Paris climate talks: Follow the money

#Environment

While the Paris accord is a considerable step forward, the emissions cuts promised by countries round the globe are not nearly enough

Kieran Cooke's picture
Wednesday 16 December 2015 12:59 UTC
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The trouble with climate change is that it does not recognise borders – it’s a global problem, requiring global solutions.

The signing by nearly 200 nations of a new accord on climate in Paris at the weekend was a considerable achievement. Yet - perhaps inevitably given the maze of competing national interests obvious at talks - the agreement is a heavily compromised document, full of get out clauses, reflecting hours of at times angry debate in which countries around the Middle East and wider region played a leading role. 

First, the good guys. Morocco, which will host the next round of UN climate summitry at the end of next year, played what negotiators described as a progressive role in pushing for an agreement.  

It pledged to spend $10bn in cutting its emissions of climate warming greenhouse gases by 2030 and promised further big emissions cuts, dependent on technology transfer and UN climate funds. 

Morocco has invested heavily in solar power: the first phase of a $9bn solar project at Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara, is due to become operational by the end of the year.

When completed the plant will rank as one of the world’s biggest solar projects, covering an area of about 30 square kilometres. 

Jordan and Tunisia are also said by UN negotiators to have played a constructive role at the Paris deliberations. 

At the other end of the spectrum Saudi Arabia scored badly. The Climate Action Network, (CAN), a Beirut based organisation linking nearly a thousand non-governmental climate change groups around the world, awarded its special satirical "Colossal Fossil" award to the Saudis for what it said was Riyadh’s constant obstructionist tactics.

The Saudis lobbied hard but ultimately unsuccessfully against provisions in the Paris agreement which say countries would seek to limit a rise in average global temperature to 1.5C over pre-industrial levels by mid-century. Many nations, particularly small island states already experiencing sea level rise, say their very existence will be threatened if global temperatures exceed this level.

Prior to the Paris meeting the Saudis, along with nearly 200 other countries, made pledges to cut emissions of climate-changing CO2 over the next 15 years. Paradoxically, the kingdom said such pledges would only be met if oil export revenues made what it called a robust contribution to the economy.

In negotiations Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were firmly against proposals to have such pledges and emission reduction targets subject to a legally binding review process every five years. 

Ultimately – amid last-minute discussions between the Saudis and meeting heavyweights such as the US’s John Kerry – the review process was agreed but was very much watered down: while the review will be legally binding, the targets themselves will not be. 

Such compromises are evident throughout the text of the final 31-page Paris document. At one stage, the meeting’s outcome seemed threatened by arguments over a stray comma or one word, with developing countries wanting "shall" in a document while the US insisted on "should".

Disagreements over finance and who should pay for the impacts of climate change were left largely unresolved. It was agreed that the richer countries would mobilise funds of $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer states adapt to warming: many feel this figure is wholly inadequate – trillions not billions are needed. 

Many countries vulnerable to climate change wanted a legally binding mechanism through which they could claim compensation for extreme weather events and other climate-related disasters from countries in the industrialised world. The final text says such losses should be quantified – but crucially leaves out any legally binding provisions. 

The Paris meeting had taken years to prepare and it was evident that the whole negotiating atmosphere had changed from the last, abortive major climate conference in Copenhagen, the Danish capital, six years ago.

Most countries now recognise the scale of the challenge the world faces and the need for urgent action. Even the doubters – some of them in the Middle East region – did not want to be branded as climate conference wreckers this time around.

Climate scientists say that while the Paris accord is a considerable step forward, the emissions cuts promised by countries round the globe are not nearly enough. 

Bill McKibben, a climate change activist and founder of 350.org, an organisation lobbying governments on the urgency of tackling climate change, said that the "power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out transition so far that endless climate damage will be done."

"Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble efforts to weaken that industry. This (the Paris summit) didn’t save the planet – but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet." 

- Kieran Cooke is a former foreign correspondent for both the BBC and the Financial Times, and continues to contribute to the BBC and a wide range of international newspapers and radio networks.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A picture taken with a fisheye lens on 6 December, 2015 in Paris shows an art installation by a Danish-Icelandic artist entitled "Ice Watch", made with parts of Greenland's ice cap, on display in front of the Pantheon (AFP).