Currently, climate change is no longer the subject of debate. In objective terms, although the North bears responsibility, the Southern countries are largely the ones feeling the effects. Did the COP 21 lessen this imbalance?
Climate Negotiations until the COP 21—A Historical Overview
In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took on this global challenge under the banner of three principles: the precautionary principle, the right to development principle, and the principle of shared but differentiated responsibilities depending on individual capabilities. In 1997, this Convention was followed by the first international agreement on mitigation of the effects of greenhouse gases (GHGs), known as the Kyoto Protocol. Although thirty-six developed countries made the decision to reduce their emissions, implementation would not begin until 2005. Despite the fact that the stakeholders fulfilled their obligations, this action proved insufficient. The Protocol was extended at Doha at the end of 2012, but the decision of the United States not to participate and differences between developed and emerging countries paralyzed the mechanism. In light of the urgency of climate change, efforts at the international level had to be revived.
The Parties, including the countries of the South, were therefore asked to draft a national contribution document (INDC) in preparation for the COP 21. The Conference organizers were seeking a global agreement based on three key points: (a) establishing an upper limit for the global temperature, (b) adopting quantified emission reduction commitments with a 2030 target, and (c) adopting mechanisms for financing, capacity building, and technology transfer in order to facilitate adaptation. This national communication represents an important effort and a sensitive issue, particularly for the Southern countries, and is composed of five areas of analysis: review of national circumstances, possible mitigation of emissions, adaptation linked to a country’s vulnerability, needs assessment, and technology transfer. The quantified reduction commitments were ultimately made on the basis of three scenarios: trends, should there be no reduction in GHGs, a proactive scenario reflecting the national contribution, and a conditional scenario contingent on foreign aid.
Why the Dissatisfaction among the Southern Countries?
Once again, the Paris Conference merely mirrored the world in its current form, based on economic globalization and market forces from which the rich countries derive exclusive benefit. Consequently, the issue of adaptation, which is important to the Southern countries, has not been resolved. Adaptation mechanisms have in fact been broken up into three components—one for preventive adaptation, a second for losses and damage resulting from extreme climate events, and a third for capacity building. The tremendous confusion created by this approach allows developed countries to act based on their own interests. In the absence of financial commitments, the Southern countries were reluctant to pledge to reduce their emissions, their national communications notwithstanding.
Agreement was Certainly Reached, but Many Negatives Persist
The positive areas of the Conference must be acknowledged—first, it was useful to review the initial goals of the Convention and the urgency of climate change; second, practical procedures were put in place, at the global level, to achieve binding commitments; and lastly, a target of 2°C (even 1.5°C) was set.
A host of negatives persist—first, a feeling among Southern countries that they have been left to fend for themselves in terms of their adaptation problem; second, financing and technology transfer mechanisms have been pushed back to after 2020; and third, there are no conditions linked to fulfillment of the commitments made.
In the final analysis, the Agreement represents a consensus among the high greenhouse gas producer countries (developed and emerging) and essentially focuses on the mitigation component. In addition, the deadlines set are quite unrealistic—the next emissions review will take place in 2025, which makes it virtually impossible to impose obligations on the Parties prior to this date. The GHG emissions neutrality assessment has been pushed back to the second half of this century.
Based on the pledges made at the COP 21, the trajectory is pointing to 3°C and it is difficult to see how the situation could be reversed with this Agreement.
Conclusion: A Major Citizen Mobilization Effort is Needed
The COP 21 no doubt served as a reminder of goals set at Rio, by establishing dates and conditions for their implementation. However, by seeking consensus among all States, the Agreement failed to remedy climate injustice. A future agreement will not be reached unless there is a change of attitude among some of the major powers. Global citizens must recognize the climate risks faced and organize themselves to safeguard the future of generations to come. If this is to be achieved, a new world view and a new-found humanity are necessary.