Magazine article Monthly Review

Notes from the Editors

Magazine article Monthly Review

Notes from the Editors

Article excerpt

From mainstream news reports, one might easily conclude that the Paris climate agreement, presented to the world on December 12, 2015, was a complete triumph. The Guardian headlined it as "The World's Greatest Diplomatic Success." However, by any meaningful criteria, the Paris climate change agreement was fraudulent, based on a fabric of illusion. Moreover, the distorted media coverage of the climate deal, presenting it as a historical agreement virtually without shortcomings, was made possible in large part by the French government's banning of the mass climate protests, following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. With radical protestors silenced and their demands marginalized, the global power elite could make virtually any public claims it wished, without acknowledging any other public voice or alternative view.

A close look at the climate agreement shows that the devil is in the details. The 196 countries party to the agreement reiterated the goal (established in Copenhagen in 2009) of keeping global average temperatures well below a 2°C increase, and even added that efforts should be pursued to limit it to a 1.5°C increase-a victory on paper for the most vulnerable nations. Yet the pledges made by individual countries (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) would push global average temperatures up by as much as 3.7°C, with irreversible and catastrophic results. The agreement itself contains no legally binding limits to carbon emissions, includes no meaningful mechanisms for achieving its stated aims, would not even go into effect until 2020, and would be subject to reconsideration every five years. More important, it does a runaround with respect to reductions in greenhouse emissions. Although it states that "parties [to the agreement] aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.. .and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter," it presents as its ultimate aim the achievement of "a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century."

The "balance" referred to here, to be achieved in 2050-2100, is what is called carbon neutrality (or greenhouse gas neutrality). It is the idea that there is no need for ultimate limits on the burning of fossil fuels provided that corresponding sinks to absorb the emissions are put in place, mainly in the forms of reforestation and what is called Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BCCS), i.e., the burning of biomass, with the carbon captured and stored deep underground. In fact, the whole Paris agreement has as its unwritten premise the development of future "negative emissions" technologies such as BCCS that do not exist at present. Hence, the agreement has been characterized by Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change in the United Kingdom, as "techno-utopian." The climate deal also exempts from consideration all greenhouse gas emissions from international air traffic and shipping, despite the fact such emissions are now as great as those of Germany and the United Kingdom combined and are growing rapidly.

That a climate agreement of any kind was reached might be regarded as a significant achievement. Yet the present climate deal could turn out to be worse than nothing, insofar as it blocks real change. As James Hansen, the leading U.S. climatologist, declared of the Paris climate agreement,

It's a fraud, really a fake. It's just bullshit for them to say, 'We'll have a 2°C 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 continue to be burned.

In Anderson's words, the Paris agreement overall is "weaker than [the] Copenhagen" agreement of 2009, and "not consistent with the latest science." While "zero carbon energy technologies are a prerequisite of a 2°C future. …

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