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UK landmarks join big switch-off for Earth Hour

People are being urged to join UK landmarks and famous sites around the world as they switch off their lights for an hour on Saturday night to back action on climate change.

Despite the terror attack in Westminster on Wednesday, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are joining more than 270 landmarks across the UK in switching off the lights for conservation charity WWF’s Earth Hour.

Buckingham Palace, Blackpool Tower, Brighton Pier, the Senedd Building in Cardiff, the Kelpies sculpture in Falkirk and Edinburgh Castle are among those also taking part.

Starting in Samoa and ending 24 hours later in The Cook Islands, people in 184 countries will send a message calling for action to protect the planet by tackling climate change, WWF said.

Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, New York’s Empire State Building, the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow, the Egyptian Pyramids and Tokyo Tower will be switching off the lights during their Earth Hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm.

Members of the public are also being encouraged to take part by switching off their lights for the hour.

Colin Butfield, director of campaigns at WWF, said: “Today, hundreds of millions of people will be showing global unity on climate change during Earth Hour. Climate change is impacting us here and now.

“We are seeing it across the globe, from the Great Barrier Reef suffering mass bleaching for an unprecedented second year in a row, to more severe weather in Britain.

“Following the tragic events in London earlier this week, we are inspired and grateful to hear that the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben will be switching off their lights to show support for global action on climate change.”

He added: “Earth Hour is the world’s biggest climate change event. All you have to do is switch off your lights for one hour to join hundreds of millions around the world to send a clear signal that we must act and we must act now.”

As well as the big switch off, people are kicking off Earth Hour in various ways including a pedal-powered cinema night arranged by Exeter University students on Gylly beach and a musical display at the Senedd.

Grand promises of Paris climate deal undermined by squalid retrenchments

By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.

Inside the narrow frame within which the talks have taken place, the draft agreement at the UN climate talks in Paris is a great success. The relief and self-congratulation with which the final text was greeted, acknowledges the failure at Copenhagen six years ago, where the negotiations ran wildly over time before collapsing. The Paris agreement is still awaiting formal adoption, but its aspirational limit of 1.5C of global warming, after the rejection of this demand for so many years, can be seen within this frame as a resounding victory. In this respect and others, the final text is stronger than most people anticipated.

Paris climate talks: governments adopt historic deal – as it happened

Live coverage from COP21 in Paris, as nearly 200 governments prepare to officially adopt a climate change deal on how to cut carbon emissions post-2020

Outside the frame it looks like something else. I doubt any of the negotiators believe that there will be no more than 1.5C of global warming as a result of these talks. As the preamble to the agreement acknowledges, even 2C, in view of the weak promises governments brought to Paris, is wildly ambitious. Though negotiated by some nations in good faith, the real outcomes are likely to commit us to levels of climate breakdown that will be dangerous to all and lethal to some. Our governments talk of not burdening future generations with debt. But they have just agreed to burden our successors with a far more dangerous legacy: the carbon dioxide produced by the continued burning of fossil fuels, and the long-running impacts this will exert on the global climate.

With 2C of warming, large parts of the world’s surface will become less habitable. The people of these regions are likely to face wilder extremes: worse droughts in some places, worse floods in others, greater storms and, potentially, grave impacts on food supply. Islands and coastal districts in many parts of the world are in danger of disappearing beneath the waves.

Can the sun cool down Earth?

A combination of acidifying seas, coral death and Arctic melting means that entire marine food chains could collapse. On land, rainforests may retreat, rivers fail and deserts spread. Mass extinction is likely to be the hallmark of our era. This is what success, as defined by the cheering delegates, will look like.

And failure, even on their terms? Well that is plausible too. While earlier drafts specified dates and percentages, the final text aims only to “reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible”. Which could mean anything and nothing.

In fairness, the failure does not belong to the Paris talks, but to the whole process. A maximum of 1.5C, now an aspirational and unlikely target, was eminently achievable when the first UN climate change conference took place in Berlin in 1995. Two decades of procrastination, caused by lobbying – overt, covert and often downright sinister – by the fossil fuel lobby, coupled with the reluctance of governments to explain to their electorates that short-term thinking has long-term costs, ensure that the window of opportunity is now three-quarters shut. The talks in Paris are the best there have ever been. And that is a terrible indictment.

