Statement of Walden Bello, Manila, Nov 28, 2015. Originally posted on

We want a planet that sustains life, not one that is driven on the road to death by corporate greed

What has been billed as the meeting that will determine the fate of the planet will take place in Paris from November 30 to December 10.

The outcome of the Conference of Parties 21 (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will determine whether the world might be able to keep the average mean temperature for the 21st century to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average and perhaps avoid disaster, or it won’t and thus rush towards certain catastrophe.

The stakes are high, the outcome is uncertain.

COP 21 is supposed to come up with a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The original aim of the post-Kyoto negotiations, which have been going on for a number of years, is to produce a binding agreement that would have climate polluters undertake deep cuts in their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and provide the resources for poor countries to address damage already created by global warming and prevent or limit further negative impacts. The operative principle has been that of common but differentiated responsibility, that is, that those who have contributed the most to the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere should carry the main burden of reducing carbon emissions and coming up with the resources to support the efforts of the poorer countries to protect themselves from global warming.

Unfortunately, the road to an effective climate regime to succeed Kyoto has, so far, been blocked. Foremost among the obstacles is the United States, the country that has contributed the greatest volume of greenhouse gases. The US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, providing a terrible example to others, in particular, to the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who took Canada out of the agreement last year.

The US and Canada, however, are not the only villains of the piece. The so-called Big Emerging Economies like India and China have risen fast up the ranks of climate polluters, while refusing to take responsibility for their role in deepening the climate crisis. If the US still holds the prize of having contributed the greatest amount of greenhouse gases historically, China is now the world’s biggest polluter on a yearly basis.

While tarring each other as climate villains, the US and China have, in fact, found each other’s opposition of great value since it has given the other an excuse for not agreeing to undertake deep, mandatory cuts in GHG emissions. Of the two, however, the US is the bigger problem since, unlike in Beijing, where there is a recognition of the climate crisis, Republican denialists, or politicians who do not believe that climate change is man-made, hold US climate policy hostage owing to their control of Congress.

A jarring setback to a viable accord was the US-China Climate Agreement, which the two powers sprang on the negotiations during the last days of COP 20 in Lima last year. The non-binding deal exempted China from reducing its emissions until 2030 and committed the US to a niggardly 26 to 28 per cent emissions cut from 2005 levels. Essentially Beijing and Washington’s separate peace derailed the multilateral process since they were telling the world that they would not be bound in the unlikely event a tough deal emerged in Paris.

But what was perhaps most harmful in the US-China accord was the redefinition of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility to “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” This text was then reproduced word for word in the Lima Call for Climate Action that came out of COP 20. In international negotiations where every word of the agreed text is decisive, this was a major, major change, a very significant watering down of the basic principle guiding the negotiations to the benefit of the big climate polluters.

The folly of INDC’s

With the big climate culprits subverting the multilateral process, the UNFCCC has retreated from demanding the mandatory GHG cuts under Kyoto to accepting “INDCs” or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). INDC’s are voluntary. They are unilaterally determined by a national government instead of being the outcome of a negotiating process. Their implementation will not be monitored by any mechanism, nor will there be sanctions imposed should a government not meet its target.

Replacing mandatory targets with INDC’s is not the only worrisome development in the COP process leading up to Paris. While countries agreed to set up a Green Climate Fund of $100 billion yearly to support efforts by the poor countries to climate-proof themselves, contributions have been slow in coming, with only $10.2 billion raised as of May of this year. Moreover, the amount is paltry compared to the tremendous needs for adaptation by poor countries on the forefront of climate disasters like the Philippines. Also, there are no guidelines on where the money will come from. The Green Climate Fund is a clear example of the aphorism that the devil is in the detail, or in this case, in the lack of detail.

Essentials of an acceptable Paris accord

If an agreement on a post-Kyoto accord is reached on the basis of INDCs instead of deep mandatory cuts and on vague promises of financial assistance to those most in need, then we will surely be on the way to a 2 degrees Celsius plus world, indeed, perhaps even towards a 4 degree Celsius plus world, with all the catastrophic consequences of such a condition, with sea-level rise, super-typhoons, prolonged droughts, and massive flooding becoming the “new normal.” One study of the INDC’s submitted so far concludes that the total will not prevent global mean temperature from a planetary warming of 3 degrees Celsius, or one degree above the 2 degrees Celsius benchmark.

At a minimum, a viable climate deal must have deep mandatory cuts in GHG emissions by all developed (“Annex 1”) countries and the Big Emerging Economies, and it must have secure commitments for massive funding for poor countries to compensate for the damage done by global warming to their ecologies and finance their current and future efforts to climate-proof themselves. Over the next two weeks, global civil society must mobilize to pressure the representatives of governments assembled in Paris to produce a post-Kyoto agreement with these essential provisions.

Civil society must also tell the governments in Paris to stop wasting time on schemes favored by corporations like carbon trading, carbon offsets, and tree planting programs like REDD+. These are false solutions that only deflect attention from the need for binding commitments.

No deal is better than a bad deal

Without these binding commitments and sanctions for climate polluters that fail to meet them, the world must reject a Paris climate deal since such it will simply legitimize inaction and irresponsibility, thus accelerating instead of addressing the climate crisis.

Philippine civil society must insist that the Aquino administration not be party to such a dangerous and dishonest deal.

Faced with the greatest threat to our planet, we cannot afford a bad deal. With such high stakes, no deal is better than a bad deal.

Towards a permanent solution

Even if an acceptable deal is reached, it will provide only a temporary solution to the climate crisis. A Paris deal must be followed up by an agreement to keep coal, oil, and other fossil fuels in the ground, with fair compensation to developing countries dependent part of their income. Strategically, the solution lies in the world’s turning away from capitalism, a mode of production that insatiably and incessantly transforms living nature into dead commodities, creates destabilizing growth, and promotes over-consumption. However, a mandatory Paris climate deal is a necessary first step away from this condition of uncontrolled production and consumption that has brought our planet to the edge of disaster.

We want a planet that sustains life, not one that is driven on the road to death by corporate greed. #