The Risk-Monger

Paris was a landmark deal! A major achievement to save the planet! The beginning of the end for the fossil fuel industry! The platitudes of the leaders on the Paris Agreement were rich; the reality of the text was very poor.

The Risk-Monger read the COP-21 document to see what the excitement was about and got terribly confused. There was a lot not to be excited about and it became clear by Saturday evening that the media were reporting on an agreement they had not read, but felt that it would be improper to be critical of a text that lacked any content or any collective will to do anything. Even the NGOs were tweeting their success (December after all is donation month, and nobody gives money to losers). It would be better to bang our chests: We’re great! We’re saving the world! We’ve done it!

Done what exactly? That is the problem – nobody seems to be saying what all of the excitement or self-lauding was actually about. What had Paris achieved, and if nothing, should we be so quick to celebrate mediocrity?

What didn’t Paris achieve?

  • It was neither a treaty nor a protocol – so there was no need for governments to ratify it (which suited Obama fine).
  • It did not contain any binding CO2 levels or reduction commitments (it was the un-Kyoto in so many ways) – everything was based on voluntary national climate action plans that would not be scrutinised … ever.
  • It did not make any countries give up anything (how else could 195 countries sign it?)
  • It did not show how CO2 would be reduced to limit warming to under 2°C – with a goal of 1.5°C! (Why not just say 0°C since nobody is holding our feet to the fire!)
  • It did not set serious targets of stopping the rise in CO2 emissions before 2050 (only reducing the trend in the second half of the century).
  • It did not specify which heavy CO2 emitters would be “defavourised”. There are no strategies for limiting production from fossil fuels, livestock or automotive industries.
  • It did not specify who would be responsible for paying 100 billion USD per year to help developing countries in mitigation or adaptation measures.
  • It did not specify how the 100 billion USD per year fund would be managed and audited (although Article 6.6 did acknowledge that the UN would use this money to pay itself first).

What did Paris achieve?

  • It created a rotating position of climate champions – two individual ambassadors who would travel the world and speak about climate actions (Paragraphs 122-23). I understand Al Gore has started lobbying!
  • It managed to shift the national focus on climate issues to a five-year cycle, essentially moving any commitments more than 35 years down the road.
  • It did not end with everyone going home calling it a disaster (I suppose that was the main reason for all of the excitement).

This is totally mediocre and although the UN has become excellent in pulling off global PR stunts, even this one was so limited in achievement as to merit calling the entire process “woefully stupid”. There are two main reasons to consider COP-21 as such: How it set the voluntary standards of the national climate action plans; and how the consequences of the 100 billion USD of climate funding will negatively affect developing countries.

The National Climate Action Plans

At the heart of the COP-21 was that each country was expected to provide Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to show how they would like to be reducing CO2 emissions (a kind of international collection of wish-lists). All of these were voluntary and not scrutinised or criticised and will be updated every five years. One of the important achievements of the Paris Agreement is that these INDCs or national climate action plans will be evaluated by the UN in a “friendly manner”. I wish I were joking, but Article 15.2 of the agreement states that the UN will establish “a committee that shall be expert-based and facilitative in nature and function in a manner that is transparent, non-adversarial and non-punitive.” If the UN committee is mandated to be non-adversarial and non-punitive, where are the teeth? All countries therefore have a license to lie – they can pretend to be reducing CO2 and the UN can pretend to be doing something about it.

It is mindlessly infantile to think that such a process is legitimate and getting everyone to agree upon it a success. Has the policy process become so stagnant that rigging the system to become toothless, non-adversarial and non-punitive are now requirements to get everyone around the table? What is the point of the UN then?

Where are the critical NGOs whose job was to hold these governments to account. Did any of them notice that India presented their INDC while building hundreds of coal-fired power generators? The anti-industry vultures, SumOfUs, gloated on Facebook: “I still can’t believe it”. Indeed, neither can I, … that you are OK with this nonsense! The climate catalysts,, stated on their Facebook page: “This is just the beginning, and a beautiful beginning it was.” Greenpeace, rather optimistically made something up: “This deal puts the fossil fuel industry on the wrong side of history.” Actually, I don’t see a single word in the text anywhere near that, but maybe they did not read the document either, because the only official text that I found put solar energy up against the wrong side of history (and thank God for that!). Article 2.1.b of the Paris Agreement states: “Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;”. This finally deals with a problem I have been talking about for years, that these huge solar parks take good agricultural land out of production. How could the NGOs have missed this? … Oh yeah, it’s Donation December!

100 Billion USD – That will buy a lot of Rolex watches!

John Ashe, the ambassador to the United Nations for Antigua and Barbuda and President of the United Nations 68th General Assembly has a penchant for Rolex watches. He and other UN officials were indicted two months ago for bribery for allegedly accepting millions in exchange for setting up a new UN conference centre in Macau. The UN is shocked by the news, has not accepted it and apparently is standing behind its man! The UN, as a trans-governmental body, seems to think it is immune to criticism, whether it is head of the WHO, Margaret Chan, former head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri or any number of UN representatives with slime under their fingernails. This “cancer of corruption”, spread across global UN capitals, makes FIFA look like a public school.

The UN does not seem to have any clear mechanisms in place for checks or balances (Ashe was indicted by the US government and not the UN). So let’s give the UN 100 billion USD per year to distribute as they see fit! This is mind-blowingly stupid but I cannot find anything in the Paris agreement to show how the money will be properly managed.

Maybe we should not be so worried – the 100 billion USD per year is meant to be distributed to those in need, right? Well, no! According to the Paris Agreement (and this is where we should all start to wince), the money seems to also be for “administrative expenses”. Article 6.6 of the agreement states that the COP “shall ensure that a share of the proceeds from activities under the mechanism referred to in paragraph 4 of this Article is used to cover administrative expenses as well as to assist developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change to meet the costs of adaptation.” (my emphasis)

So rather than having the messy business of Chinese businessmen en route to New York getting caught with four million dollars in cash at the US border (I swear, I can’t wait for the movie to come out!!!), these COP “administrative expenses” will be sufficient to keep the UN officials in nice suits and Rolex watches. No wonder there was no mention in the official articles of the 100 billion per year – who will pay for it, how will it be managed and how much will the UN have to give to developing countries once their administrative expenses have been deducted? These are questions, like the rest of the Paris Agreement, for which no one else seems to be demanding answers. When nobody reads these documents, nobody seems to care.

Morally bankrupt sanctimonials

So OK, Mr Ban, here is my question: Can you ensure that by demanding that developed countries pony up 100 billion USD to your climate offices per year, there will still be sufficient money available for aiding civil society organisations working in non-climate related development projects (like women empowerment programmes, nutrition support projects, education development schemes …)?

Aid for developing countries is finite, and demanding large shifts in public relief allocations because some single-minded activists don’t actually care about anything else but winning campaigns means that so many others (mostly women) in developing countries will suffer by this blind stupidity. How could tree planting programmes possibly lead to better education infrastructure or cottage industry investment? I saw this personally myself when a women’s jewelry-making project in Cebu, the Philippines had its funding from a German national agency cut in favour of a tree-planting project. This is one of the main reasons I despise these climate activists – they smugly wave their moral superiority on others and refuse to think that their self-serving campaigns are without serious consequence on the poorest of the poor.

So let’s celebrate the Paris Agreement with the others who are immensely proud of themselves. This is the best the international community has to offer the world. Enjoy today, because tomorrow we’re screwed!

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