People dressed as polar bears demonstrate near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, during COP21. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP
Progressive as the outcome is by comparison to all that has gone before, it leaves us with an almost comically lopsided agreement. While negotiations on almost all other global hazards seek to address both ends of the problem, the UN climate process has focused entirely on the consumption of fossil fuels, while ignoring their production.

James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks ‘a fraud’

Read more
In Paris the delegates have solemnly agreed to cut demand, but at home they seek to maximise supply. The UK government has even imposed a legal obligation upon itself, under the Infrastructure Act 2015, to “maximise economic recovery” of the UK’s oil and gas. Extracting fossil fuels is a hard fact. But the Paris agreement is full of soft facts: promises that can slip or unravel. Until governments undertake to keep fossil fuels in the ground, they will continue to undermine the agreement they have just made.

With Barack Obama in the White House and a dirigiste government overseeing the negotiations in Paris, this is as good as it is ever likely to get. No likely successor to the US president will show the same commitment. In countries like the UK, grand promises abroad are undermined by squalid retrenchments at home. Whatever happens now, we will not be viewed kindly by succeeding generations.

So yes, let the delegates congratulate themselves on a better agreement than might have been expected. And let them temper it with an apology to all those it will betray.

How the climate change deal was done

A deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been agreed at the climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of negotiations.

The pact is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions.

The agreement is partly legally binding and partly voluntary.

Daniel Boettcher reports.

Between Dangerous and Deadly: Civil Society Response to COP21

Between Dangerous and Deadly: COP21 Strives for Climate Justice But Misses The Mark

Richest countries plan the greatest escape for polluters while burdens shift to poo

Paris, France – After much anticipation for a new global climate agreement, COP21 is being widely hailed as a success, with 195 countries from diverse positions signing the Paris Agreement. But the day after the dust settles, many civil society organizations are evaluating the stark contrasts between what is possible in the political process and what is scientifically necessary to avoid climate chaos.

Many walked away pleased that the Paris Agreement called for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within the purpose of the agreement. However, the reference is aspirational, and the agreement lacks mechanisms to achieve it. Based on the current pledges for change and the state of pollution rates, by the time countries formally take stock in 2023, we will have already polluted to such a degree that we will have locked in the climate chaos we came here to prevent.

“The biggest misconception around 1.5 is that mentioning it means that they will actually meet that goal. This agreement did not actually design a pathway for how to achieve 1.5. We came to Paris needing a way to achieve tangible results, instead we came out with more empty promises and false solutions” said Martin Vilela from the Bolivian Platform on Climate Change

This lack of specificity in dealing with pollution has been described as “between dangerous and deadly” by leading climate scientists. Similarly, South Africa also noted that the Paris Agreement came at the expense of immediate action, and called for energies to now be channelled into pre-2020 efforts.

While many heralded France’s achievements of facilitating a fair process to reach the Agreement, this was marred in the last moments as France buckled to US pressure and changed the language of the nearly finalized text to say that developed countries should rather than shall take on reducing pollution across all sectors of the economy, indicating a lower level of legal obligation.

Many developing countries’ support for the Agreement was contingent on “shall” rather than “should”, but a process was not provided to respond to this major change made in the last moments of adopting the agreement and characterized a “technical correction”. In many ways, the agreement’s new rules are substantially weaker for wealthy countries than the current ones.

Another major concern came, again under US insistence, in the language on “loss and damage,” where an “exclusion clause” was inserted in order to prevent the poor and particularly vulnerable countries (the same ones calling for the 1.5C goal) from claiming any future liability or compensation claims being made under the agreement against the big historic polluters.

The great paradox is the Paris outcome paid lip service 1.5C without the means to achieve it, while, at the same time, excluding the rights of the poorest countries to compensation for warming above these levels.

A critical component of the Agreement was always that finance for developing countries would be ramped up. In concluding the talks, President Hollande spoke proudly about the $100 billion “floor” in finance, but observers have pointed out that the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric.

