Brent Patterson and Roger Annis : Paris climate agreement is a failure, but political action can save the planet

Introduction by Roger Annis, Dec 15, 2015

On December 12, the foreign minister of France announced that an agreement had been reached in Paris at the 21st annual United Nations COP (‘Conference of the Parties’) summit meeting on global warming and climate change. The announcement was made on behalf of the 196 countries attending the summit, which lasted 12 days.


The agreement (text here) sets non-binding, greenhouse gas emission-reduction goals with a view to limiting the average global temperature rise in the coming decades to “well below” two degrees Celsius, if not 1.5 degrees. Countries are expected to ratify a treaty to this effect, including, for the first time, a formal, global, review mechanism of country goals every five years.

The following is a collection of articles reporting on the Paris climate summit. The first article is a short summary and analysis of what was achieved. Following that are links to three articles appearing on the‘Paris, Climate, Justice‘ feature of the website of the System Change Not Climate Change coalition. SCNCC is based in cities in the United States and in Vancouver, Canada.

This is the world’s second global climate accord. It supercedes the one reached in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. The goals and objectives of the Kyoto Protocol failed because success would have required that the rampant productivism of the capitalist system be curbed and ultimately replaced by an economic system prioritizing human development and ecological harmony.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, centre, announces climate change accord in Paris on Dec 12, 2015 (Stéphane Mahé, Reuters)

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, centre, announces climate change accord in Paris on Dec 12, 2015 (Stéphane Mahé, Reuters)

The Paris agreement, too, will fail to avert severe damage to human society and life systems on the planet. The damage is already underway due to accumulated greenhouse gas emissions, and as articles below demonstrate, the agreement leaves unchecked the all-powerful capitalist expansion imperative operating in the world economy. The agreement does introduce an important review process of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, but a simple illustration of its failing is the fact that it does not mention the words “fossil fuels”, as in: ‘If the world is serious about the climate change threat, it must move rapidly to leave the remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and stop the rest of the frenetic looting of the planet’s natural resources.’

All this said, the unprecedented awareness and will to global climate action that is rising in the world and that was signaled by the protests and other forms of political action in the streets of Paris and around the world during the COP 21 spectacle offer hope that the worst of what could otherwise happen to the planet and to human society can be averted. Several of the articles below conclude on such hopeful notes.

The French government banned protests in Paris during COP 21 summit. It used the pretext of the terrorist attacks in the city on November 13 that killed 130 people. But in January of this year when gunmen attacked the offices of the Charlie Hebdojournal in Paris, killing 12 people, the French government urged people to take to the streets in protest. Thus are some protests–condemning “jihadists”–deemed virtuous, while protests condemning the global climate vandals are banned. Here is a lesson in why the climate justice movement must oppose the rampant militarism of imperialism such as we see in the Middle East today and and in the threats and gang-up of the NATO countries against Russia, Ukraine and other countries and peoples in eastern Europe and Eurasia. Militarism is utterly wasteful of resources that are needed for climate change mitigation. It also profoundly weakens popular political movements and present and future progressive governments. Popular political movements and progressive governments must flourish if human society and the world’s ecology is to survive and prosper.

An initial analysis of the COP21 climate agreement

By Brent Patterson, Council of Canadians, published on, Dec 15, 2015 (full text of article)

A new draft climate agreement has been reached on the last day of the COP21 talks in Paris. Unfortunately, despite the framing of this agreement as “ambitious and equitable,” it falls well short of what is needed in terms of real commitments to emission reductions, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, adequate financing for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage, recognition of human rights, and protection from transnational corporate lawsuits.

1. Emission reductions

We had demanded a legally binding commitment to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We believe that emission reduction targets and the overall temperature target should be legally-binding on all countries. The United States has opposed this and some commentators have stated there is no “global sheriff” to enforce this (apparently different than multilateral trade agreements which are legally-binding and enforceable). We have also stated that beyond a “target” there needs to be real commitment to meet that target. That would mean committing to a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050 and keeping about 80 per cent of fossil fuels in the ground.

The agreement:

  • commits the world to limiting warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius”, and to “pursue efforts” to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius
  • requires countries to “communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years” starting in 2020
  • relies on the honour system for emission reduction targets (these “Intended Nationally Determined Targets” or INDTs are not legally-binding)
  • requires countries to verify and report on their emissions
  • does not commit to a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050
  • does not commit to keeping 80 per cent of fossil fuels in the ground
  • does not address the problem that country emission reduction pledges submitted for the Paris talks would mean a 2.7 to 3.7 degree Celsius increase by 2100

2. Mitigation and adaptation

We had demanded adequate funding for mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation means cutting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions (by supporting renewable energy, halting deforestation in developing countries) and adaptation means preparing for future climate change (by building better drainage systems to deal with higher seas and more severe storms, shifting to heartier crops that can withstand higher temperatures and lower rainfalls). Again, beyond the setting of an amount of funding, governments of developed countries have to commit to paying their fair share of the funds needed for this fund. To date, developed countries have failed to contribute their fair share.

