OP-ED: ‘Worse Than Copenhagen’: Why The Paris Climate Accord Is Scarcely Worth The Paper That It’s Written On

dimitri lascaris daily reports from paris climate change conference pariser klimagipfel

On December 12, 2015, world leaders finally struck a global climate accord in Paris, France. The announcement of the accord was accompanied by the predictable orgy of self-congratulation: world leaders breathlessly declared their agreement to be “historic” and “ambitious,” and a “turning point for the world.” The corporate press dutifully regurgitated the superlatives gushing from the mouths of heads of state and diplomats. All the while, coalitions of big business showered praise on the outcome – a sure sign that corporate interests had prevailed over the urgent needs of humanity.

There was, however, one little problem: climate scientists weren’t buying the hype. On the penultimate day of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21), five of the world’s leading climate scientists delivered to a standing room-only press conference their blunt assessment of the deal that was about to emerge from COP21. Professor Kevin Anderson, the chair of Energy and Climate Change at the universities of Manchester and East Anglia, and the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Center of Climate Change Research, was particularly withering in his criticism of the deal.

“The aspiration and the rhetoric will not deliver reductions in carbon dioxide emissions…”

I would view the current text as weaker than that that came out of Copenhagen. It is not consistent with science, which the Copenhagen agreement had directly written into it. In addition, the Copenhagen agreement also included aviation and shipping, two sectors that collectively combined are similar to the emissions from the U.K. and Germany. These are now exempt from the current text, and they are growing very rapidly indeed. I do not think that peaking emissions ‘as soon as possible’ is scientifically robust, sufficiently robust, and there is no reference to the levels of those peaks. There is no reference to fossil fuels in the document, despite the fact that at 1.5 to 2C, we really need to be keeping around about 90% of all current reserves in the ground. The language of neutrality masks the ruse that we have developed, or the assumptions that we have, that we are about to suck very large quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in the future, and that means that we do not have to have such significant reductions in the near term…

To the poor, climatically vulnerable non-white, typically non-white, living in the southern hemisphere, the current text is somewhere between dangerous and deadly. There is a slight risk that the document, as it is, is appeasement to our desire to continue to use fossil fuels, to a business-as-usual agenda rather than something that is perhaps more of a progressive agenda for humanity.”

From my lawyer’s perspective, the Paris accord is precisely what Professor Anderson described it to be: “aspiration and rhetoric.” In particular, much has been made of the fact that the agreement refers to the 1.5C limit, which the scientific community considers essential to the survival of low-lying island nations and coastal regions that could well succumb to rising sea levels at higher temperatures.

Yet what precisely does the Paris accord say about the temperature limit? The temperature limit appears in Article 2 of the accord, but that article simply identifies the purposes of the agreement. The purposes of any accord inform the interpretation of the accord’s other parts, but an interpretive principle is not the same as a hard legal obligation. In particular, nowhere in the Paris accord are states mandated to take all steps necessary to ensure that the temperature limit is not breached. Moreover, the upper boundary established by Article 2 is not 1.5C, but “well below 2C” — what does “well below” mean? States are merely called upon to “pursue efforts” to limit the increase to 1.5C, but do decades of governmental inaction give us any cause to believe that such efforts will be vigorously pursued, even though the Paris accord imposes no penalty whatsoever for failure to pursue them?

The balance of the Paris accord is rife with restrained exhortations to do something, anything, about the existential climate change threat. Article 4 states that “all Parties should strive to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies…” Article 5 states that “Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases…” Similarly, Article 11 declares that “capacity-building under this Agreement should enhance the capacity and ability of developing country Parties… to take effective climate change action…, and should facilitate technology development, dissemination and deployment, access to climate finance, relevant aspects of education, training and public awareness, and the transparent, timely and accurate communication of information.”

Does anyone seriously believe that politely asking the governments of wealthy nations to protect the most vulnerable peoples from climate catastrophe will ensure their salvation? This is like respectfully requesting that the fossil fuels industry transfer its historical profits to developing nations as reparations – a not unreasonable request, considering the millions of poor who have been devastated over decades by the industry’s depredations.

Yet the worst deficiencies of the Paris accord consist not in what it says, but in what it does not say.

For example:

  • The Paris accord does not legally oblige any states to reduce their GHG emissions by any specified amount, percentage or date.
  • Nowhere does the Paris accord mandate complete decarbonisation of the global economy by 2050, as scientists have repeatedly urged. On the contrary, Article 4 states that “Parties aim…to undertake to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” So not only is the attainment of that balance a mere “aim”, but the use of the word “balance” plainly implies that the burning of carbon may continue well beyond 2050, despite the fact that technologies for removing CO2 from the atmosphere are completely unproven, and could generate other, severe environmental risks.
  • The Paris accord imposes no minimum carbon price, and does not even recognize the urgent necessity of doing so. Thus, fossil fuel giants remain at liberty to foist upon all of us the horrendous costs from the burning of carbon, even as they earn epic profits from fossil fuels exploitation. This gaping hole in the Paris accord drove former NASA scientist James Hansen to distraction:

„It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.“

Ultimately, the most disturbing aspect of the Paris accord may be its remarkable similarity to COP decisions rendered years ago, decisions that have failed to prevent our arrival at the precipice of disaster. In 1995, for example, the COP issued its first Decision, the “Berlin Mandate,” and it too was replete with lofty, amorphous expressions of ambition, such as:

The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

Since then, developed countries did indeed “take the lead” – by obstructing real action to address the climate crisis. There is little if any reason to believe that, this time, the high-sounding rhetoric of the Paris accord will result in a materially different outcome.


