Interpreting text at the UN climate summit is a work of art. Every painfully constructed phrase contains layers of power politics which even experts find difficult to assess. Behind positive words, is a not so positive truth.
This is well demonstrated by the United States and friends as we wind up the second week of COP21. Rich countries are trying to make it appear that they desperately want to halt climate change, while their actions prove they want nothing of the sort.
In recent weeks the US administration has talked of limiting global warming to a 1.5 degree rise. This is more ambitious than the 2 degree cap often heralded up till now. It sounds welcome. But unfortunately it comes with a pile of baggage which is anything but.
First, the promises of all countries for limiting emissions have already been submitted, and they put us on the path to a catastrophic degree of warming which is nearer 3 degrees. Worse, even those promises will be completely non-binding if the US gets its way.
And now the 'high ambition coalition' has been brought together by some pretty unambitious countries, which suggests that this is really about undermining the developing world groups like the G77, and gutting a new climate deal of principles of equity which have been accepted for 20 years.
Over and over again at this summit, the US has tried to say ‘we’re all equal now’ to undermine the distinction between rich industrialized countries who have the lead responsibility for climate change, and everyone else. This means the US would be able to say ‘yes we want less than 1.5C global warming, but we’re one country, what can we do?’ We also know that the US does not want to set legally binding targets and wants to dump its pollution on other countries through the notion of ‘net’ reduction.
Of course global warming needs to be capped below 1.5C. That recognition is welcome. But that can’t be achieved through pushing some countries into never-ending poverty. The principle of equity must not be abandoned at COP21. The only group consistently saying this is the G77. No wonder the rich world want to undermine it. We shouldn’t be fooled by the talk of 1.5 degrees. The purpose is to make it look like the US and allies are doing all they can, while those pesky developing countries are spoiling things for everyone.
Neither is the US alone. The EU has been doing a fair bit of its own lobbying to make sure, for instance, that trade agreements get no mention at all in the climate text. It’s obvious to all that new trade agreements like TTIP – the US-EU trade deal – are a disaster for climate change, given they support corporate interests above environmental protection. But let’s just pretend we didn’t notice.
Our job now is to be completely clear. The US and rich countries must not be allowed to shift the responsibility for halting climate change onto developing countries. They must be held to account for deep, legally binding emissions cuts, serious financing of alternative development, and a restructuring of the global economic model. And we must say it in clear language that cannot be mistaken.
In the likely event that they fail us, the movements we have built in Paris will push forward, towards a people’s climate solution.