“The 100 billion per year by 2020 is now extended to 2025 and a new goal is to be set after that. So developed countries have obtained another five years to deliver what they agreed to do. It is regrettable that this has happened as it delays action in developing countries who are in need” said Meena Raman, Legal Advisor, Third World Network

Although tired after a long road to Paris, and with many concerns over the outcome, civil society groups nevertheless determined to press on and use the Agreement and the pledges made to it as tools to push for stronger national actions. They are already looking to a “facilitative dialogue”, agreed for 2019, to increase ambition and look to initiatives like the African Renewable Energy Initiative to deliver real results on the ground.

“As both a Kenyan and a climate policy expert, I have never been more proud. The significance of of the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative is not to be understated: it is an exceptional moment in Africa’s history and a game-changer for the continent. And our leadership has inspired other countries to show their support.” Mohamed Adow, Senior Climate Change Advisor, Christian Aid explained.

“While disappointed by the outcome of the climate talks, we see that there were many success’. The climate justice movements mobilized despite the state of emergency and we showed the world that we are an unstoppable force that will continue to do the real work of developing tangible solutions to our world’s problems, and not wait for politicians to do what is necessary” said Lidy Nacpil, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development

Has history been made at COP21?

I’m not a fan of hyperbole, but it would be churlish to say the adoption of the Paris Agreement was anything other than a globally, historic moment.

This carefully worded document that balances the right of countries to develop with the need to protect the planet is a truly world changing instrument.

It sets out, for the first time, a global approach to a problem of humanity’s own making: the recent rapid warming of the Earth that science says is mainly down to the use of fossil fuels.

The deal sets out a firm goal of keeping temperature rises well below 2C, and will strive for 1.5C.

This is no easy task as researchers say that this year 2015, the world has gone through 1C above pre-industrial levels.

It also sets out a means of getting there. It’s a little convoluted in terms of language, but that’s what you get when you try and get 196 parties to agree to a plan of action.

Critical sentence

The agreement text means that emissions of greenhouse gases will have to peak globally and reduce rapidly thereafter, in accordance with the best possible science.

This phrase is crucial according to observers, meaning that the Paris deal will be guided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the IPCC say that carbon emissions will have to go to zero by the end of this century.

There is a stonking piece of UN jargon that has been crafted to get around the tricky business of differentiation, the long standing division of the world into developed and developing countries only.

It’s called CBDRRCILNDC, which translates as Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities, In the Light of Different National Circumstances.

Essentially it means a gradual shift away from the absolute firewall set up in 1992 when the UN Convention was adopted. Over time more countries will take on more cuts.

Another sign of this breakdown of differentiation is the adoption of a single system of measuring, reporting and verifying that countries will do what they say under the terms of the agreement.

But it is not all one way. The deal re-iterates the “flexibility” that the developing nations will only come into this system when they are ready to do so.

There is also a separate article on loss and damage. While it doesn’t put the rich countries on the hook for compensation or liability, the fact that it is there in the body of the agreement is a big win for the poorer nations.

The finance sections also reflect this give and take. The poorer nations won’t have to contribute any cash; the richer ones will have to give more money in the new deal and with greater predictability.

A key part of keeping ambitions high is a reviewing mechanism – and the one agreed is built on the idea of no backsliding on promises. There will be a review of what countries are now proposing by 2019. Countries will have to endure a “global stocktake” in 2023 and two years later make new carbon cutting commitments.

While the deal is toothless when it comes to penalties for missing any targets, the UN is counting on peer pressure to keep countries moving forward. It’s worked so far, with 187 countries lodging national climate plans before the end of this meeting. No one wanted to turn up empty handed.

The key thing about this deal may ultimately not be the rules and mechanisms and targets it sets – it’s about signals and signs.

“We are sending a critical message to the global marketplace,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry at the conclusion of the meeting.

Among the celebrations though were reminders that the hard work on climate change was now only beginning.

South African Minister Edna Molewa channelled the spirit of Nelson Mandela, not for the first time:

“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb….I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Global climate deal: In summary

A global climate agreement has been finalised in Paris. What has been agreed?


The deal unites all the world’s nations in a single agreement on tackling climate change for the first time in history.

Coming to a consensus among nearly 200 countries on the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions is regarded by many observers as an achievement in itself and is being hailed as “historic”.

The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 set emission cutting targets for a handful of developed countries, but the US pulled out and others failed to comply.

