Monday, January 4, 2016

What was really achieved in Paris COP21?

Hot. Hot. Hot. 

The implications of the Paris Agreement on climate change: Since the whole idea is to move beyond fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) dependency by 2050, one cannot but wonder as to the potential fate of all those states who depend on fossil fuel production and sales to keep their economies functioning. Were they given enough time to make the transition beyond this particular dependency? More importantly, and setting aside the sole reliance on a “name and shame” policy as the only “enforcement” tool, how economically feasible for certain states to make such a transition, or to ditch their dependency on fossil fuel?

In practical terms, the agreement signals the beginning of a century long multifaceted and complicated competition pitting fossil fuel producers against each other, against consumers and against those countries that can actually afford to make the transition. In fact, when the transition begins to hurt, many countries will regard the agreement as Western-led conspiracy.

To fund the transition, producer counties will have to keep prices at a certain level and control the flow, increasing or decreasing it, developing new fields or opposing such development, all according to their immediate needs, or whatever inter-mediate or long-term plans they have. The personalities of different leaders and ideological predilections will add another layer of complexity. It is these countries that need to “conspire.” Their interactions will play out on different levels ranging from diplomatic pressures, to economic sanctions, to military intervention and support to terrorist groups. The intervention of Iran, Russia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in Syria seems to be fueled, in part, by such considerations.

Meanwhile, countries like China may not be able to afford the transition at such an “early” date, and/or might require an intermediate step: finding its own cheap fossil fuel sources other than coal to keep itself going. This could translate into greater assertiveness in the South China Sea, and beyond over the next few decades. What about other countries in the area? How about Nigeria? Venezuela? Brazil? Turkmenistan? Azerbaijan? The Arctic?

Whatever the answers are, and irrespective of the necessity of the Paris Agreement and the transition itself from an environmental perspective, the immediate outcomes of the Paris Agreement in practical terms is more state failures, more conflicts, more atrocities and more tragedies – all happening at a time when the international order is in complete disarray, democracies are retrenching, and illiberal forces are reasserting themselves on the global scene. The environmental consequences of all that might nullify whatever benefits that could be derived from a reduction in dependence on fossil fuel.

No matter what we do, there is not running away from the need of establishing a strong international system for managing the transition with all its complications. We need to reinvent the UN. But first we need to find and empower the right caliber leadership, morally and strategically, to make this possible.