What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
COP21 has, yet again, deferred concerted and serious action to combat the effects of climate change.
In spite of heroic efforts by Pacific islanders such as Tony De Brum and Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, the latest draft climate change agreement to emerge consists largely of kicking the can down the road.
The news isn’t entirely bad. As this editorial is being written, it appears that there has been some success in getting a firm commitment to making $100 billion per year available to handle climate change mitigation and adaptation. Likewise, 1.5 degrees global temperature rise has been largely accepted as a desirable—albeit non-compulsory—goal.
Part of the success, at least, is attributable to a quiet coalition that began to form about 6 months ago. Dubbed the ‘coalition of high ambition’ by the EU, it consists of over 100 countries, according to the Guardian.
The group’s focus is “on at least four key issues. They want an agreement at Paris to be legally binding; to set a clear long-term goal on global warming that is in line with scientific advice; to introduce a mechanism for reviewing countries’ emissions commitments every five years; and create a unified system for tracking countries’ progress on meeting their carbon goals.”
Much of the work of shepherding this diverse collection of countries has been credited to its chairman, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum. This will likely prove his political swan-song, as he was deposed in recent elections.
And despite concerted efforts from the group, commentators report that it hasn’t gained enough traction to make meaningful, immediate gains. Negotiations have progressed slower than anticipated, and now French officials are indicating that the talks will extend beyond the official deadline.
One attendee described the process thusly: “They spend about 80% of their time repeating their previous positions, maybe 10% outlining new positions and only about 10% of the time compromising.”
The compromises have proven costly. The United States is intent on removing any language from the Loss and Damage section that might lead to legal liability for American corporations. The cash commitments for mitigation and adaptation are not yet as firm as they should be, and won’t ramp up to appropriate levels until 2020.
Neither Australia nor New Zealand is part of the High Ambition Coalition. To its credit, however, Australia is cleaving closer to the US line, such as it is. This is less than we might want, but more than it appeared ready to do at the beginning of the conference.
New Zealand’s representative was somewhat fatalistic about their role, telling Radio New Zealand that “we have no expectation of being in the small rooms at the very end of this process where the final deal is cut.”
Prime Minister John Key’s policies have been described as ‘inadequate’ by independent analysts, and the country has had the dubious distinction of being designated the ‘Fossil of the Day’ three times since the Paris Conference began.
COP21 marks progress, and we should perhaps be thankful that we’ve made any progress at all in the face of significant intransigence by certain economic players. But it’s too little. And 2020 may be too late.
It’s borderline hypocritical for countries to accept the necessary limit of 1.5 degree global temperature rise and then to defer meaningful global action until 2020 or thereabouts.
Let’s just hope that by then, we won’t have dried up like the proverbial raisin in the sun.