devastatingly high levels.

May & Klein have strongly different opinions

Even so, there are strong differences of opinion among environmental leaders concerning the value of the pact.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May is not concerned that the temperature goals in the agreement are not binding.

“It’s an historic and potentially life-saving agreement,” May writes in her blog.  . . . . “it may save the lives of millions.  It may lead to the survival of many small nations close to sea level.  It may give our grandchildren a far more stable climate and thus a more prosperous and healthy society.”

Two of the world’s leading climate activists disagree strongly with May.

Responding to the cheering going on in the meeting room when the deal was signed, Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org commented: “All the serious people in there in suits are playing fantasy games.”

Activist and author Naomi Klein said the agreed upon targets are far too weak. “They don’t lead us to 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees. They lead us to warming of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, which is beyond catastrophic.”

This year global warming, compared to the pre-industrial age temperature, is expected to reach 1 degree Celsius. Scientists say that warming must be kept to 1.5 degrees if hundreds of islands are to be saved. If countries do not improve on the promises they made in Paris global warming could reach 3.5 degrees by 2100 or earlier.

In Paris, rich countries, instead of stepping forward and coming up with firm commitments to fight warming, abdicated their responsibility to powerful multi-national corporations.

Corporations were involved in just about every aspect of COP21, including helping to pay for the summit. Meanwhile, a few select non-governmental organizations were permitted only to look over the draft of the agreement at the end of each day. Organizers kept thousands of protestors away from the delegates.

Most of the actions that can come out of the agreement are left to the marketplace, and activities many will be carried out by the same corporations that have polluted the planet.

Incidentally, it was no surprise that none of the words “fossil fuels”, “oil” or “coal” appear in the agreement.

Carbon trading, which allow companies to make huge profits but that are slow to reduce emissions, are looked upon favourably. Because no action was taken against fracking, the practice, which produces highly damaging methane gas, will increase.

Financial institutions are already making large profits from financing many activities related to global warming. The most common funding is for clean energy solutions, underwriting green bonds and structuring catastrophe-linked securities to help clients manage climate change risks.

It is a bitter irony that the banks financed corporations as they destroyed our climate, and now they’ll provide the financing for many of the same companies to try to clean it up.

Rich North betrays developing nations

The lack of substantial outcomes from Paris for countries with the least ability to defend themselves from global warming has caused rifts that may not be overcome for years.

Helen Szoke, of Oxfam Australia, denounced the agreement as “a frayed lifeline to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific Region contribute just 0.3 per cent   of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet residents of many islands have had to leave their homes, and dozens of islands will disappear under water if strong actions to slow emissions in the developed world are not taken.

There was a lot of fancy talk in Paris about transporting millions of tonnes of earth to restore the most threatened islands, but residents aren’t holding their breath.

The strongest condemnation of the Paris agreement came from Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace, one of the world’s most influential environmental groups.

It’s “climate apartheid,” says Naidoo.

“Most of the people in the countries that emitted the most carbon are white and most people in the countries who are paying first and the most are people of colour,” says Naidoo. “There is no doubt in my mind that subliminal racism is at play in these negotiations.”

Environmentalists must pick up the slack

So with governments failing to move ahead the cause of a cleaner environment in any meaningful way, what can be done to pick up the slack?

The world’s many climate change groups need to organize a huge lobby movement – one that can match the power of the fossil fuel industry. The tobacco industry was not brought under some control until it was banned from lobbying governments, and the same needs to happen with the fossil fuel industry.

Across the globe, NGOs, civil society and all kinds of organizations need to work together lobbying all levels of government. It seems they may be the only segments of society – for now at least – willing to fight for climate justice.

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  1. This a copy of a letter (as yet unpublished) that I sent to the editor of the Toronto Star:

    The merits are few and the deficiencies are many of the so-called "breakthrough" agreement that emerged from the climate change conference in Paris this month. But the proposed (and likely unachievable) reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades addresses only one of several serious problems facing humankind. The conference continued our long-standing practice of ignoring the devastating effects of human overpopulation, the widespread poisoning of land, water and air, the loss of natural habitat and the mass extinction of species. Driven by greed and ignorance, humanity's war against the biosphere appears set to continue unabated.

  2. I am dismayed (pun partly intended!) that you have framed this the way you did, pitting Elizabeth May against people who hold her in high esteem, as they do her. Elizabeth wrote: "Now is the time to be hopeful and work very hard." The deal is not a lifesaver and I agree the way it's being portrayed could give false reassurance. Elizabeth is a hero mainly because she knows the danger we are in, and inspires people, even people who would otherwise have no idea what's happening, to take the climate issue seriously. She's a hero for many other reasons as well. Just check out this article: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/2015/12/18/raise-a-glass-to-2015s-best-people-mallick.html

    1. oops, I meant "as she does them" ... but can't figure out how to fix that.

