Paris Climate Summit: Success and Failures

Executive Director of the Planetary Development Institute


Paris climate summit had ended last year (2016) on a great positive note, with lots of pledges about promising to end the era of fossil fuels and promises to avoid the climate catastrophe. US President Donald Trump is expected to decide soon whether to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Mr Trump has now raised the prospect that the US, the world’s richest nation and second-largest carbon emitter after China, may not meet its commitment.

Among the hard-line opponents of action against climate change both inside and outside the White House, the strong resistance to the notion that the Paris agreement includes downward flexibility is accompanied by warnings that efforts to relax commitments will lead to burdensome lawsuits from activists.

Trump is expected to announce a decision as early as next week along with other energy policy changes, including ordering opening up LNG exports and Arctic drilling.

The main clause of Paris Summit under discussion can be translated as follows: 

Any country that signs onto the Paris Agreement has to make a pledge to reduce pollution, called a "nationally determined contribution." The United States, for example, pledged to reduce heat-trapping emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Anyway, these pledges are the building blocks of this agreement. The overall goal is to eliminate fossil fuel pollution this century, to avoid sinking low-lying islands, flooding cities  and creating the sort of runaway warming that could  lead to mass extinction.

Trump went on to blame China, Russia and India to be not fulfilling their part of commitment.

Oxfam estimates that just 16 per cent of the $100 billion a year pledged by rich nations in 2009 to help poorer countries adapt to climate change and cut carbon emissions has been paid. It has called on countries to target 35 per cent by 2020, and 50 per cent by 2025, via grants and other forms of financing in order to avoid the burden of “heavy repayments”.

The cost for developing countries to adapt to climate change could go as high as $500 billion a year by 2050 – four to five times larger than previous estimates, according to a report released by the UN.

In fact it is “markets”—that is, the capitalist profit system—which is the main obstacle to human progress. As long as humanity is straitjacketed by the private ownership of the world’s wealth by a tiny handful of capitalist billionaires, and by the nation-state system that is inseparable from it, it is impossible to mount the necessary mobilization of the technological and economic resources required to resolve the growing global environmental crisis.

On a positive note, climate summits significant failings clearly illuminate the ways in which philanthropists can direct resources to bolster “climate justice” in the world and actually try to limit the rise in our planet’s temperature. We need to focus on four areas in particular.

1. Undercutting the power of the fossil fuel industry. Paris summit completely failed to address the elephant in the room: that we must stop burning fossil fuels and switch to clean energy. This failure is rooted in the power the fossil fuel industry holds over countries around the world.

But there is a path forward to change this power structure. Most observers believe that the “mass mobilizations” over the past five years have been effective in undercutting the power of the fossil fuel industry. The clearest examples of this impact were the 400,000 people who took to the streets in April of 2014 in New York, and hundreds of thousands in more than 20 cities who engaged in the World Climate March in the days leading up to COP21.

It has taken mass mobilizations over the last few years to push world leaders into the Paris agreement, and now it is going to take even more protests to push them to actually meet the terms of the agreement and then farther address issues the agreement ignored. Organizations such as 350.orgFriends of the Earth, the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and Greenpeaceare helping to lead these mass mobilizations. We philanthropists need to keep up our funding and support of these groups. In 2016, organizations such as and others are planning even more mass mobilizations; they need our philanthropic support.

We also must ramp up the divestment movement to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry in the United States and abroad. We must put fossil fuel industries on notice that the public will no longer tolerate climate pollution. The good news here is that over a very short time span, the divestment movement, led by the Wallace Global Fund, has increased dramatically; more than 500 institutions are now divesting more than $3.4 trillion in assets. We need to spread the word about divestment, increase funding to groups working to divest (especially on college campuses with large endowments), and increase public and media pressure on the polluting fossil-fuel corporations.

2. Getting rid of false solutions and supporting clean energy. COP21 contains false solutions such as “carbon markets.” Many large global funders are still wedded to false-solutions such as fracked gas, mega-dams, clean coal, and carbon capture. Let me be very clear about this: In the same way that a person cannot cure his or her alcoholism by switching to lite beer, we cannot cure climate change by switching to lower carbon fossil fuels. Carbon markets allow polluters to continue polluting. Fracked gas has a large CO2 output and massive methane emissions. Mega-dams have enormous methane emissions that are sometimes even worse than burning coal. Clean coal and carbon capture so far are simply fairy tales.

This means that we ought to be supporting and funding wide-scale implementation at the community level of solar energy, wind energy, and energy efficiency. Just after COP21, former UN Secretary Kofi Annan highlighted efforts funded by Green Energy Africa in Kenya that made international news when Maasai women moved solar panels on donkeys’ backs to their villages to provide a “solar revolution.” Let’s encourage and support more of these efforts.

3. Addressing climate change in developing countries. COP21 has failed to adequately address the threat climate change poses to the “undeveloped” world. The “developed world” is primarily responsible for climate change destruction by emitting massive amounts of greenhouse gases, but the “developing world” is suffering the consequences more acutely. When sea-level rise, droughts, and flooding occur in the developed world, governments have resources to quickly address the impacts; in developing countries, those same impacts can cause devastation, mass suffering, and refugee migrations that last for years and can never be undone. Philanthropists should give grants to bring greater attention to the North-South divide of climate change impacts, and fund so that developing countries can mitigate and adapt to climate change more quickly and effectively.

The good news here is that a number of global philanthropies, including Global Greengrants Fund, already focus almost exclusively on the developing world, primarily through grassroots groups and networks. In addition, major foundations such as FordMacArthur, and Mott have increasingly focused significant funding programs in the developing world.

4. Addressing the effect of climate change on marginalized people. COP21 also failed to address the effect of climate change on marginalized people around the world—indigenous, youth, women, poor, rural, and others who have and will continue to suffer the brunt of the chaos. Extreme weather events like hurricanes and flooding have wreaked havoc on marginalized people in the Philippines, in Haiti, as well as in New Orleans over the last decade. These events can compound for the most vulnerable people—in fact, poor women are disproportionately impacted and are 14 times more likely to die in climate change events.

As philanthropists, we need to invest more resources in these marginalized people to make sure they are not further disadvantaged as climate change worsens. One organization doing excellent work in this area is the Meso-American Alliance of People’s and Forests. This alliance has had success in securing land rights for indigenous and forest-dependent peoples, and works to increase their voice and participation in international policymaking. Sound science, together with consideration of basic human and environmental rights, make a compelling case that protecting indigenous lands and forests stops deforestation and mitigates against climate change. Philanthropists must increase support to indigenous, youth, and women’s groups that advocate and pursue such solutions to climate change. We must increase our investments to amplify their voices in the ears of policymakers across the planet, making sure that their voices are heard above the din of “First World” clamor about oil and coal and jobs and the economy.

Part of the Article: Courtesy Terry Odendahl, PhD,  the president and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund.