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An initial analysis of the COP21 climate agreement

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Diane Connors at the D12 march held as the Paris Climate Summit ended.

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A new draft climate agreement has been reached on the last day of the COP21 talks in Paris.

Unfortunately, despite the framing of this agreement as "ambitious and equitable," it falls well short of what is needed in terms of real commitments to emission reductions, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, adequate financing for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage, recognition of human rights, and protection from transnational corporate lawsuits.

1. Emission reductions

We had demanded a legally binding commitment to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We believe that emission reduction targets and the overall temperature target should be legally-binding on all countries. The United States has opposed this and some commentators have stated there is no "global sheriff" to enforce this (apparently different than multilateral trade agreements which are legally-binding and enforceable). We have also stated that beyond a "target" there needs to be real commitment to meet that target. That would mean committing to a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050 and keeping about 80 per cent of fossil fuels in the ground.

The agreement:

  • commits the world to limiting warming to "well below 2 degrees Celsius", and to "pursue efforts" to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius
  • requires countries to "communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years" starting in 2020
  • relies on the honour system for emission reduction targets (these "Intended Nationally Determined Targets" or INDTs are not legally-binding)
  • requires countries to verify and report on their emissions
  • does not commit to a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050
  • does not commit to keeping 80 per cent of fossil fuels in the ground
  • does not address the problem that country emission reduction pledges submitted for the Paris talks would mean a 2.7 to 3.7 degree Celsius increase by 2100

2. Mitigation and adaptation

We had demanded adequate funding for mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation means cutting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions (by supporting renewable energy, halting deforestation in developing countries) and adaptation means preparing for future climate change (by building better drainage systems to deal with higher seas and more severe storms, shifting to heartier crops that can withstand higher temperatures and lower rainfalls). Again, beyond the setting of an amount of funding, governments of developed countries have to commit to paying their fair share of the funds needed for this fund. To date, developed countries have failed to contribute their fair share.

The agreement:

  • pledges countries to "mobilize" $100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020 to deal with the consequences of climate change
  • says this $100 billion a year is "a floor" and that a new commitment to funding will be set by 2025
  • fails to make the $100 billion pledge legally binding

3. Loss and damage

We had demanded the inclusion of a "loss and damage" provision. Loss and damage means developed countries paying compensation to developing countries already suffering the impacts of climate change. While adaptation is about infrastructure and actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change, loss and damage is about recoverable damages (paying for damaged buildings, roads, power lines) and irreparable losses (loss of lives, species, land). The United States, Canada and other countries have rejected the "loss and damage" provision claiming it implies a legal liability for them to compensate for this damage.

The agreement:

  • includes a loss and damage clause that will allow countries to claim for compensation for financial losses due to climate change
  • rules out legal liability for loss and damage

4. Human rights

We had demanded the inclusion of Indigenous rights, migrant rights, the rights of women in the operative text. This would recognize that the rights of the peoples most directly impacted by climate change. Indigenous peoples are very often the front-line communities directly impacted by oil, gas and coal projects. Their right to free, prior and informed consent to stop this devastation is essential. The United Nations has stated that up to one billion people could be displaced through climate change by 2050. And yet refugees fleeing from environmental disasters do not have the same minimal rights as political refugees fleeing war and persecution. And women who often suffer the most from climate change, given their responsibility for children, growing food, securing drinking water for their families.

The agreement:

  • fails to fully recognize these human rights
  • notes these rights in the non-legally-binding preamble of the text

5. Investor-state rights
We had demanded that the agreement include a provision that would shield national climate actions form investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) challenges through so-called "free trade" agreements. Corporations have used ISDS to challenge governments over 600 times, and in numerous cases these challenges are clearly related to health or environmental decisions by governments. While countries may be pledging to take action on climate change, they are also negotiating "free trade" agreements that give corporations the right to undermine climate actions (policies, regulations, legislation) that would impact their future profits.

The agreement:

  • fails to include this protection from ISDS challenges

Our allies have condemned this agreement.

Wenonah Hauter from Food & Water Watch says, "This agreement coming out of the Paris COP falls far short of what is needed to actually address our climate crisis, It doesn't mention the words "oil," "gas" or "fossil fuels" at all -- all of which we must swiftly transition away from to avert climate crisis." Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now says, "It's outrageous that the deal that's on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world's most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations." And Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth International says, "The draft Paris agreement puts us on track for a planet three degrees hotter than today. This would be a disaster. The reviews in this agreement are too weak and too late. The finance figures have no bearing on the scale of need. It's empty."

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