    2. Dear Jan and all,

      I am a strong supporter of Elizabeth and I am aware that she is extremely important to the country. You probably don't know that I knew her when she was much younger living in Cape Breton and learning how to fight for environmental rights.

      I didn't make up the fact that Elizabeth and Naomi disagree considerably on the importance of the Paris outcome. First, I will say that of course this will not prevent them from working together on issues. However, given the Paris outcomes -- or lack of outcomes in Naomi's opinion, I will not be surprised if they disagree on tactics. I think Elizabeth is more inclined to work inside the system, while Naomi clearly wants to attack larger issues, such as the evils of capitalism.

      As an aside, I find it interesting that when Naomi's This Changes Everything was published, it received rave reviews in media and, as far as I know, strong support among environmentalists -- except perhaps the ones that take large amounts of corporate money. For me it's very disappointing that, despite that enthusiasm back then, I can't cite any mainstream environmental group that bases its campaign strategy on Naomi's research. In my opinion, the general population -- including environmentalists -- has been strongly brainwashed to not question capitalism. This is a serious mistake because therein lies the problem. It's the system. Canadians are not well informed when it comes to understanding political systems. Just imagine how delighted Harper or She'll was when, what, 3,000 people marched in protest. -- they knew that 50,000 people didn't care enough about the issue to get involved. As for writing letters and signing petitions, how often do we see them having any impact?

      In regard to your comment that we all need to be united -- wow, how true. But, in reality, Canada does not have an "environmental movement." We have individual environmental groups that pretty much stay to themselves. In fact, instead of cooperating, some groups are more likely to fight over funding and for control of popular projects -- like saving the polar bear, which the half dozen groups working on this cause, while raising millions of dollars, have failed to do. If we were to include small groups, I can't imagine how many groups there are -- 5,000?, 10,000? -- even more just in Canada?

      And how many employees? 40,000? Collectively, groups have resources totalling into the billions of dollars. These are these huge resources but, from what I see, there is huge overlap of effort and resources. Many of these groups do excellent work concerning the issues they work on.

      But, for a variety of reasons there is extremely little cooperation among groups, either on local issues or international ones. The country has something called the Climate Change Network, or some such, with perhaps 75 members -- but perhaps two staff members. From what I've seen, members don't do much, if anything, and there are no policies or actions in connection with climate change. I don't know how many "movement" people were in Paris -- perhaps 50 or more, but with such a huge issue facing the country, I've seen very little on websites about strategy and tactics.

      So -- I'm not upset but more amused by being accused of promoting division among two prominent people. Frankly, I'm disgusted by the lack of leadership shown by so-called environmental leaders. We really need to hold THEIR feet to the fire and make them organize a meaningful climate campaign. If this were a right-wing issue, I'll bet they'd be well organized and have several plans in effect.

      This is a little disorganized because I wrote it on my iPad. Responses more than welcome. In fact, responses appreciated.

      Kind regards, Nick

  3. I think you're overplaying the differences between Elizabeth May, Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben. Note that May considers Paris as a "potentially life-saving agreement” that “...may save the lives of millions...", that "...may lead to the survival of many small nations close to sea level...", that "...may give our grandchildren a far more stable climate." May is no wild-eyed optimist but rather has always struck me as a realist who is well aware of the difficulties of dealing with climate change and all the other interconnected issues that need fixing on this little planet.

    I would suggest that, just as May doesn't think the Paris agreement is everything we wanted, neither do Klein and McKibben believe that nothing good will come from it. It's not what we were hoping for, I agree, but it is something to build on. If we write off Paris completely, will we have to start all over again with a different process? Any suggestions?

    1. It may turn out that the Paris agreement is worse than no agreement at all. It actually allows corporations and polluters to increase their dirty work. One of the serious problems with the Paris agreement is that it has badly divided the environmental community, allowing many environmentalists to relax a bit instead of building a stronger movement. My suggestion is for the environmental groups and civil society, and radicals to resort to direct action to cripple as many dirty corporation as possible -- we've just seen that governments can't control them.

    2. Nick,

      I'm replying to both your reply to me and your reply to "Jan and all".

      First of all, an aside—if you don't have a case with integrated keyboard for your iPad, I can strongly recommend getting one. Using the onscreen "keyboard" is a real pain and slooow. I can recommend a Belkin keyboard case.

      Anyway, I agree with you about the problem of a divided environmental community in Canada (and everywhere else for that matter). I recently sent off an email to a couple of the many NGOs sending year-end begging emails to me and suggested that several of them could get together into one bigger organization which would concentrate not only funding and effort, but political clout as well. Thus far, I haven't received any replies.

      As for your suggestion of "direct action to cripple as many dirty corporations as possible", can you elaborate on that?

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