Reflecting on The Paris Climate Agreement Makes Me Glad, Sad and Mad
Considering the contents of the Paris Agreement triggers mixed emotions. I’m glad, sad and mad all at the same time.
Glad that 195 countries could reach an agreement that signals the end of our use of fossil fuels and commits them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And, I’m glad that Canada has moved from obstruction to contribution to this new multilateral agreement. And, that over the next 90 days, we have the opportunity to contribute to setting Canada’s own new target and climate action plan.
However, I’m very sad and frightened that despite early promise, the Paris Agreement delivers inadequate targets and financial commitments. It aims to keep global warming well below 2 degrees but provides only a very weak “to pursue efforts” to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. Instead of percentage reductions or a date to end the use of fossil fuels we have only a peak in global emissions “as soon as possible” and net zero emissions by 2100. My colleague Richard Dixon, Director of FOE Scotland, says this effectively signs a death warrant for millions of the poorest people around the world. I have to agree with him.
And, how and why did the negotiators move gender, human rights, intergenerational equity, and climate justice to the preamble of the Paris Agreement where they signal an acknowledgement rather than any real commitment?
How can I be anything but mad that the “polluter pays principle” is nowhere in sight in the Paris Agreement. Rather, it is explicitly denied by this statement “Agrees that Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” I’m thinking back to one of FOE’s early interventions at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), represented by Ecojustice, where we supported the application of the polluter pays principle to a case between Imperial Oil and the Quebec Minister of Environment.
The SCC decided the polluter pays principle should be applied in making Imperial Oil clean up its messes. Today, rich, developed countries, we, who have profited from greenhouse gas pollution now triggering climate chaos, have ducked our responsibility to pay for this pollution and its impact despite the polluter pays principle ensconced in law and practice in most developed countries.
And, it is infuriating that international shipping and aviation, once again, is missing in action from any requirement to address emissions reductions. With the head office of civil aviation in Montreal Quebec, Canada should still exert some of its new found climate action on ICAO work plans.
With all these emotions rolling around, I read with interest Dalhousie Professor Meinhard Doelle’s blog and early assessment. He argues that the Paris Agreement seems to provide a strong foundation for mobilizing countries around the world to transition to a low emissions development path.
And so, I consider that the Paris Agreement is the result of consensus decision-making – sadly, all that governments could agree to today in the face of clear climate chaos. I recall that an earlier multilateral agreement, the Montreal Protocol to reduce ozone depleting substances, also started with commitments soon shown to be inadequate to the scale of ozone layer damage. Governments had to agree to ratchet up their efforts several times in the face of catastrophic ozone layer damage and its effect on vulnerable people, plants, animals and infrastructure.
Climate chaos is here and now. We live it. Yet governments could not bring themselves to act with leadership only with the lowest common denominator. Will they act with flexibility as more and more catastrophic episodes show the woeful inadequacy of targets and finance in the Paris Agreement? We must renew our energy to work together to make it so.