My two cents

Climate summit: Just another COP-out?

The two-week mega-summit on climate change underway in Paris is being billed as ‘The Mother of all COPs’: a last, best chance to save the planet from catastrophic climate change. But is it a turning point - or a prelude to disappointment?


Remember "Hopenhagen"?

The marketing team behind that upbeat slogan for the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks had the noblest of intentions: to shift the public debate on global warming from one of “coping” to “hoping”, that tangible action could be taken to keep carbon emissions at bay.

The rest, of course, is made-for-the-cynics history: the “COP15” Copenhagen talks collapsed in disarray – and the Danish capital instead became a byword for climate-summit calamity.

The organisers of the COP21 are hoping to avert another big letdown by making it
clear at the outset that a planet-salvaging breakthrough will not emerge at the end of the talks on December 11.

Instead, the talk is of a new beginning - starting points – for “ratcheting up” CO2 caps in the years and decades to come.

Still falling short

Rather than imposing carbon cuts by diktat, the new approach relies on voluntary “green” benchmarks from the 178 countries participating that represent approximately 90 percent of world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The world’s biggest polluters – the US and China – have stepped up with back-to-back commitments to rein in fossil fuels. However, the pledges still fall far short of what environmental activists say is needed to make a real difference. Recent new data, for instance, showed that China is burning up to 17% more coal a year than the government in Beijing had previously disclosed.

In the United States, Obama’s efforts to put his climate agenda front and centre of his legacy is being undermined by a backlash among climate sceptics who fear the consequences for jobs and economic growth. The Republican-controlled Congress is demanding the right to ratify any agreement that may emerge from Paris – and their chances of doing so are virtually nil.

Despite their ambitious talk on going green, a host of countries – chief among them developing powers such as India, Brazil or China – are wary of sacrificing growth.

Here in Europe, Poland, which relies almost entirely on coal for its energy, has said it will balk at any Paris deal that it deems overly restrictive.

Dominant fossil fuels

The biggest fear of the climate activists is that corporate interests, led by the large oil multinationals, will be the biggest roadblocks. Even as a growing number of cities and universities divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies, the oil giants are openly admitting that oil and gas and other hydrocarbons will remain the dominant providers of energy for decades to come.

Rich governments, some say, are complicit with – or in the pocket of - the corporate lobby – signing international trade deals that favour shale gas “fracking” and heavily polluting agribusinesses.

For all the talk of renewable energy, greener energies such as wind turbines, solar and geothermal, still account for less than 2% of the total global energy mix.

As The Economist magazine noted, “It is often said that climate change is an urgent problem. If that were true it might be easier to tackle. In fact it is a colossal but slow-moving problem, spanning generations.”

The true climate awakening is yet to come.

This article was originally published on November 30, 2015.

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