However, scientists point out that the Paris accord must be stepped up if it is to have any chance of curbing dangerous climate change.

Pledges thus far could see global temperatures rise by as much as 2.7C, but the agreement lays out a roadmap for speeding up progress.

What are the key elements?

  • To keep global temperatures “well below” 2.0C (3.6F) and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • To review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
  • For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing “climate finance” to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

What’s in and what has been left out?

The goal of preventing what scientists regard as dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change – judged to be reached at around 2C of warming above pre-industrial times – is central to the agreement.

The world is already nearly halfway there at almost 1C and many countries argued for a tougher target of 1.5C – including leaders of low-lying countries that face unsustainable sea levels rises in a warming world.

The desire for a more ambitious goal has been kept in the agreement – with the promise to “endeavour to limit” global temperatures even more, to 1.5C.

Dr Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, says the objective is “remarkable”.

“It is a victory for the most vulnerable countries, the small islands, the least developed countries and all those with the most to lose, who came to Paris and said they didn’t want sympathy, they wanted action.”

Meanwhile, for the first time, the accord lays out a longer-term plan for reaching a peak in greenhouse emissions “as soon as possible” and achieving a balance between output of man-made greenhouse gases and absorption – by forests or the oceans – “by the second half of this century”.

“If agreed and implemented, this means bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero within a few decades. It is in line with the scientific evidence we presented,” says John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Some have described the deal as “woolly” because some of the targets were scaled down during the negotiations.

“The Paris Agreement is only one step on a long road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress,” says Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo.

“This deal alone won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”

What about money?

Money has been a sticking point throughout the negotiations.

Developing countries say they need financial and technological help to leapfrog fossil fuels and move straight to renewables.

Currently they have been promised US $100bn (£67bn) a year by 2020 – not as much as many countries would like.

The agreement requires rich nations to maintain a $100bn a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and to use that figure as a “floor” for further support agreed by 2025.

The deal says wealthy countries should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change and encourages other countries to join in on a voluntary basis.

Dr Ilan Kelman of UCL, London, says the lack of time scales are “worrying”.

“The starting point of $100bn per year is helpful, but remains under 8% of worldwide declared military spending each year.”

What happens next?

Only elements of the Paris pact will be legally binding.

The national pledges by countries to cut emissions are voluntary, and arguments over when to revisit the pledges – with the aim of taking tougher action – have been a stumbling block in the talks.

The pact promises to make an assessment of progress in 2018, with further reviews every five years.

As analysts point out, Paris is only the beginning of a shift towards a low-carbon world, and there is much more to do.

“Paris is just the starting gun for the race towards a low-carbon future,” says WWF-UK Chief Executive David Nussbaum.

Prof John Shepherd of the National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, says the agreement includes some welcome aspirations but few people realise how difficult it will be to achieve the goals.

“Since the only mechanism remains voluntary national caps on emissions, without even any guidance on how stringent those caps would need to be, it is hard to be optimistic that these goals are likely to be achieved.”


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COP21 climate change summit reaches deal in Paris

A deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been agreed at the climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of intense negotiations.

The pact is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions.

The agreement is partly legally binding and partly voluntary.

Earlier, key blocs, including the G77 group of developing countries, and nations such as China and India said they supported the proposals.

President of the UN climate conference of parties (COP) and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: “I now invite the COP to adopt the decision entitled Paris Agreement outlined in the document.

“Looking out to the room I see that the reaction is positive, I see no objections. The Paris agreement is adopted.”

COP21: In summary

As he struck the gavel to signal the adoption of the deal, delegates rose to their feet cheering and applauding.

Media captionThe announcement was greeted by cheers and excitement in the hall

US President Barack Obama has hailed the agreement as an “ambitious” and “historic”, but also warned against complacency.

“Together, we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one,” he said.

And although admitting that the deal was not “perfect”, he said it was “the best chance to save the one planet we have”.

Nearly 200 countries took part in the negotiations to strike the first climate deal to commit all countries to cut emissions, which would come into being in 2020.

The chairman of the group representing some of the world’s poorest countries called the deal historic, adding: “We are living in unprecedented times, which call for unprecedented measures.

“It is the best outcome we could have hoped for, not just for the Least Developed Countries, but for all citizens of the world.”