PICTURES: Paris Climate Change Conference


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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Edited_Lascaris_DimitriDimitri Lascaris is a Siskinds partner and leader of Siskinds’ Securities Class Actions Group.
Before joining Siskinds, Mr. Lascaris practiced securities law in the New York and Paris offices of a major Wall Street law firm.

Note: All opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of acTVsm Munich.


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  1. Es ist jedem denkendem Menschen klar, dass die Politiker hier wieder nur einen Grund zum “sich selbst feiern” suchten. Eine wirkliche Änderung wird Paris nicht bringen. Außer der einen: Es wird noch eine zusätzliche “Klimaauswanderung” bringen und damit in dem nicht so betroffenen Rest der Welt ein Jammern und Klagen hervorrufen, wie in den betroffenen Gebieten. Alles im Allen; hätte man die dort verbratenen Gelder für echte Klimaschutzmaßnahmen eingesetzt, wäre der Welt mehr geholfen als mit so einem fadenscheinigem Abkommen.

  2. Die Teilnehmer wussten alle, das das Klimaziel nicht zu erreichen ist. Wie die meisten solcher abkommen trifft es nur die dummen Staaten die sich daran halten!
    Da fliegen etwa 2000 Privatjets nach Paris um die Klimaziele zu Propagieren, doch was nicht klar ist ist das Geschäftsmodel! Denn wenn es nichts zu verdienen gäbe kämen diese Leute überhaupt nicht auf die Idee einen solch teuren Flug zu machen, auch wenn einige einer bestimmten Gruppe auf Deutsche Steuerzahlerkosten in Rammstein auftankten.
    Diese Schwankungen sind von der Natur vorgegeben. Wie viele Wälder hätten die Steinzeit Menschen in Mitteleuropa anzünden müssen, um eine Klimaerwärmung zu erzeugen, die viermal so hoch war wie die Heutige. Vor allem weil erst nach dieser Klimaerwärmung die Wälder wuchsen!
    Nein meiner Meinung ist das Geschäftsmodell, das gleiche wie TTIP CETA und TISA. Es hat nur die eine Aufgabe Europa und vor allem Deutschland auszupressen wie eine Zitrone, um die Neue Weltordnung voranzutreiben!

  3. Von den 40 Tausend Teilnehmern dieser Co² Massenproduktionsveranstaltung
    wird wohl keiner in der Lage sein mir den Begriff “Klima” zu erklären.
    Die Hybris, mit der sogenannte Wissenschftler dem Volk weis machen wollen,
    dass Co² Klimaschädlich sei,qualifiziert diese schon alleine zu Scharlatanen.
    Unsere sogenannten Volksverbrecher,nutzen diesen Schwachsinn selbstverständlich
    nur zum “Wohle des Volkes”. Ein Schelm,der dabei anderes vermutet.

  4. oui c est bien toutes qui courages l environnement est les changement climatiques valables a les besoins de vies humains .mes la questions c est pas sa dans l imaginations est les rêves .
    la question c est les solutions qui étés pour ce moment des calment de les peuples est les manifestations .ou donné moi une résulta positives qui vous reposé a cette planètes .
    est désolés mes amies si je vous dire vous ne donné riens est vous aussi incapables de vous donné .puisque vous avez rien a donné dans ce sujets .
    la pollutions est empoisonnés vous globale climats . la températures est ma

    1. oui c est bien toutes qui courages l environnement est les changement climatiques valables a les besoins de vies humains .mes la questions c est pas sa dans l imaginations est les rêves .
      la question c est les solutions qui étés pour ce moment des calment de les peuples est les manifestations .ou donné moi une résulta positives qui vous reposé a cette planètes .
      est désolés mes amies si je vous dire vous ne donné riens est vous aussi incapables de vous donné .puisque vous avez rien a donné dans ce sujets .
      la pollutions est empoisonnés vous globale climats . la températures est marqué le rouges en témoins.
      le monde en quakers la planètes son natures révoltes .
      sa c est une crise est aussi une crimes .
      vraiment vous fixé toutes vous ponce vairs l énergies renouvelables mes c est très faibles .
      mes amies nous entre la masse est l enclumes est comme je vous dire toujours est nous tousse des responsables puisque nous l alternateurs de cette planètes .qui marche dans un cercle de ponce est de nous intelligence .est maintenant nous besoin a une rapide solutions .est ne imagines pas que l énergies renouvelables seule qui été la solutions . y a des autres chose bien méthodes des System très solide a cotés d une énergies renouvelables plus fortes que vous connais . c est méthode est c est System va corrigés l agricultures comme des source de foods est va transformés cette planètes a des peuples riches en sociales activités sois les source de jobs soi en jouas climats propres soi une natures très claires soi une langes vies .
      mes amies ce science est très différents .
      est ce que vous avec moi .c est bien merci
      moussaoui ahmed
      fes in morocco

  5. Die Klimaerwärmungsfetischisten mit päderastisierenden Migationshintergrund haben eins mit den ISIS-Untermenschen gemeinsam, ihre selten dämmliche Pseudoreligion. die eine beten einen bärtigen Kinderficker an, die anderen verteufeln ein harmloses Molekül!

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