HOW WE SEE IT #3 – COP 21

Climate Change Conference of the United Nations  – historical milestone

Climate change represents a very significant topic that has always been present in the media and in the public political discussions but the time has come to find its way in people’s conscience too. The people are the one who were trying to adjust to the living conditions on the Earth but in that attempt they have used the affection of the nature to satisify their own needs. The time has come to ask ourselves and do something concerning our planet.

The recent Climate Change Conference of the United Nations (COP21), held in Paris from 30th November until the 12th of December, also shows the concern of people about the possible consequences of climate change. This conference gathered representatives of 147 countries and their governments and became the biggest meeting of world-class leaders ever held outside of the UN.

The President of the French Republic, François Hollande, and the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, hosted many prominent people of the world political scenery, among who were the President of the Russian Federation – Vladimir Putin, President od the Unated States of America – Barack Obama, the leaders of China – Xi Jiping and Great Britain – David Cameron, as well as the Chancellor of Germany – Angela Merkel. All of the above mentioned were willing to cooperate in order to establish the long-term agreement about reduction of the harmful gas emission.

On one hand, Hollande said that there was a need for a ”deep change“ in people’s relations to natural resources and the planet itself, whereas on the other hand, Obama pointed out the fact that present generation was the first one to actually feel the consequence of global changes, another last one which can actually do something about it.

The interesting fact is that the leaders have managed to relate two big global challenges, two big actions against terrorism and global warming. Ban Ki-moon hounored the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks. The last-year’s UN climate change summit host was the Minister of Environmental Protection of Peru, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal Otaróla, who opened this conference with his speech and invited the world leaders to face these problems together.

On 12th of December, following everyone’s expression of opinion and suggestions, Paris agreement was signed, which according to  Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, represents a historical turning point. The members agreed to reduce their carbon output „as soon as possible“ and to do their best to keep global warming “to well below 2 degrees C“. The implementation of the agreement by all member countries together will be evaluated every five years , with the first evaluation in 2023. Until then, all of us ought to try to correct bad habits and assist achievement of set goals.

Jovana Milonjic – Montenegrin Association of Political Science Students

 

COP 21: Why it matters:

While many people seem to have lost trust in the ability of governments to bring concrete solutions to climate change and all the challenges it already causes, I believe there is still hope in the COP 21.

If you do not think this conference will change anything, it is important to understand that climate change is not only about the environment; Indeed, for some people it seems “cool” to not care about environmental issues. Who cares about trees, right? However, as studies and climate models underlying the gloomy projections of the effects of global warming get published, people realize that the implications of climate change will go much further than a simple increase in temperatures. The melting of glaciers and polar ice caps will lead to a rise of oceans, causing floods of numerous coastal habitats. Cities such as Venice could be wiped off from the map. Global warming will deregulate our food system and will most likely lead to global food insecurity and increase the risks of water scarcity. If countries do not learn how to use their resources sustainably, this will most likely result in the largest crisis ever faced in the Human History. Mexico City for instance, is already sinking on its own weight due to the excessive use of the aquifer beneath the city. Our whole economic system is based on the unsustainable exploitation of carbon. The food we eat was grown with pesticides made of petrochemicals; our transportation systems still rely for the most part on oil-based fuels; even our clothes contribute to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere if you examine the whole supply chain. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the dependence of our economies on carbon is one of the major underlying causes of the conflicts in the Middle East that happened in the last decades. Western countries’ interference in these countries in order to assure their constant supply of oil, only led to a growing anti-western feeling that took the form of Radical Islamism. If no alternative to our dependence on oil is found, I fear that international conflicts will keep happening at an ever-faster pace.

Now, what are the potential solutions to this crisis? Is there any after all? Almost every multinational corporation started to implement more sustainable practices in their operations, such as investing in renewable energies, or implementing closed-loop systems to assure a more effective use of their resources. Such incremental changes might probably not be enough to cope with the carbon crisis, but it is a start. Moreover, when a multinational commits to the environment, even through small actions, the impact can be enormous due to their size and the scope of their operations. Another glimpse of hope lies with the social economy movement. Indeed many social entrepreneurs have developed new kinds of business models that are self-sustainable and beneficial for the environment and society at large. The B-Corporation certification is another proof of the emerging tendency for companies to strive for more than only financial profits. Some might argue these new forms of business are just a way for these organizations to increase their market share. However, if they report high profits thanks to their actions for the environment and social good, I do not see how this would be a problem.

The critical question is whether governments will encourage this paradigm shift during the COP 21 and whether they will successfully promote these initiatives or not; Many factors will affect their decision but I hope that the ones cited in the first paragraph will make governments realize of the urgency of the matter, because the costs of inaction will far outweigh any policy for the environment. Public policies such as implementing a real carbon tax and redefining our transport systems will play a critical role to determine whether we will overcome this daunting challenge. When I turned 18, I read a book called The Third Industrial Revolution by Jeremy Rifkin. In this book, he shared his vision of a post-carbon society permitted by new technology (internet), which will allow a better management of more complex sources of energies (renewables). Since then, I got increasingly interested in the subject of sustainability and the transition movement. I believe that the COP21 is the perfect occasion to initiate the transition to a more responsible economic, social and environmental system, on a global scale.

