On Sunday the 13th, the headlines in all the Indian newspapers and TV news channels screamed that COP21 had achieved a historic climate deal in Paris. Not just that, India’s Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar announced, “we are happy—it takes care of India’s concerns.” Really?! Surely, this is something created by the Western powers; and the Indian media and climate commentators are only too happy to buy their hokum. Are we blind or just plain ignorant? Everything that is central to reining in the extraordinary climate crisis has been shoved into the preamble. We at least should be familiar with that term for we have it in the Constitution. They are laudable objectives but 65 years have gone since they were written into the Constitution and they are still sitting pretty.
The COP21 preamble is nothing but a wish-list without any commitment, goals, monitoring, oversight or punitive measures for failing to live up to them. Yet the climate scientists keep telling us that we are already on the very edge of an irreversible crisis. The ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctic regions are melting at an alarming rate and so are the glaciers in Greenland. If fossil fuel consumption is not reduced by a wide margin immediately, the temperatures will spike not by two per cent but three to five per cent. Soon large swathes of land will go under water in Bangladesh, India, Philippines and the US to mention just a few instances, and low-lying countries like Maldives and Micronesian islands will disappear altogether. Entire regions in Africa and southern Europe will become deserts and millions will starve or die and close to a billion will be displaced in the coming years.
Let’s not forget that ISIS is a consequence of the Iraq invasion. Add to that the US interference during the Arab Spring in Libya, Syria, Yemen and other countries of the Middle East. It has already led to the biggest refugee crisis the world has seen. Now thanks to the sham climate-crisis agreement, the quantum of refugees will soon shoot up to unthinkable numbers. As always the poor will be the worst victims and again, as always, the women will suffer the most. Forget the neglect and plight of the indigenous and First Nation peoples and the reparations due to them, they do not get even a mention in the preamble.
To go back to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997—it laid down the foundations for controlling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a level that would sustain the ecosystem balance on the planet at this point. Since the developed countries had been responsible for spewing out GHG for at least 150 years, they would have to bear the greater burden of reducing fossil fuel usage. Many climate change conferences followed in the wake of Kyoto but 2015 was the critical year when all the 191 or 192 countries which had signed up in the intervening years would have to follow a binding regime for reducing GHG to 2 per cent. As the prominent British climate economist Lord Stern has pointed out, “If we go up by 3 degrees celsius...we will be at temperatures that we haven’t seen on this planet for 3 million years”. Since fossil fuel usage has shot up enormously, temperatures are rising everywhere and glaciers are melting and extreme climate events have begun to occur far more frequently. Clearly the only acceptable cutoff point would be at a rise of 1.5 centigrade—an implausible one at this juncture. President Obama generously admitted that since the industrialised nations had been polluting the atmosphere, they must bear the greater burden of reducing fossil fuel consumption and contribute to the 100 billion dollar kitty which would make sure that the developing nations can catch up and become equal partners.
Once again the distance between promises and delivery was almost unbridgeable. The US took the lead in forming the High Ambition group of developed countries and by the end of COP21 the promised 100 billion which were to have been put on the table had shrunk to a few million. As Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International, pointed out, “nature does not negotiate”. He added that since the science does not change, our only hope is to change the political will. “This is a fight for our children and their children’s future—there is absolutely no intergenerational solidarity other than some nice words that we heard from the heads of state.”
America is the only superpower in the world and Obama consequently the most powerful person on earth. But what we forget is that while Obama is supposed to run the country, it is the multi-national corporations and their lobbies which run him. And, of course, lest we forget, a great number of American citizens are devotees of Fox News and they pooh-pooh the idea of GHG and climate change. At the far end is Donald Trump, the leading GOP presidential candidate, who flatly denies anything as climate crisis.
Lofty speeches were the order of the day when COP21 opened in Paris. Barack Obama boasted of how he had stopped the Keystone XL pipeline but didn’t mention that it took four years and an incredible amount of public pressure to get him to do it. Nor did he mention that just a couple of months back he had actually given permission to Shell for the first time in the Arctic region (thankfully Shell got cold feet after a few attempts and abandoned the project). Curiously enough at COP21 instead of imposing mandatory limits on emissions, the powers that be decided to be generous and permit each country to suggest its own timetable for GHG reductions.
We now know how the scientists working for Exxon in the late ’70s did pioneering work and pointed out how fossil fuels were a disaster for the planet. The company immediately suppressed the evidence, closed the scientific department and deliberately falsified the results. The glaring paradox is that it is the multi-national fossil-fuel companies who have financed all the COPs—the fossil-fuel multi-nationals are the real sponsors of COP21. And already the promised donations which were to have corrected the damage have been reduced to a meagre sum. Also, just look at the future plans and the marketing strategies of the oil companies: it is their acknowledged aim is to keep increasing fossil-fuel consumption enormously in the coming years. It’s anybody’s guess how the opposing aims of the corporates and climate change are going to be squared.
It was clear that all the leaders of the developed nations had turned up at COP21 only for a photo op. The ISIS Paris attacks could not have occurred at a worse time. The three-month emergency rule President Hollande had imposed made life impossible for the protesters who had arrived from all over the world. They were not allowed to protest and were often beaten up mercilessly. Then just a few days before the curtain came down, a secret High Ambition Group of hundred countries led by the US showed up. This high-sounding, pompous title was in reality a smokescreen, according to Asad Rahman, head of the Friends of the Earth. It offered lofty-sounding claims which papered over the fact that the US and the European Union were only delivering one-fifth of their commitment. According to Asad Rahman, initially every single developing country opposed the United States’ attempts to rewrite the rules which protect the most vulnerable and poor countries and pass the buck to the victims themselves but in the end the quiet and steady arm-twisting got everybody on board.
Here at home in India, the worst culprit is our dependence on coal for power. As if that is not bad enough, the visit of Shinzo Abe has begun a move towards nuclear energy. The Japanese PM refuses to learn from the Fukushima disaster despite grave resistance from his citizens. Apart from the billions required to put up a single nuclear plant and the appalling dangers it poses, are Abe and our PM even remotely aware of how difficult it is to get rid of the hazardous nuclear waste?
What happens now? Are we going to betray our children for big money? Hopefully not, if we can put pressure on our governments by joining groups like 360.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other vigilant organisations that will force governments to understand that they can be elected only if they support a green earth agenda. If young students in universities can force the trustees to divest from extremely profitable fossil-fuel industries, the rest of the populace can surely do much more to save our planet.
The extent of the damage that threatens us is often occluded by short-term goals of development, glamour an d government politices geared at denial and avoidance. A small example of the gravity of what we face: the Arctic region is scheduled to have its first ice-free summer by 2040. Within thirty years, one of the polar caps of this planet will no longer be a reality during summers, leading to a rise of up to 23 inches in the sea levels.