Climate justice demands real solutions which are people-centred and equitable, and which appreciate the inherent value of nature rather than reduce it to a commodity.
The Paris Agreement differs from the Kyoto Protocol in several regards. It both weakens the differentiation between developed and developing countries and abandons the collective setting of targets and timetables for emissions reductions in favour of the far more flexible approach of “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs).
The result, famously, is that everyone is on board but the ship is sinking: even if the NDCs are implemented, temperatures are on track to rise by 3°C or 4°C this century.
This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.
One area in which the Paris Agreement does mimic the Kyoto Protocol is in the use of market-based approaches to climate change mitigation.
The Kyoto Protocol’s so-called “Clean Development Mechanism” was tainted by questions over its efficacy and many instances of human rights abuses and land grabs - particularly impacting indigenous peoples and forest communities.
Emissions trading schemes demonstrably failed to reduce emissions. Yet the Paris Agreement - specifically, Article 6 - persists in relying on these policy approaches that are proven failures.
Article 6 is couched in the language of “voluntary cooperation” but this is code for the same kind of logic that underpinned the indulgences of the Middle Ages’ Catholic Church: those who can afford to pay are absolved of their sins. The poor pick up the burden.
The basic premise of this kind of ‘cooperation’ is that countries are able to use “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” to count towards their NDC.
So, if a developed country wanted to, it could increase its own carbon-intensive activities and simply purchase the right to offset this pollution through mitigation carried out in another country.
One of the technologies touted to deliver these offsets is Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).
In theory, BECCS would involve planting trees to absorb atmospheric carbon, cutting those trees down and burning the biomass to use the energy, then somehow capturing and storing the carbon in the ground.
There are a plethora of problems. Bioenergy is not actually carbon neutral. The technology doesn’t exist at scale yet, and to scale it up would require vast amounts of land. Whose land? You can easily guess.
Rather than persist in a near-fanatical commitment to market-based false solutions, climate justice demands real solutions which are people-centred and equitable, and which appreciate the inherent value of nature rather than reduce it to a commodity.
Some solutions include, but are not limited to, drastically limiting corporations and wealthy elites excessive consumption, particularly of energy; removing barriers to affordable and accessible environmentally sound technologies such as intellectual property rights; ending producer subsidies promoting fossil fuels and 77 other carbon intensive industries.
We could also focus on conserving biodiversity by leaving the ecological integrity of natural ecosystems unharmed and scaling up ecological restoration; transforming industrial agriculture towards agroecological practices and investing in electrified, free or subsidized mass public transit.
There are more real solutions than false ones.
Nathan Thanki is a co-coordinator for Global Campaign To Demand Climate Justice, based in London, UK.