So here we are, Paris! On our way we have demonstrated among other things that dependence on fossil fuels is a choice not a necessity. But what are we demonstrating for in Paris? And what is actually happening at COP21?
To explain this we have to go a little bit back in time, to the year 1997 and the passage of the Kyoto-Protocol which was meant to be the first major success in international climate treaties. At COP3 (Conference of Parties) in Kyoto the early-industrialised countries set targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and put in place mechanisms to achieve them.
But as the severeness and urgency of the problem became more apparent in the 2000’s and as emissions of emerging economies such as India or Brasil became a relevant share (but still far behind North American or European countries) of the overall global emissions, a global treaty that would include all nation states came into focus.
The COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 was supposed to deliver such a treaty. Rarely has so much power centralised in one place on earth when prime ministers and heads of states came together in the last days of the conference to try and save the deal. However, instead of a binding treaty, all the delegates could agree on was an acknowledgement of the commitment to prevent a temperature increase of more than 2°C in comparison to pre-industrial times. The Copenhagen Accord was called a “total failure” by the international climate movement, with 2°C described as a death sentence for small island nations and arctic communities.
Since then a process had been ongoing to make another globally binding treaty to prevent dangerous climate change: COP21 in Paris – Now and here!
We need hope if COP21 is going to succeed but the pre-negotiations don’t bode well for a strong long term goal. Here’s a rough description of the key process: countries put on the table how much they are willing to cut their emissions, these intended emission reductions are added up (we can only wonder what will happen if they do not do enough to prevent dangerous climate change in the long term…). Then, over the coming decades the ‘ratchet mechanism‘ aka ambition mechanism, increases the level of commitments and consequent speed of decarbonisation. Sounds good doesn’t it? The problematic point is that these are voluntary intentions. What happens if a country doesn’t meet its pledge? What happens if a government comes into power that calls proof of climate change “crap” and stops all efforts? There is nothing the COP can do!
Instead of binding targets and tools to make sure that these targets are eventually met, countries are bargaining around so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – all voluntary and tame. So whilst positive noises emerge from Le Bourget about limits to 1,5°C degrees warming being a potentially included clause in this week’s Paris Accord, it’s seems that the gulf between what states say they are willing to do and what they will actually do is widening.
So that is one reasons why we are here: to call for an ambitious accord with long term goals in line with the scientific consensus, that puts people’s interest over business’ interests, that sets radical emission cuts for early-industrialised countries, that recognises historical responsibility for emissions and that is a step forward to climate justice.
The climate movement has learned since Copenhagen. In 2009 the international climate movement literally broke apart due to the disappointment of the failure. Since then, the insight has spread that the COP’s might not be the place for effective climate protection. And instead of putting all our hopes into the UN negotiations again we have started to build our own society based on alternatives – such as many of the groups we met along the road and at the Global Village of Alternatives that we visited this weekend; such as the Climate Action Zone that serves as a hub of international creativity this week (where we are writting this); and not least the humble Cooperide; the movement will move on independently of the Paris Accord to call for climate justice.