The agreement:

  • pledges countries to “mobilize” $100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020 to deal with the consequences of climate change
  • says this $100 billion a year is “a floor” and that a new commitment to funding will be set by 2025
  • fails to make the $100 billion pledge legally binding

3. Loss and damage

We had demanded the inclusion of a “loss and damage” provision. Loss and damage means developed countries paying compensation to developing countries already suffering the impacts of climate change. While adaptation is about infrastructure and actions to adapt to the impacts of climate change, loss and damage is about recoverable damages (paying for damaged buildings, roads, power lines) and irreparable losses (loss of lives, species, land). The United States, Canada and other countries have rejected the “loss and damage” provision claiming it implies a legal liability for them to compensate for this damage.

The agreement:

  • includes a loss and damage clause that will allow countries to claim for compensation for financial losses due to climate change
  • rules out legal liability for loss and damage

4. Human rights

We had demanded the inclusion of Indigenous rights, migrant rights, the rights of women in the operative text. This would recognize that the rights of the peoples most directly impacted by climate change. Indigenous peoples are very often the front-line communities directly impacted by oil, gas and coal projects. Their right to free, prior and informed consent to stop this devastation is essential. The United Nations has stated that up to one billion people could be displaced through climate change by 2050. And yet refugees fleeing from environmental disasters do not have the same minimal rights as political refugees fleeing war and persecution. And women who often suffer the most from climate change, given their responsibility for children, growing food, securing drinking water for their families.

The agreement:

  • fails to fully recognize these human rights
  • notes these rights in the non-legally-binding preamble of the text

5. Investor-state rights

We had demanded that the agreement include a provision that would shield national climate actions form investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) challenges through so-called “free trade” agreements. Corporations have used ISDS to challenge governments over 600 times, and in numerous cases these challenges are clearly related to health or environmental decisions by governments. While countries may be pledging to take action on climate change, they are also negotiating “free trade” agreements that give corporations the right to undermine climate actions (policies, regulations, legislation) that would impact their future profits.

The agreement:

  • fails to include this protection from ISDS challenges

Our allies have condemned this agreement.

Wenonah Hauter from Food & Water Watch says, “This agreement coming out of the Paris COP falls far short of what is needed to actually address our climate crisis, It doesn’t mention the words “oil,” “gas” or “fossil fuels” at all — all of which we must swiftly transition away from to avert climate crisis.” Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now says, “It’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations.” And Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth International says, “The draft Paris agreement puts us on track for a planet three degrees hotter than today. This would be a disaster. The reviews in this agreement are too weak and too late. The finance figures have no bearing on the scale of need. It’s empty.”

Brent Patterson is the Political Director at the Council of Canadians. The Council is an advocacy organizations on issues of trade, energy, water, and health care issues with political staff in Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Halifax, Delhi, Cape Town and Mexico City. For more on the Council of Canadians climate justice campaign, click here. You can follow Brent on Twitter @CBrentPatterson.

At COP21, the world agreed to increase emissions, by Jonathan Neale, Global Climate Jobs

‘Some countries will reduce emissions a little, but other countries will increase them a lot. You would never know this from UN and media reports.’ (Jonathan Neale is the author of the 2008 book Stop Global Warming: change the world.)

Paris was a failure, but a climate justice movement is rising, by Martin Lukacs, fromThe Guardian, Dec 15, 2015 (Martin Lukacs is a Montreal-based writer on ecology)

The Paris agreement: Paper heroes widen the climate justice gap, by John Foran,System Change Not Climate Change, Dec 15, 2015 (John Foran is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and an activist in System Change Not Climate Change)

By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster….   The talks in Paris are the best there have ever been. And that is a terrible indictment.”–George Monbiot

… On Saturday, December 12, in Paris, the negotiators at the COP 21 UN climate summit came to a final decision on the text they have been negotiating for four years, or six, or twenty-one by signaling their assent to a thirty-two page document, titled simply “The Paris Agreement.”  Not quite a treaty, since it is not really legally binding in a strict sense, it gives the world its second global climate accord, superseding the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and replacing it with a global map for our climate future agreed by all 196 parties to it, the nations of the world. It’s just not a map to any kind of future we should want.

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