Is a Climate Change deal still Possible?

This year’s United Nations Climate change Negotiations (UNFCCC) negotiations have stagnated. A lot of time has been spent wrangling over the draft text, with a view to reduce it to a manageable size instead of handling more substantial matters. By the end of the two week Bonn meeting this month (June), the draft text had been cut down by a mere 4pages to make 85. At the end of the day, nothing much has come of the negotiations since last year. Same thing has happened for the G8 and G20 meetings with negotiators going back and forth on promises already made and not really concretely agreeing on anything specific or a way forward.


It is quite discouraging that the negotiations are moving at a snail’s pace. As developing nations clamor for funding, the developed nations have chosen to remain stubborn on the matter. In retaliation, barely any developing nation has made any commitment so far save for the very ambitious INDCs from Ethiopia and Mexico.

On top of that, most of the INDCs that have so far been handed in from the developed countries are not nearly as ambitious as they are expected to be.

Countries like Australia have come under attack by both EU and developing nations for taking the back seat instead of taking action. Australia seems to think its role to play in these climate negotiations is not that important. India the world’s 3rd largest carbon emitter has also shown a lot of skepticism in the whole climate change negotiations and up to date has not tabled any commitment.

The United States on the other hand has already pledged its commitments. However as regards the issue of financing developing countries, the Republicans dismissed Obama’s $3billion pledge.


A man pours water on himself outside a train station during India's heatwave
A man pours water on himself outside a train station during India’s heatwave

It is therefore a major contradiction that the G8 actually agrees that climate change poses a serious threat to earth and all of its inhabitants. In fact, the negotiations have become more political than they are environmental or humanitarian. Professor Bob Scholes, who served as a convening lead author for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, intimated on the degree of “global fatigue” and “cynicism” around the global climate negotiations. He said that all the world should basically anticipate is some sort of political deal that will have the effect of locking us into at least 3⁰C temperature rise this century and little, if no meaningful support, for developing nations.

However not all hope should be lost. With growing global support among civil society, some of the biggest changes on the ground are happening in corporates and at local government level, all around the world. For example; WWF’s REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), a mechanism intended to benefit climate, people and nature. Not only corporates are involved; In Africa, Ethiopia’s government is taking the lead in fronting clean renewable energy and zero emissions by 2025. Mexico has also proved itself very ambitious with its INDC plan showing that by 2030 its GHGs will be reduced by 22% and 51% of black carbon relative to business as usual levels. Further, the world’s top three emitters, the U.S, China and EU, have already indicated a willingness to set targets significantly more ambitious than the Kyoto Protocol’s targets.


The above are just a few of the many countries that should be involved. Civil society feels that is not enough progress being made towards reaching a fair and adequate climate treaty. With just a few months left, it does not look like there is possibility of agreement and people are growing tired and getting skeptical about the possibility of success of the Paris agreement.

What is interesting is that this has happened before at the Kyoto (1997) and Copenhagen (2009) negotiations and more than ever, it is likely that history will repeat itself.

The growth of civil society movements are the only hope that will potentially spur more change than the negotiations will ever offer in a hundred years. Otherwise by now, 20years down the road, we should have had a binding agreement years ago, but we don’t.

With climate negotiations not yielding much and very few countries engaging in real mitigation or adaptation, it’s hard to see a deal coming out of Paris that will keep emissions below two degrees. However even with the current state of events, drastic action is required, for example; total elimination of deforestation especially of tropical forests, eradication of coal plants and excavation of fossil fuels, reducing aviation and shipping emissions from today. Failure to take action now just means even harder actions in the future.

A coal plant in South Africa (MEDUPI POWER STATION)


Nonetheless, the negotiations are still one of the best gambles for delivering a deal that is focused on a renewable future and incorporates binding emissions reductions. Hopefully a significant outcome will emerge from the Paris Negotiations in December, 2015. However, just like Dr Tristen Taylor, the project coordinator of Earthlife Africa believes, the real danger lies in the fact that the agreement signed in Paris that is meant to be legally binding on all the parties/countries will be an empty promise. She fears that any agreement that will emerge from Paris will be a “symbolic, though empty” gesture.

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