Two and a half cheers for the COP21 climate talks outcome

George Monbiot got it about right with his assessment of the COP21 outcome:

By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.

But no matter what, the Paris Agreement does mark a turning point, and sends by far the strongest signal yet to banks, investors and industry. One might ask where they have been looking in the past decade if they haven’t already read the signals. Has it been gross negligence or haven’t they read their own disclaimers that past performance should not be taken as an indicator of future returns on fossil fuels? How can it be that they’ve wilfully ignored the risk of stranded assets?

As May Boeve – Executive Director of – put it:

“This marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground. The text should send a clear signal to fossil fuel investors: divest now.”

And from Erwin Jackson – Deputy CEO of the Climate Institute:

Communities around the world have been embracing clean energy. This has driven down costs, accelerated policy change and allowed business to invest with confidence in the now unstoppable transition away from traditional fossil fuels.

The signal from Paris is made all the more clear by the fact that 195 nations have signed up to the agreement, and 186 submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) prior to the conference.

As Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said:

It sometimes seems that the countries of the United Nations can unite on nothing, but nearly two hundred countries have come together and agreed a deal. Today the human race has joined in a common cause, but it’s what happens after this conference that really matters. The Paris Agreement is only one step on a long road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress. This deal alone won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.

Kellie Caught, head of the WWF-Australia delegation in Paris said:

What makes Paris significant is the unprecedented momentum toward clean energy at business, city, state and community levels.
Paris delivered powerful new commitments, that sit alongside the main 190 nation agreement, to invest in renewable energy generation, divest from fossil fuels and drive innovation.

World March of Women - COP21Perhaps the most striking impact of COP21 has been the way it has galvanised and re-enthused civil society to take action at all levels. Importantly, action networks have been strengthened dramatically. Specifically, a superb outcome has been the new and ongoing linkages that have been forged between people in vulnerable communities on the frontline of climate change and the global activist networks that are based in the rich world. Motivation to keep fighting for climate justice – not just climate agreements – is stronger than ever.

So why only two and a half cheers for the Paris Agreement, not three?

As always in a consensus agreement the hard bargaining favours the rich and powerful and their lobbyists. As Tim Gore of OXFAM UK put it:

It is a deal in which the interests of the poorest … have again been overlooked.

Prior to COP21 civil society representatives from around the world came together and agreed on a set of criteria that the Paris deal would need to meet in order to be effective and fair:

  1. Catalyze immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions
  2. Provide adequate support for transformation
  3. Deliver justice for impacted people
  4. Focus on genuine, effective action rather than false solutions.

In their post-agreement assessment, New Internationalist media hub reporters Jess Worth and Danny Chivers rate the outcome as 0/4. They write:

Scored in this way, the Paris Agreement is a disaster for the world’s most vulnerable people. The headline target of 1.5 degrees and eventual decarbonization look good on paper but there’s no sign that governments are willing to make them a reality yet. Paris could mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry, but much more needs to change before that becomes a reality. … None of this comes as a surprise to climate justice campaigners. As Asad Rehman puts it: ‘… It’s what happens on Monday that’s the most important thing. Do we return to our capitals, do we build a movement, do we make sure our countries are doing their fair share? Do we stop the dirty energy industry, do we invest in new climate jobs, do we invest in community-owned decentralized energy? And most importantly, do we stand in solidarity with the millions of people across the world who are struggling for climate justice?

However, the new tools at our disposal, the strengthened global networks, the momentum from COP21, the incorporation of the 1.5 degree “aspirational” target – all of these must give renewed vigour to civil society to hold our governments to account. Now more than ever civil society has to engage with politicians, businesses and banks to ensure the fine words of the Paris Agreement are implemented and surpassed.

As a first baby-step in the right direction, the Australian Federal Government has finally lifted the ridiculous ban on wind farm investment first introduced by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. But bolder steps will only be taken if the Government is pushed by the electorate to match the Paris Agreement with radical action.

One thing we can be sure of: there will be blow-back against the Agreement from lobbyists who represent the old economy of dirty polluting industry.

But civil society has the numbers. The power is ours through our wallets, our votes and the activist organisations we choose to support. That’s why for me the glass is two-thirds full.

Selina Leem – a youth representative for the Marshall Islands applauded the Paris outcome:

This agreement is for those of us whose identity, whose culture, whose ancestors, whose whole being, is bound to their lands. I have only spoken about myself and my islands but the same story will play out everywhere in the world… Sometimes when you want to make a change, then it is necessary to turn the world upside down… This agreement should be the turning point in our story – a turning point for all of us.

The final word goes to a friend – a veteran of so many climate negotiations:

The world has turned a corner. I am so proud of my many friends who have done more than their bit to reach today. Let’s be clear this began in the shambles of Copenhagen but hats off to the French for a superb example of diplomacy.

Read more from the New Internationalist media hub in Paris – #NICOP21

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