January 6, 2016
Essential reading on the Paris climate agreement
The first draft of history: An annotated guide to thirty-four of the best articles on the COP21 Paris Agreement on climate change.
John Foran is professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a co-founder of the Climate Justice Project and is member of System Change Not Climate Change, the Green Party of California, and 350.org.
by John Foran
The recent COP 21 UN climate summit is something of a political, social, and climate justice Rorschach test. Opinion is as all over the place as for any historic event I can think of. And make no mistake, Paris was historic.
We knew it was likely to be historic going into it; we just didn’t know what that history would look like. And that, of course, is one of the hallmarks of the hinges of history – we don’t know who will make it, or how it will turn out, until it happens.
Everything seems to be at stake. And no one is in control of the outcome. The outcome, in fact, is the sum of all the vectors of force put on the object itself: in this case, the meaning of what happened in Paris between November 29 and December 12, 2015.
And no one knows where things stand today. Powerful forces met on the ground in Paris, and things after now look different, if still completely up in the air (NPI – no pun intended).
And if Zhou Enlai actually uttered the words “It is too soon to say” when asked what he thought of the outcome of the French Revolution, it’s even more true, and waytoo early to tell “what happened in Paris.”
But it’s never too early to begin the telling. And this is what started even before the joyful (or relieved) applause died down after Laurent Fabius gaveled COP 21 to a conclusion.
This collection, then, aims to explore the outcomes less than one month on by presenting the best pieces I could find in my obsessive ongoing archive of opinion. Though I have grouped them in section titled Outcomes, Judgments, Interpretations, and Advice for Movements, it should be clear that these categories blur into each other and many of the pieces fit easily into more than one of them.
I make no pretense to presenting here a “balanced” spectrum of opinion on the Paris outcome. These are personal choices, the ones that brought me the most from reading them. If anything, taken as a whole, they “balance” the mainstream press on the outcome, which generally starts by accepting the self-congratulation of the makers of the Agreement as its opening premise. Here the opposite principle holds.
And remember, what happened in Paris doesn’t stay in Paris. It radiates outward (NPI) and will resonate in the days and years to come. It was history – to be sure – but nothing began or ended there.
The next chapters will be ours to write with our passion, imagination, creative actions, and movements.
My own assessment of Paris can be found in the blog posts at the Climate Justice Project website, as well as the last piece in this collection, previously published in Resilience.
In a nutshell, my judgement is that nothing new was agreed, except for a hollow promise to keep warming as far under 2 degrees as possible. In exchange, almost everything else of value was jettisoned.
Frankly, we have no advance on Kyoto, with its legally binding emissions cuts for the wealthy nations. Or Copenhagen, with its promise of $100 million annually to be placed in a Green Climate Fund by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation efforts by the global South (in fact, there was regression on this pledge, since no countries have stepped up to make their contribution known).
And the whole Paris Agreement is an obscene regression on the founding principles of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which promised to deal forthrightly with the scale of the crisis, and to make sure that those responsible for global warming pay their fair share of the costs of the effort. All that is pretty much out the window.
The can was kicked down the road, as it always is at the COP. It’s a scandal. But it will backfire.
For at the end of the day, of course, we’re as badly off as ever. And with each passing day, even more so.
Paris is a capitalist agreement to extend a capitalist crisis forever. And if we can’t see beyond capitalism, we’ve had it.
But we can.