By Sophie Broad
This year the United Nations Climate Change summit, Conference of Parties (COP21), is taking place from 30th November to 11th December in Paris. With 195 countries involved, its purpose is “to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.”
Last month in the House of Commons, a debate on the Paris climate talks was held. Ed Miliband, Labour MP and former energy secretary, spoke with conviction about the true dangers of complacency at a time of urgency. “We need an agreement that is as close as possible to what the science tells us is necessary, and we should all be worried about what the science is now telling us.” Miliband was clear that to make a deal that knowingly anticipated more than 2°C of warming would be catastrophic. Caroline Lucas commented that at the start of the debate just 20 MPs were present at the beginning of debate the talks, which could be perceived as a sorry reflection of the MPs attitude towards this issue.
It’s worth recapping the Conservative government’s history on environmental and energy policy. The government has recently been criticised after it emerged the UK is very likely to miss the EU set target to get 20% of its energy from renewables by 2020. It appears this will only be made more likely due to the cuts made to the renewable energy sector. This has resulted in the loss of around 1000 jobs in the solar industry, with many more under threat. Moreover, it has emphasised the governments lack of support for, and investment in, renewable energy usage in the future. Lisa Nandy, the shadow energy and climate change secretary berated the cuts, stating that they were short-sighted . In response to the criticism, David Cameron stressed that renewable energy had to be compatible with affordability, The importance of reasonably priced energy has continued to be stressed, despite research indicating that onshore wind energy is the cheapest source of energy. However, with a government seemingly incapable of delivering even the basics of what is required of them in regard to the environment, it is questionable how far the talks will drive them to make a full commitment based on any deal made at the climate talks.
Prior to the summit, participating countries were able to pledge the action they propose to be reasonable in tackling climate change. The EU stated it will attempt to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. China pledged that their carbon emissions will peak in 2030 and from thereon slowly decline, paired with a further effort to get 20% of its carbon energy from low carbon sources. Yet, despite pledges from 147 countries, a study carried out by Climate Action Tracker concluded that if the pledges were implemented, global temperatures would reach 2.7 degrees. So, in summary, the science has conclusively told us that it is not recommended to surpass 2°C of warming, yet the likely outcome is something closer to 3°C, despite the understanding that this will have disastrous consequences. Nevertheless, to continue emitting at the rate we are now has been widely agreed as wrong, and the acknowledgement that emissions must be cut does demonstrate some progress. The pledges do not equate to action, and although not ideal, they are a promising indicator that some action will be taken if a deal is struck.
One concern for many environmental groups is that of some of the financial sponsors of COP 21. Around 20% of the funding for the summit has been contributed by corporations accused of being leading polluters. Many of these are heavily invested in the fossil fuel industry, such as EDF and Air France. Corporate sponsorship has highlighted a conflict of interest, which could hinder the negotiations reaching the desired solution to rising temperatures. COP defended their sponsors stating that they were financially essential in order to run the summit. In response to this, a series of fake adverts were put up around Paris by the campaign group Brandalism, to illustrate the hypocrisy of certain corporations’s presence at the negotiations. A member of the group commented that the polluters “promote themselves as part of the solution – when they are part of the problem.” Allowing big polluters to have a part in financing the summit has led many to question how genuine the efforts of the talks to tackle climate change really are. This is not the first time that companies holding notoriety for carbon emissions have been involved in matters relating to climate change. The ubiquitous nature of big polluters at climate events demonstrates they seek to implement their own agenda, which appears to be contradictory to the very aims of the talk in seeking to reduce pollution.
The key issue surrounding the negotiations is how likely they will materialise into a deal and what actions will be taken after the Paris talks. Many, including labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, have called for the targets to be enforced by law to ensure each country takes full responsibility. What has lacked similar past negotiations, notably Copenhagen in 2009 whereby no legally binding treaty was concluded, is a solid basis for legislation to be introduced and enforced consistently in each country. Speaking at the beginning of the summit, Barack Obama reiterated this point. He stated that some aspects needed to be legally enforced and that it was “critical in us having high ambitions and holding each other accountable.” However, Amber Rudd, energy secretary, acknowledged there will be difficulty in getting some countries to fully commit and it was necessary to “try and keep everybody in the tent and yet have an ambitious deal.” In any case, an agreement involving such a large number of countries will evidently prove difficult in reaching a productive agreement. Clearly, for the summit to be considered a success a legal settlement must be reached.
The importance of the issue of climate change was most clearly demonstrated by the global climate marches took place on the 29th November. The abundance of evidence that the world is changing for the worse due to human activity pushed hundreds of thousands to march all over the world, with the aim to pressure their respective governments to make an ambitious deal. We need our leaders to take initiative after COP and strive to reach and exceed their targets. Furthermore, it is important for our own government to prove they will make a genuine commitment after the emergence of recent evidence suggesting otherwise. The talks are a promising start, but their actions will define the future. Hopefully, it will be a sustainable one.