Key points

The measures in the agreement included:

• To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century

• To keep global temperature increase “well below” 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C

• To review progress every five years

• $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Hollande join in the celebrations

Analysis: The BBC’s Matt McGrath in Paris

The speeches and the cliches at the adoption of the Paris Agreement flowed like good champagne – success after all has many fathers! The main emotion is relief. The influence of the COP president, Laurent Fabius, cannot be overstated. His long diplomatic career gave him a credibility seldom matched in this arena. He used his power well.

The deal that has been agreed, under Mr Fabius, is without parallel in terms of climate change or of the environment. It sets out a clear long term temperature limit for the planet and a clear way of getting there. There is money for poor countries to adapt, there is a strong review mechanism to increase ambition over time. This is key if the deal is to achieve the aim of keeping warming well below 2C.

More than anything though the deal signifies a new way for the world to achieve progress – without it costing the Earth. A long term perspective on the way we do sustainability is at the heart of this deal. If it delivers that, it truly will be world changing.

Ahead of the deal being struck, delegates were in a buoyant mood as they gathered in the hall waiting for the plenary session to resume.

Mr Fabius was applauded as he entered the hall ahead of the announcement.

Earlier, French President Francois Hollande called the proposals unprecedented, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on negotiators to “finish the job”.

However, the celebratory mood has not been shared among all observers.

‘Almost nothing binding’

Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, said: “It’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations.”

Some aspects of the agreement will be legally binding, such as submitting an emissions reduction target and the regular review of that goal.

However, the targets set by nations will not be binding under the deal struck in Paris.

Observers say the attempt to impose emissions targets on countries was one of the main reasons why the Copenhagen talks in 2009 failed.

At the time, nations including China, India and South Africa were unwilling to sign up to a condition that they felt could hamper economic growth and development.

The latest negotiations managed to avoid such an impasse by developing a system of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

In these, which form the basis of the Paris agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels, nations outline their plans on cutting their post-2020 emissions.

An assessment published during the two-week talks suggested that the emission reductions currently outlined in the INDCs submitted by countries would only limit global temperature rise by 2.7C.

Nick Mabey, chief executive of climate diplomacy organisation E3G, said the agreement was an ambitious one that would require serious political commitment to deliver.

“Paris means governments will go further and faster to tackle climate change than ever before,” he said.

“The transition to a low carbon economy is now unstoppable, ensuring the end of the fossil fuel age.”

Paris climate summit: Any deal reached on carbon emissions simply won’t be good enough

Kevin Rafferty says despite high expectations, whatever the final outcome of the UN conference, it is unlikely to be sufficient to stop dangerous global warming

There is good news and bad news from the circus of world leaders meeting in Paris for the next two weeks to try to save the planet and all of us on it from rising temperatures that will make life on earth unbearable.

The good news is that there is increasing hot air about a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions to try to slow global warming. The bad news is that any deal will not be enough.

The world is still divided into squabbling, often bitterly nationalistic countries, whose immediate or short-term interests are opposed to any global ideals

It is not merely a question of too little, too late: there are substantial unresolved scientific, economic, political and moral issues at stake, which require a global solution, but the world is still divided into squabbling, often bitterly nationalistic countries, whose immediate or short-term interests are opposed to any global ideals.

The meeting is starting on Monday in Paris [2]. Finally, except in US Republican circles, which are trying to silence scientists from scaring people with hard facts, the message is getting through that the world can’t go on living if we chuck carbon dio­xide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

This year will be the hottest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, and the world is on course to reach the significant milestone of 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era.

In spite of the gloom, some scientists optimistically believe that “Science Superman” will ride to the rescue in the nick of time. Rapid development of electric cars could transform transport by replacing polluting cars, lorries and buses with clean green energy.

The cost of renewable energies, like solar power, is coming down, giving hope that in the foreseeable future, renewable non-polluting energy may replace the power plants that spew poison into the atmosphere. If transport and energy production go green, surely there is hope for humanity!?

The world’s governments have finally woken up to the dangers and opportunities of climate change. More than 180 of the 196 parties which have gathered in Paris, representing 97.8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have submitted pledges to reduce their carbon emissions, known as the “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs.