I recently realized that Canada’s commitment to the environment is quite controversial; indeed, while the recently elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, made a lot of promises regarding the environment during his campaign, the country is far from being a leader in terms of sustainability, especially in the province of Alberta, with the damaging exploitation of the Tar Sands. The COP21 should be an interesting challenge to assess if Trudeau is able to lead the change that he promised to Canadian voters.

Maxime Chul –  Bcom Student, Mcgill University, Montréal, Canada.

 

The 2015 UN Climate Change Conference

Also known as 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held this year between November 30th and December 12th, in Paris, France. The choice of the hosting Member State was not done randomly, since France can serve as a model country when it comes to decarbonisation of electricity production and fossil fuel energy, while keeping a high living standard. The European Union and 195 state actors participated in the negotiations.

The draft resolution that was produced during the COP 21 had a very controversial reception by the public opinion. Many claimed that such agreement was a great success and that it could represent a turning point for humanity itself, while others just could not see what was so ground breaking about the agreement since, ultimately, no binding measures were adopted. Before drawing our own conclusions, it would be wise and advisable to try to contextualize the framework in which the “Paris Agreement”, as it has been called, took place.

The very first UNFCCC that was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, consolidated the division between “developed countries” and “developing countries”. The former were the rich and historic responsible for greenhouse gases emissions, while the latter were the ones that should be helped getting developed emitting less carbon dioxide and should also adapt in the climate crisis. Well, nowadays such division is a bit out of date. We have countries like Chine that is the first producer, in, absolute terms, of carbon dioxide, even more than the USA. On the other hand, there are still a lot of cases in which developing countries are still struggling to keep decent living standards for their own population without the production of carbon dioxide. This diversification of the energetic geopolitical situation brought to the adoption of the so-called “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) in the 2014 UNFCCC that took place in Lima, Peru. The NDC is a system that allows every country to determine its own objective in terms of greenhouse gases reduction percentages. Based on the wealth and economic model of each country the NDCs can relatively vary. For example, a country that is already struggling internally to keep up with its economy can reduce its greenhouse gasses emissions less than a country with a thriving economy that can afford to cut drastically its own emissions.

One of the main commitments that were undertaken in Paris was “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;”. The NDCs were one of the key factors that allowed the Agreement to be widely accepted and welcomed by the multiple actors involved in the negotiations. Now, while the French Prime Minister, Francois Hollande, and Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, both insisted on the fact that the Agreement is “legally binding” once it has been ratified, many legal experts are quite dubious about such definition since no sanctions are provided, in the framework of the draft resolution, for those countries that do not comply with their commitments.

The negotiations themselves were very intense until the very end. China along with the rest of the BRICS, the USA, the G77 group and the EU were the main actors. China, although spending very few words in the plenary sessions held a crucial role in the course of the negotiations. Beijing was very cautious on every aspect of the deal that was related to financial cooperation and put all its influence in the defence of its national interest. No deal would have been accepted by China, if the USA did not accepted it as well. The USA, although being fundamental for the success of the conference, kept a low profile in the negotiations but, nevertheless, every article and every paragraph of the Agreement were very thoroughly studied and examined by the US delegation  in order to render it as compatible as possible to the executive order of President Barack Obama on climate policy. This compatibility was imperative so as to permit President Obama to sign the treaty without the consent of the US Congress. The weight of the EU in the negotiations was quite meagre and thin. The fact that many different climate policies coexist within the Union itself did not allow to the EU Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, to go beyond the standard EU policy on climate change.

To sum up, there is no doubt that the Paris Agreement is not nearly enough to what we needed for a serious change of course in climate change issues. Nevertheless, I believe that the Paris Agreement is a good result according to what we could actually achieve, given the interests that different actors, both state actors and non-state actors, had to represent and defend in the COP 21. There was no real winner from the outcome of the Agreement but it paved the road for a brighter future. Let us all hope that such chance will not be seen as an end, though as a beginning.

Peyman Vitone – ASSP Italia

 

No, we don’t want to KEEP our planet !

In this time of climate emergency and more precisely in all the speech around the COP21, the notions of “keep”, “preserve” or “protect” the environment are predominant.

Is that really what we want? Do we really want our planet to become a museum in which our children can only watch beautiful things through a window? Earth, nature are gifts! We can’t distinguish on the one hand earth and environment and on the other hand human beings. Life on Earth is human and a nature fact. These are not two antagonistic realities. Human beings and nature (as environment, planet) are related. The essence of Humans, of plants is their ability to grow and to accomplish themselves following their nature.

What is it in actual fact? By understanding that Human beings and Nature are characterized by Life, we can’t say that the goal, the finality of COP21 or any other politics related to environment is to preserve or keep it [Earth] as a museum! We have to check our vocabulary which reveals our way of thinking.

If we keep wanting to “preserve our planet” from fear of the future, it will become, just as our old traditions, a reality without a substance. Like our old traditions, earth will be questioned by “progress” or “change” (economic growth, the fact of always wanting more).

So it is not the will to preserve our planet which will lead to measures for our common heritage. It is our will to make this common home live in good conditions which will enable us to keep all our good resolutions in the “attics of humanity”, these places in our homes where we keep what we love before forgetting it forever.

As a precious tradition, let us not preserve our planet for its own sake, but let us be careful to make it LIVE in good conditions so as to make it the common living home of our humanity.

Arthur D’Illiers