Paris Summit: A Climate Friendly Façade

06/06/2017 12:07 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2017
Global leaders embrace at the end of the Paris Summit, 2015
Global leaders embrace at the end of the Paris Summit, 2015

At face value, the international deal has been described as a monumental moment in history. For the first time, 195 countries have collectively committed to cut their emissions under a structure set up by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The predicted success of the summit is based on the fact this is the first time a conclusive 2°C cap has been placed on countries involved; a legally binding aim. However, even with ratification from almost 150 of the countries involved, it is undoubtedly questionable how pragmatic this agreement really is.

The paradoxical term ‘legally binding aims’ is exactly where the agreement falls short - it is unclear exactly how a legal framework based upon mere aims, targets and promises will reach a substantial outcome. Articles 2 and 3 of the agreement set out the main aims and methodology; requiring all countries to act individually by “recognising the urgent need to enhance the provision of finance”, “acknowledging the specific needs” of the agreement all by showing “progression over time” in an “ambitious” manner.

It is seemingly a matter of scope rather than implementation when assessing what differentiates the 2015 summit over the Kyoto Protocol, it’s predecessor. Whilst the Kyoto Protocol emphasized the reduction of greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% by industrialised countries, this was no less ‘binding’ than what the Paris summit claims to be. The UNFCCC have adopted a political rather than legal structure of implementation for the Paris summit, meaning the aims of the summit are at each individual country’s discretion, rather than through international enforcement. The Kyoto Protocol failed as emissions targets weren’t met and despite it being ‘legally binding’, no enforcement ever occurred. In response to this, the Paris summit has chosen a more flexible approach which will still not ensure compliance. It is not always vital for such treaties to be legally binding, so long as a precise concrete mechanism is established that encourages domestic application. However, as the summit is based on a mechanism of persuasion and voluntary action, it is highly unlikely that countries will impose any independent corroboration of the agreement in their domestic legislation, especially as the Paris summits aims lack any kind of categorical depth.

By lacking legal enforceability, it is doubtful the convention will go far enough. Without sanctions for countries that do not adhere to its aims, there is little driving incentive past it’s initial unificatory success. Nicaragua has rejected the agreement for being fruitless, as under the voluntary action of each country, it has been predicted that temperature rises will be around 3/4°C by 2100. In response to this, Paul Oquist, Nicaragua’s chief Climate Change negotiator, named the accord a “a path to failure”, and Nicaragua are now taking up their own renewable energy plans with the aim of being 90% renewable by 2020.

The ‘success’ of such agreements is fixed at the time of signing as a unification from all countries involved with a common purpose; the opportunity to promote internationalism, global community and diplomatic relations. From Macron’s vow to “make the planet great again”, to global denunciation for Trump’s exit, the accord’s unificatory success does not extend to its primary aim in reducing global emissions: we can call this a diplomatic success rather than an environmental one. In the long run, it appears exceptionally optimistic that the largest emitters in the world will voluntarily adhere to such a fluid mechanism.

Written by Mia Daoudi. Edited by Keval Dattani, Mathurin Lemoine and Natasha Rega-Jones.

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