“Green Planet” has become a buzz phrase. Big Western, Chinese and Japanese companies are salivating at the prospect of US$90 trillion in energy infrastructure business over the next 15 years. Optimists assert that if leaders in Paris signal they are serious about a green earth, business will deliver.

Such is the momentum that Timmons Roberts of the Brookings Institution declared that “2015 has been an unexpectedly positive year for climate change efforts, as the long-floundering UN process has finally begun to deliver some of what is needed”.

Roberts conceded that it’s not enough: “What do the INDCs add up to? Not enough reductions, unfortunately.” The world is still headed to 3.5 degrees Celsius, 3.1 degrees, or 2.7 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, “depending on the assumptions one uses in projections”, he said.

INDCs are indicators, not binding. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has ruled out any agreement signed and sealed, knowing that a formal deal would have to be passed in the US Senate, where the Republicans would kill it. Still to be resolved is who will pay for cuts in developing countries’ emissions. With 45,000 delegates, lobbyists, media and other hangers-on in Paris, any agreement will be a baby step forward.

The US could and should be named and shamed for acting with no thought for the consequences of its selfishness, especially on poor and vulnerable countries.

So should other major polluters. China recently revealed that it was burning 17 per cent more coal than previously disclosed. The increase in carbon dioxide involved is more than Germany’s annual emissions from fossil fuels. It was also unhealthily appropriate that, on the eve of the Paris talks, Beijing issued a warning of high smog levels.

India, third in carbon dioxide emissions with 2.4 billion tonnes (behind China and the US), is on track to be at least the second biggest emitter by 2030 or even the biggest without dramatic measures.

The Paris pledges are in terms of emissions per unit of gross domestic product growth, so a rapidly growing country could meet its pledges and still increase total emissions.

India has been aggressive in what chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian calls resistance to “the West’s carbon imperialism”. This accuses the West of hypocrisy in pumping mega tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the past 250 years to put the planet at risk, and then trying to handicap today’s rapidly developing countries because of their heavy reliance on coal.

Chinese and Indians would be dicing with disaster for themselves and the planet if they ape wasteful Western ways, even if they don’t go the greedy hog into meat diets, with meat requiring far more resources to produce than vegetables.

Chinese and Indians would be dicing with disaster for themselves and for the planet if they ape wasteful Western ways

Let’s not forget a dishonourable mention for Japan, which pledged 1.3 trillion yen (HK$82 billion) a year to help developing countries fight global warming (and help its own companies to good business). Environment minister Tamayo Marukawa last week declared that coal technology exports “remain a priority” for Japan: surely she understands that clean coal is an oxymoron.

Maverick economist Bjorn Lomborg suggests that all the huffing and puffing in Paris is indeed a lot of hot air. If all the INDC promises are fully met by 2030 and then extended for 70 years, he claims, “the entirety of the Paris promises will reduce global temperatures by just 0.17 degrees Celsius”. Lomborg advocates pouring money into renewable energy, though it is doubtful whether it will yield big enough benefits worldwide before it is too late.

Many scientists have cast doubt on optimistic computer models suggesting that the temperature rise can be restricted to 2 degrees. Some claim that the only way to go is massive geoengineering, such as mirrors to deflect the sun or other large-scale interventions in the earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change. But such measures could be costly and might set off dangerous chain reactions.

The problem is that greenhouses gases are already swirling in the atmosphere. Temperatures a couple of degrees higher may not seem much, and have led to warped jokes about Greenland as the world’s farming leader and permanent sun tans for the rest of humanity.

Even a 2-degree temperature increase will trigger rising sea levels, engulfing Pacific island countries and invading Bangladesh and cities like Miami, New York, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Mumbai. Deserts will grow and millions of hectares of fertile farmland will disappear.

One basic problem that Paris exemplifies is that we are one earth, and damage to a small corner of the planet comes to haunt us all, but leadership is narrow, national and selfish. Another is that the much revered market solution does not come with any guarantees about caring for our common home.

The biggest problem for the broken leadership of the earth is that the time for action was the day before yesterday, but the way that leaders are talking, they might reach a workable agreement the day after the tomorrow that never comes.

Kevin Rafferty is a journalist and commentator, former professor at Osaka University, and author of a briefing book for delegates at the 2008 UN climate change conference in Poznan


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